Elysian Fields Looks to Keep Momentum Going With 6-0 Start After Tough 2015 Season
Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong for Elysian Fields in 2015.
"To be honest with you, things just kind of fell apart," Yellowjackets coach Scott Ford said.
It started on the morning of Elysian Fields' second game of the season against Jefferson when Ford woke up and couldn't feel most of the left side of his body. After being rushed to the hospital he was told he had suffered a stroke at the age of 45.
"I had never had high blood pressure or was diagnosed with it. That day it was 210 over 40 and doctors told me I had had a significant event in my brain," Ford said.
Elysian Fields beat Jefferson that day, but the Yellowjackets would lose five of their next eight, including the final four games of the season. Their defense gave up 175 points over the last four losses.
"It was a rough year last year. I got sick and then we lost some coaches," Ford said. "We had a talented team but we just didn't play as a team. It was a long three-, four-month process ... exhaustion from losing games."
But how quickly things can change from one year to the next.
Elysian Fields goes into Friday's game against Waskom riding a 6-0 start to 2016 and coming off its biggest win of the season, a 34-27 victory against rival Arp in a crucial District 9-3A Division II game that could ultimately decide the district champion.
"Every now and then you coach a ball club that figures out a way to win and that's what our identity is," said Ford, whose team was ranked 14th in the state in this week's Associated Press Poll. "Obviously the Arp game was a big hurdle that we were able to get over. But having said that, we've got some big games left. We've been blessed to be relatively healthy, which is always key at this level."
Elysian Fields is loaded with several offensive weapons who have the ability to score at any point in the game, which has helped the Yellowjackets average 37 points per game this season.
Quarterback Logan Hughes has fronted the offensive firepower, throwing for 1,613 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 75 percent of his passes. Elysian Fields has two running backs with more than 300 yards rushing and three different receivers with at least 21 receptions.
Senior receiver Sharay Ratliffe Jr., coming back from an arm injury, put up the performance of the season so far last week against Arp, catching 15 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns in the Yellowjackets' most important game of 2016.
"It means a lot (to have that many playmakers) because you can actually run an offense. We don't spend a lot of time trying to get individual players the ball on offense. We just figure out our plan of attack and let it happen," Ford said. "It's certainly a blessing to go out every game with a good offensive line and skill kids who can play."
But the biggest change Ford has seen in this year's team has been on defense. The Yellowjackets haven't allowed more than 27 points in a game (last week against Arp), and pitched shutouts in each of the two weeks prior.
As a team Elysian Fields has 28 tackles for loss, 12 sacks and has forced nine turnovers this season.
"Since I've been here I've tried to teach these kids to watch and learn video. Every kid is graded on his performance with a plus or minus," Ford said. "If we have a minus we watch it together and they can see it with our own eyes. The saying goes, 'Good is the enemy of great,' so we grade our kids hard and they learn from it. People can pat us on the back and tell us we're a good football team, but that's not what we want to hear. I don't think we've peaked yet. We just have to keep working."
Elysian Fields has another big-time district game Friday night against two-time defending state champion Waskom. While the Wildcats, who are coming off their bye week, aren't the same team as the last two years after losing many playmakers, it's a game you can't think to overlook, Ford said.
"This is a rivalry game so you can throw everything out the window. Records won't matter at 7:30 Friday night," Ford added. "We saw the Flex Bone (offense) last week with Arp and with (Kayce) Medlock and others Arp is maybe a better team, but Waskom is probably more polished at it because they've been running it longer. They've had two weeks to prepare for us and they've put up a couple of state championship banners, so they're certainly not going to just let us go in and beat them. We've got to stay hungry."