Joe Drennon thought he had a pretty good football team when he saw the squad on the first day of summer camp, but three straight losses to open the season suggested Mineola was a team destined to watch the Class 3A Division I playoffs rather than define them.

Then the magic started. Drennon's squad put together win after win and departed the town on Dec. 18 knowing that, win or lose, it ran the gauntlet for a 16th and final game. And it was enough to earn East Texas Football Super Team Coach of the Year honors, following last season's recipient Scott Surratt of Carthage.

"I really thought going into the season we had a good chance to make it to the third round of the playoffs," Drennon said. "It just depended on who we drew. But I'll tell you, once we got on a roll, I told the kids, 'This can happen. We've got a shot to make it there.' We were playing some really good football."

The Yellowjackets made it to the third round and then some. The season ended on the final day of Class 3A competition in the state championship game, a 70-40 loss to Cameron Yoe, that stung but also put the program on the map.

Drennon helped transform a Mineola team that was 0-3 team in mid-September into a 12-4 final product. It was just one of four East Texas teams contending in the final week of the 2014 season.

The squad put up a perfect 5-0 record in District 8-3A Division I. Then it rolled Pattonville Prairiland and Commerce to reach the third round of the playoffs.

Mineola outlasted Pilot Point with a touchdown in the final minute and batted down an on-target pass in the end zone to survive. An eerily similar situation arose the next week in the Region II championship game against Pottsboro.

Drennon's squad reached the apex in its state semifinal game against a battle-tested Shallowater team from West Texas. It was 28-7 at halftime en route to a 42-27 final score.

The team delivered the town its first state championship game appearance, and there's reason to believe that the title loss was only the beginning of a significant run.

Mineola needs to replace an outstanding defensive front, but it is loaded at its skill positions and returns critical pieces of an offensive line that pushed four underclassmen runners to 4,465 yards and 53 touchdowns.

"I didn't really talk to them after the game about that," Drennon said. "When we got back from the break, I told them, 'Don't let one game spoil what we accomplished this season.' Our school, for the first time, got to go that deep into the playoffs and play for the state championship. That group of kids really stepped up and played the highest level of football they could."

The iron is hot.

Mineola's state championship appearance roster consisted of six juniors, 11 sophomores and four freshmen to 11 graduating seniors.

"Our kids came back and went to work early after Christmas," Drennon said. "Some of them even called me during Christmas break wanting to go into the weight room. We're excited about it. You're not going to have a Trevor Keener, Juan Vargas or Casey Gilbreath every year. Those guys were really good football players for us on defense. But one thing I know is, no matter where you are, somebody is always going to step up and wants to play that spot.

"I think we can be a really good football team again. You catch a break along the way, who knows?"