RICEVILLE — You want to talk about pressure? How about the gauntlet the Riceville football team has ran in its first five weeks of the season.
Nothing has come easy for the Wildcats this season, and so far, No. 9 (8-man) Riceville has shrugged off good team after good team to start off 4-1 with wins in four straight weeks.
“It’s definitely nice to have this kind of atmosphere,” Riceville coach Stef Fair said. “It’s been several years since we’ve been able to put ourselves in position to contend for a district title and there’s excitement every day in practice. They know they have stuff to play for now.”
Fair attributes the Wildcats’ start to this season to the work that’s been put in over the past year.
Riceville won its final four games of the year last season to finish 6-3 overall and 4-3 in district play. Admittedly for Fair, the only thing missing was a win in a big game.
“We’ve been close the last couple years, but were one big game to win away from getting the ball rolling,” Fair said.
The Wildcats checked that off right from the start of district play this time around.
Riceville opened its season with a four-point loss to Tripoli, which is currently No. 4 in 8-man, in a game that came down to the final possession. A win over Kee (Lansing) followed, and then the Wildcats got what they’ve been seeking for so long – a marquee win.
That came in the form of a 36-10 win over an AGWSR team which was ranked at the time.
“That was the win that we needed,” Fair said. “We’ve had some big nondistrict wins in the years past and this year we needed big district win. It really gave the guys confidence to know they can win those games.”
The hits didn’t stop coming.
Riceville followed that up with a win in overtime over a ranked Turkey Valley team, and then last Friday, they scored in the final minutes to escape with a win over Northwood-Kensett. Now, they’re firmly planted on top of the district with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
The work of senior quarterback John Miller has been a big reason why the Wildcats have taken the next step.
Miller leads the district with 992 yards and 15 touchdowns on 188 carries, and he has thrown for 332 yards and five touchdowns.
“He’s always been a hard worker in season and in the offseason,” Fair said. “He’s never been a guy who takes a day off in the weight room and in agilities.”
Fair also said a good chunk of it goes to the guys up front making the holes for Miller as well.
Now their focus turns to trying to close out the final four weeks to secure a spot in the playoffs. Riceville travels to Clarksville this week.
“As of now, we haven’t really had an easy game,” Fair said. “We use every week to get to the fourth to give us a chance to win, and whatever happens, happens.”