The ending of the Dodge City Red Demons football season is a lot sweeter than how the situation was before the Hatchet game against the Garden City Buffaloes.
The Red Demons were on a four-game losing streak, players weren't showing up on time for meetings, and things were considerably not going up.
It took the challenge of head coach Dave Foster for the players to actually do the words they had said on the DemonVision pregame video: Go All-In.
All but one of the Demons took that challenge from Foster and what looked to be a bummer of a season turned into winning the Hatchet, making the playoffs, and making it to the sectional round after recording a 38-6 rout at Manhattan in the bi-district game.
"Getting the Hatchet back and being the last (Western Athletic Conference) team standings in the playoffs is something our team can hang their hats on when it comes to achievements," Foster said. "It's something we're extremely proud of them.
"This was just a group that when we were struggling, we continuously challenged the guys to do the right thing and stay the course. We were still addressing fundamental things before the Garden City things that we hadn't yet achieved on game night. Things just really came together for us in the Garden City game."
Foster said the effort had always been there with the Red Demons, but the fundamentals were lacking at times and that getting the fundamentals finally down pat carried the team through the Garden City and Manhattan wins and almost got them through the Derby game.
"I can't say enough about our kids and their ability to stay the course despite our win-loss record," Foster said. "We kept our focus through the year on getting the Hatchet back and things that we can take control and stay focused.
"That is very difficult to do when you have people talking to our kids — whether it's parents or peers or in the community — questioning what's going on. Our kids stayed focused and composed, did the right things and it paid off in the end."
If there was one are the Red Demons have to work on at the start of next season will be the run defense. The Mad Hatter defense gave up 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns this season. Teams had a 44.7 percent success rate on third down (68-of-152) and a 54.5 percent (18-of-33) on fourth down.
"We have to find a way to produce a more dominant defensive group," Foster said. "We've got some kids coming back that are defensive-minded kids. The biggest thing to do is get those kids strong so they can become aggressive. It seems we have struggled at defense at times."
The Demons are losing 19 players to graduation including many of the skill players, but there are a group of junior varsity and freshman players who are going to be expected to come in and fill in a number of those spots after a 15-1 combined record in DCHS sub-varsity action.
Page 2 of 2 - "We just talked to the kids about the development physically how hard they are going to work in the weight room, in class room and in playing other sports during the rest of the school year and how all those things are a big factor," Foster said. "Every year, you question how you are going to replace the guys on the field. I don't know if you replace some kids, but the players who were on the varsity this year (and returning) are going to have to come back stronger and faster.
"At these point, we know we have a lot of success in the junior varsity and freshmen levels and that is going to carry over into the varsity team. We know we're going to have kids in the freshman level who are going to be ready at the varsity level and JV players who will step into varsity levels as well. We have a number of big shoes to fill."
One returning player is quarterback Kelan Newton, who will, barring injury, be leading the offense again next season. Newton threw for 2,608 yards and 21 touchdown passes to eight interceptions.
"I think (Kelan) is the best true quarterback in the league and one of the top in the state," Foster said. "His ability to make decisions on the field allowed us to stay competitive late in the season. When we needed to be great, Kelan had the ability to run our offense and execute it, not only in the pass game, but in the run game. He was a difference maker for us."
Newton will have some players who had big games this season and can build on the 2012 success like Blaik Middleton in the Liberal game and Immanuel Galloway against Garden City.
"We think Blaik and Tyler Trent are going to step into the running back position," Foster said. "They are both proven commodities in that position. The receiver position will be wide open with Galloway, Austin Savage and Dominic Randle, to name a few of the guys we saw this year. We also have a plethora of guys in the skill positions coming from the freshman level."