Three weeks ago, the thought of the Niwot football team sitting tied for first in the Class 4A Northern League standings would have been laughable.
When first-year coach Josh Brewer and players alike suggested that their 53-12 loss to Monarch wasn’t as bad as the score looked, some might have felt the need to check the Cougars for fevers.
The Cougars were 0-3 and hadn’t been closer than three touchdowns to any opponent. Add to that the fact that they’d won just five games over the previous three seasons, and signs weren’t exactly pointing to an imminent turnaround.
Then NHS went out and beat two of the Northern League’s tradtional powers in Greeley West and Loveland.
True, the Cougars likely have plenty of ground yet to cover in their rebuilding process. But they are indeed in first place in the conference, locked at the top at 2-0 with defending Class 3A state champion Windsor. And suddenly the Cougars are believing in themselves and looking like a team that could be a factor, if not a contender, in the Northern.
“I think it’s just a result of everybody settling into the new schemes and new verbiage of everything,” Brewer said this week. “The learning curve is way up.”
The Monarch loss was especially tough for Brewer to swallow, not because of the score but because of the way things transpired.
A blocked punt for a touchdown, a snap over the punter’s head to set up another easy Monarch score and two interceptions returned for TDs never gave the Cougars a chance on a night where Brewer had felt like his defense and offense were finally starting move forward.
“We knew the improvements that we made,” Brewer said.
Brewer and his staff were careful not to make any grand goals of winning a conference title or making the playoffs or even winning five games when the season began. Their main focus was to help the team improve each week.
The coach said the resolve of a senior class intent on having some tangible results to point to when they leave — ones that indicate that they helped get the proud program back on track — has kept the Cougars from folding during the rough early weeks.
Senior quarterback Nate Merriman has been up and down at times, but has thrown for 1,148 yards. Three of the Cougars’ top four receivers — Lorne Jenkins, Forrest Lee and Cahill Kelleghan — are also in that senior group, as is leading tackler Jake Sarosi on defense.
“Our guys have been great about keeping their heads up and looking forward each week to each opponent and preparing like a team would to win,” Brewer said.
That single-mindedness, the coach said, might be key going forward as well after exciting come-from-behind victories two weeks in a row that could easily skew a team’s focus.
The Niwot Cougars are in first place, but Brewer deflects any talk of league title contention or playoff berths. There are still five games to play, and the Cougars might need to win them all to reach the postseason.
So right now, it’s back to the rebuilding process each week.
“We look at one week at a time,” Brewer said. “You have to reset as soon as the game’s over.”
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein