At one point this season, the Tenaha Tigers were 2-4, leaving many to wonder whether the defending state champions could right the ship quick enough to make another run at state.

The doubters had plenty of ammunition at the time. Last season's all-state quarterback Reginald Davis had moved to Texas Tech and the defensive MVP of the championship game Assuntay Cleaver had transferred to another school.

That was then, and this is now.

Tenaha (8-4) is riding a six-game winning streak into its Class A Division II Region III championship game against Frost (11-1).

“We’re kinda hitting our stride right now," Tenaha coach Terry Ward said. "We knew things were going to be rough in non-district. We had a tough preseason schedule and on top of that, we were very young. We lost a big senior class for us. We’re starting a freshman and two sophomores on the offensive line. And we have several other sophomores at other positions and juniors as well.

"We’re only really playing with one senior."

Twelve games into the season, those underclassmen aren't so young anymore.

“It’s been a lot of work and has taken a lot of time," Ward said. "Our coaching staff has done a great job with those guys. The kids deserve a lot of credit, too. We have kids that have stepped up and are trying to exceed our expectations. They show up here every day working hard.”

In addition to its youth, Tenaha has been burdened with the dreaded bullseye all season long.

“We kinda expected that," Ward said. "We’ve been telling our kids since August that we have a target on our backs. Everybody wants to beat a defending state champion for bragging rights. I think for the most part we’ve gotten the best football everybody’s had to offer.”

But at the same time, there are still a few holdovers from last year's championship team, making playoff preparation run smoothly.

"Right now our practices are kinda loose," Ward said. "The kids understand where we’re at and they understand what we have to do. They can see the state game in front of them, it’s not that far away. I feel like the kids are getting excited about it again.”

Ward said the biggest reason for his team's midseason turnaround has been on the defensive side of the ball.

“Right now, the kids are playing hard," he said. "Defensively, that’s probably been the biggest reason for that. We’ve played really good defense the last three games; we’ve only given up 14 points in those three games combined.”

Ward said this week's playoff opponent will be a challenge.

“Frost is a team that kind of showed up and has won a lot of games; they’ve only lost one game," he said. "Their coaches do a great job … they've come in and got some things rolling. They definitely deserve to be here. They’re a power running team, they like to run the football and keep the ball away from their opponents.”

The winner of Friday's game in Van gets either Burton (11-1) or Falls City (10-2) in the semifinals next week.