There is a little more joy and expectation flowing through the halls of Spring Hill High School.
It's what happens when the football team defeats rival White Oak for the first time in six years. It's what happens when the football team is outscoring opponents 257-87. It's what happens when the football team is 5-0 for the first time in 13 years.
Kelly Mercer is in his third year as head coach and athletic director. The Panthers have already won more games this season than Mercer enjoyed in his first two years combined.
"We're seeing over the last weeks the culmination of the last couple years," Mercer said. "We try not to celebrate our wins for too long or hurt on our losses too long. That is why (after being idle last week) I am so glad district is here. From our first year we have wanted to get into the playoffs. That would be a real game-changer around here."
The Panthers (5-0) enter District 7-4A Division II play Friday on the road at Gladewater (1-4). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Jack V. Murphy-Bear Stadium.
Gladewater won this game last year 62-7, but Mercer said the Panthers are not the same team.
"Our offense has been able to make plays and our defense is playing more physical than I have ever seen us play," Mercer said. "My philosophy is to be fast on offense and try to get defenses back on their heels. With so many young kids playing last year, we weren't able to do that last year and our passing game was minimal.
"This year we are able to loosen defenses up a little bit. We have been able to stretch the field."
Mercer said a big reason for the success is sophomore quarterback Gage White, who enters district with 758 yards passing and 13 touchdown passes. He has also rushed for three scores as part of 1,256 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns overall.
"This is Gage's second year. He was thrown into a starter's role as a freshman and now has 10 varsity games under his belt," Mercer said. "On defense, based on last year, I thought that was an area (we needed to address), but we've been able to play man coverage in the back, so teams that are running Wing T and Slot, we can load the box up like teams did to us last year."
The Panthers now face Gladewater, which is the first of several district tests. Spring Hill hasn't made the playoffs since 2007 and Mercer said the process to change that starts Friday.
"To a degree, we need to show people we are for real," Mercer said.
LINDALE ENJOYS STRONG NON-DISTRICT
AND NOW FOR THE REAL SEASON
The Lindale Eagles bounced back from a loss to unbeaten Van by defeating Terrell and Gladewater before enjoying a bye week.
Lindale (3-2) opens District 17-5A play on the road Friday at Nacogdoches. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Dragon Stadium.
"It's a positive thing going into district winning two straight and having a winning record," said Lindale coach Chris Cochran. "We are pleased with that and trying to feed off that momentum. We got some people healed up during the bye week. We are excited about district; it's a challenge, but we are fired up about that challenge."
Lindale lost this game 24-10 a year ago and Cochran expects another difficult test from the Dragons (1-4) whose four losses have come against Class 6A opponents, Tyler Lee and Lufkin, and perennial 4A powers, Gilmer and Kilgore.
"It's their homecoming so it's going to be a tough environment to go into," Cochran said. "Our kids have responded to adversity during non-district. We got down 10-0 at Gladewater at halftime, but responded. I am excited to see how we are going to respond against a district opponent."
WHITEHOUSE HOSTS DEFENDING
DISTRICT CHAMP ENNIS IN LEAGUE OPENER
The Wildcats were defeated 56-13 two weeks ago by Kennedale. Whitehouse head coach Adam Cook said the staff and players were able to use last week's bye to "heal up" and learn from the mistakes the Wildcats made.
"We turned the ball over on offense, which put us in a bind. We had four interceptions, and you just can't do that against a team like Kennedale."
Whitehouse (3-2) turns its attention to District 17-5A, which begins Friday at home against Ennis (2-3). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.
The Wildcats have lost all three district meetings against the Ennis Lions, falling by three points last year.
Whitehouse wants to put a district championship trophy on display. To do that, the Wildcats need to get over the hump against Ennis.
"They are the team to beat and we are definitely excited to get them here at home," Cook said. "They are going to be aggressive and be the attacker (on defense). We can't turn the ball over and (our defense needs) to stop their running game. If we can get them into second-and-long situations, I feel pretty good about our chances."
WEST RUSK WOULD LIKE MORE GAMES,
BUT ARE WINNING THE ONES IT HAS
When All Saints decided to become an independent, it dropped certain games from its schedule. One of those was against West Rusk, which meant the Raiders have been idle twice.
West Rusk (4-0, 1-0 in 9-3A Division II), in the four games it has played, has run roughshod over its opponents, outscoring them 164-31.
That dominance continued last week in district with West Rusk blanking an up-and-coming Troup team 38-0.
"We only graduated five seniors last year, so we knew we had a lot of kids returning off of a good football team," West Rusk coach John Frazier said. "It is working out like we expected so far."
Frazier said West Rusk's open weeks were unexpected, but ended up being an advantage against Troup.
"It was probably the best game we've played overall, as far as putting everything together," Frazier said. "We had having two byes leading into district and I know Troup was not healthy."
West Rusk now turns its attention to a home game with Harleton. The Raiders will face the Wildcats (1-5, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London.
"This is one of the toughest districts in the state; it's one of those where you can't take one game lightly," Frazier said. "We are taking it one week at a time. The most important thing we are doing is worrying about ourselves and not putting too much attention on who you're playing."