Mineola had lost just two football games since a non-district loss to Lone Oak on Sept. 12, 2014. One was the 2014 Class 3A Division I state championship and the other a 2015 state semifinal game.

So, when the Yellowjackets started the 2016 season 0-2 after returning 19 starters, that undoubtedly raised some eyebrows.

But those two losses came to two Class 4A programs, the first against Van -- now ranked No. 9 in the state -- and the second to Kaufman, which is 6-2 and unbeaten in district.

"We did it for a reason. We wanted to get some good teams on our schedule to get us ready for the playoffs if we get back," Mineola coach Joe Drennon said. "We've got to see the big picture of everything. No one ever likes to lose, but if you're learning lessons from it and you get better, it's a good thing. It's better to lose early than late."

These days the Yellowjackets aren't doing anything in the losing department. Mineola has won five straight since its 41-31 loss to Kaufman on Sept. 2, and none have been close. The Yellowjackets have won their last five by more than 44 points per game.

They've got their sights set on a third consecutive district championship with three games left, starting with Grand Saline on Friday.

"Their maturity showed up. These guys have been playing with me for a while, so I knew they'd respond, and I'm proud of how they've done it," Drennon said. "Those first two games we turned the ball over when we normally don't and it cost us. They've got it corrected and we've been producing pretty well here lately."

Quarterback Jeremiah Crawford has been, yet again, at the forefront of Mineola's stellar offensive production. He's rushed for 1,174 yards and 16 touchdowns through seven games, averaging more than 11 yards per carry.

But just as impressive as Mineola's offense has been, the Yellowjackets' defense has been playing its best football in recent memory. They have allowed just 37 points during the winning streak, with 22 coming from Brownsboro in a 41-point Mineola win.

Drennon said the Yellowjackets have scored five defensive touchdowns this year. Devon Goguen and Kourtland Sinches have combined for eight sacks, Sinches has forced four fumbles and Preston Lankford has three.

"We're getting a little bit better each week offensively and defensively. We've held on to the football on offense and our defense has created a bunch of turnovers," Drennon said. "When you look back and you have forced more turnovers than your opponents, you normally come out on top."

Drennon said being at the head of a program like the one he's created at Mineola has been special, and the players who have taken the field for him the last three years have been the reason why.

"We've got a lot of leaders on this team and we don't have just one or two playmakers. We've got playmakers on both sides of the ball and we have really good offensive linemen who take care of business. We've got a complete team," Drennon said. "As a coach you want to get your program to where ours is right now. When you get kids who buy in and commit the way ours do, it's an awesome feeling."

When you're a team that has won 31 out of its last 38 games, has played for one state championship and finished a game short of playing for another one, the end goal remains the same: winning it all.

But talking about it easy. Getting there is a different thing.

"We just have to stay focused, see the big picture and play football the way we know how to play football," Drennon said. "Any coach will tell you that to get there, you have to make or break every week, and get a break on a lot of things. We're going to play as hard as we can on Friday night; we just have to make sure we don't make mistakes. One fumble, one interception or one blown assignment could cost you a football game. Everybody's good at that point. You've got to get a break and hopefully create that break."