Gorman: West Shamokin goes back to basics for 'W'
West Shamokin took its gloves off, and the Wolves finally won.
After nearly five seasons of futility that set a WPIAL record, Josh Gilliland reached his breaking point when West Shamokin fumbled a dozen times in its first two games — Eastern Conference losses to Springdale and Northgate.
“It's a small thing,” Gilliland said, “but I look back and say it was a small thing that kept us from fumbling the football.”
The Wolves snapped their 46-game losing streak Friday night with a 25-6 victory over Riverview, their first since Sept. 21, 2007.
Dropping down from Class AA to Class A certainly played a part, but Gilliland believes it was a bare-knuckle, back-to-the-basics approach that made the most dramatic difference.
It started with Gilliland ordering his players to lose their gloves and use towels.
“It stems from back to when I wore gloves when I played for Kittanning coach (Harry) Beckwith,” said Gilliland, West Shamokin's fourth-year coach. “He told me to take the gloves off, and said if I fumbled again, I wouldn't see the field the rest of the year.
“I just went straight with them and said, ‘Guys, you won't be in many football games if you turn it over. You guys are hindering yourselves from being an awesome football team by putting the ball on the ground.' ”
That wasn't the only change the Wolves made. Gilliland held a staff meeting, and told his assistants to “put it on the table” and figure out what was wrong without pointing fingers or getting their feelings hurt.
Ultimately, they decided to switch from a 3-4 defense to a 4-4 base, allowing their players to use their athleticism, to read and react. Gilliland also asked his staff to coach with a carefree attitude and “not worry about what anyone else is saying about us.”
That confidence carried over to the Wolves, who stopped Riverview on its first two possessions and, despite facing a nine-man front to stop the run, relied on its wing-T offense to build leads of 6-0 after one quarter and 12-0 at the half despite missing quarterback Alex Lasslo (concussion).
“You're going to play with much more pride when you're winning,” Gilliland said, “but I had kids saying at halftime, ‘When's halftime going to be over?'
“It seemed like forever. When you're losing, you never have enough time at halftime. When you're winning, you just want to get back out there.”
Gilliland was particularly thrilled for two seniors, left tackle Kyle Schons and left guard Andy Stover, who stuck with the program since their freshman season despite all the losing. It was the first time they tasted victory in a high school football game.
“It was funny. I was walking into the locker room, heard the music playing and everybody was smiling,” Gilliland said. “I turned and said to one of my coaches, ‘Isn't it nice that, for once, we can walk into the locker room and everybody can have a good time after a game?' Hopefully, we'll get on a roll here.”
By then, the Wolves were howling. That's when one West Shamokin player shared with Gilliland words that sounded sweet:
That streak is over. It's time to start a new one.