First-year Oskaloosa High football coach Terry Porter didn't need a win-one-for-the-Gipper speech to fire up his players for tonight's homecoming game against traditional rival McLouth.
Simple reasoning worked just fine.
"We had a team meeting and I told them athletic directors and coaches don't schedule schools on homecoming that they know will beat them," Porter said. "They schedule teams where they believe they can win."
Win is the operative word, because both Oskaloosa and McLouth still are searching for one. Each squad is 0-4 going into the 7 p.m. contest.
The Bears have won the last four meetings by a combined score of 160-29, including last year's 45-2 rout. McLouth's last victory in the series was a 16-12 win in 1998. The struggling Bulldogs' last victory of any sort was a 45-0 blowout of Burlingame in 2001. McLouth has dropped 15 straight.
Still, with new coach Harry Hester in charge, there's a fire sizzling in the Bulldogs' camp, and expectations are high for tonight.
"People around here are excited and going nuts for it," Hester said. "We've had a good week of practice, the best all year."
Despite scoring only one TD in its four defeats, McLouth has shown improvement, especially for a team with so many young players.
Eight sophomores start on both offense and defense. Offensively, the Bulldogs are averaging about 230 yards per game behind sophomore quarterback Jimmy Steffey. They have sustained drives and visited the red zone numerous times, but 75 percent of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, and there have been youthful mistakes.
"It's hard to take that young of a group of kids and challenge juniors and seniors week in and week out," Hester said. "We still make some young mistakes, but we've cut back on our penalties."
McLouth can't afford mistakes in trying to slow Oskaloosa's powerful running game. Quarterback Kevin Miles can throw effectively, but the Bears primarily stick to the ground. They averaged 280 yards and 18 points for the first three games despite being slowed by injuries.
Offensive guard Josh Bryant is returning to the lineup tonight, so Porter said he expects the offense to turn it up a notch.
Just like Hester, Porter also is antsy at the thought of picking up his first win as a head coach.
"When you're 0-4 and the other team's 0-4, you know somebody's going to come away with a win," Porter said. "Somebody's losing streak is going to come to a screeching halt."