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Gorman: West Shamokin sheds stigma for playoff spot

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
 

West Shamokin already got the make-or-break part backward, so it makes sense that the Wolves canceled a Week 10 game so they would be available to play that week.

To explain: West Shamokin broke a WPIAL record before it ever had a winning season. It was a dubious distinction, however, as the Wolves suffered 46 consecutive losses.

Now, just a year after snapping that streak, West Shamokin is on the cusp of qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since the mergers of Dayton and Shannock Valley formed the school in 2000.

The Wolves (5-2, 4-2) need to beat visiting Leechburg (2-5, 2-4) on Friday night in an Eastern Conference game to clinch a berth in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.

If West Shamokin wins, it will be playing a first-round game Nov. 1 instead of its Week 10 date with Allegheny-Clarion Valley.

“The kids know what's at stake,” West Shamokin first-year coach Jon McCullough said. “I said, ‘You guys know what's out there for us to achieve.' ”

McCullough spent the previous four seasons as the Wolves' defensive coordinator, so he endured the depressing and difficult times of the streak.

West Shamokin still runs the Wing-T offense and a 4-4 base defense. The biggest change has come in attitude, where the Wolves altered their approach.

They spent training camp getting not only physically but mentally prepared, learning that you can't live and die with every play.

McCullough prepared his team for the fact that it would have to overcome adversity to win regularly.

The season opener against Springdale proved to be a turning point. The Wolves fumbled on their first play, but got a defensive stop and went on to win the first of three straight.

Rural Valley has responded with a passion for football, with “Go Wolves” signs in gas station windows and packed stands at games.

“It's been a complete change, the support you see,” McCullough said. “I try not to think too much about it, but I know for those kids the stigma that was around West Shamokin football.

“Everybody was telling them, ‘You're not going to be successful. You can't do it.' If we win Friday night, that will be put to rest. The kids have always had the pride in the program. Now, you don't have to be ashamed to show it.”

Now, West Shamokin wants to show that it can go from punch line to playoffs.

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