By Cam Huffman
The last three football seasons concluded with a similar feeling for Summers County High School — extreme disappointment. None of them ended the way the Bobcat players and coaches had hoped.
But as similar as those feelings were, the source was much different. In 2010, the pain came from a winless season. In 2011, the hurt was the result of missing out on what could have been a trip to the playoffs. This year’s Bobcat players and fans experienced the empty feeling from falling short in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs.
The timeline is a perfect illustration of the progression of the Summers County program the last three seasons and the job that head coach Josh Houchins has done in transforming the Bobcats from an automatic “W” on their opponents’ schedules into a team that gives opposing coaches nightmares in the week leading up to a matchup with Summers County.
“He’s done a tremendous job, and he’s been smart enough to surround himself with great coaches,” said Summers County athletic director Wayne Ryan of Houchins, who captured this year’s Register-Herald Coach of the Year Award, edging out some other strong candidates in Oak Hill’s Eddie Souk, Nicholas County’s Gene Morris, Midland Trail’s Joe Dean and Greenbrier West’s Lewis McClung. “He had a group of boys who were with him when he was a middle school coach, and they believed in what he was trying to do..”
The award, voted on by the five members of The Register-Herald sports staff — assistant sports editor Gary Fauber, sports editor Cam Huffman, sports writer Josh Rollins, sports writer Dan Stillwell and sports clerk Rusty Udy, as well as a fan vote on The Register-Herald (Official) Facebook page — recognized Houchins, who also won the online fan vote, for a 7-3 regular season and the program’s first playoff berth since 1995.
The three-year progress wasn’t the only reason Houchins was recognized. The coach — who has also had to battle through some personal adversity after his 6-year-old son Lane was diagnosed with leukemia last year — steered the Bobcats through a possible collapse to recover and make the playoffs.
After a 3-0 start that included wins over PikeView (44-20), James Monroe (26-14) and Grafton (42-14), Summers County dropped three in a row — to Wyoming East (33-20), Greenbrier West (42-6), and Covington, Va. (31-28) to fall back to .500 and erase all of the early-season momentum.
A 48-20 win on the road at Independence may have been the turning point, and the Bobcats followed that with a 48-12 victory at Meadow Bridge.
Heading into an off week with two regular season games remaining, Summers County was 5-3 and in good position for a playoff spot if it could win out against Richwood and Valley.
But Houchins’ club had been in that position before — last year, in fact.
The 2011 Bobcats were also 5-3 heading into an off week, and Richwood and Valley were the final two left on the schedule at that point, as well.
But Summers County couldn’t complete the deal, losing both of those games to finish 5-5.
As it was in many areas, 2012 was different.
This time Summers County responded to the challenge, beating Richwood 42-20 and then finishing the regular season off with a 28-20 win over Valley, leaving no doubt as to its playoff future.
“You don’t usually get a second chance, but those players and coaches did,” said Ryan. “The experience from the year before made them understand what they had to do, and when they got a chance, they made the most of it.”
A No. 11 seed, Summers County made the trip to Mineral County to face No. 6 Frankfort High School expecting to win.
It didn’t happen, as the Falcons cruised to a 38-7 victory, but Houchins is confident it was an experience upon which his team can build.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that success leads to interest,” said Ryan. “When you win, more people come to games and more people want to be on the team. Interest is what helps build a program.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.