The word "work" stood out the most when Spring Hill coach Kelly Mercer talked about his team's 2-0 start to the season.

The Panthers have put in plenty of work since January when the team returned to working out and getting ready for the 2016 season. They were coming off a 1-9 campaign in 2015, and it's been nearly a decade since Spring Hill has experienced a winning season.

"They started in January just learning how to come to work every day. They have to be able to put in the work to be successful," Mercer said. "They have to be able to trust in their conditioning, the work they've put in and the trust they have in each other. They can always fall back on that to play with more confidence."

Confidence has been hard to come by in Spring Hill in recent years. A program that once was at the forefront of then-Class 3A in East Texas has struggled in recent memory, but that might be about to change.

The Panthers are entering Week 3 at 2-0, coming off wins against Brownsboro (40-28) and Troup (28-16). They've already eclipsed last season's win total and matched 2014.

It's a process, Mercer said, but it's a process that his team needs to trust to be successful.

"We're just excited about each week, and it's good to see all the work we've put in since last year start to come to fruition so far this year," Mercer said.

Before last Friday's win against Brownsboro, Spring Hill has scored 40 or more points just once in a game since 2012 -- and that was the opener of last season.

And how the Panthers got to 40 points last week was exciting in itself.

Up 34-28 and Brownsboro driving, quarterback Dayson Adaway went in on defense and intercepted a pass on Spring Hill's 1-yard line. Three plays later, Adaway went around the right end, found a hole and scored on a 99-yard touchdown run.

"We were just trying to take a knee to finish out the game, but it got to be third down and we needed to get out of the end zone. All of a sudden 99 yards later we're celebrating in the end zone," Mercer said. "I've never had a kid do that, make a play like that on defense and turn around and make a play like that on offense."

It's plays like Adaways and wins to make you 2-0 that can be big turning points for a program. But 3-0 with a win coming against your arch-rival? That's even bigger.

Spring Hill faces White Oak in the Battle of Hawkins Creek at 7:30 p.m. Friday in White Oak. For the students and fans, it doesn't get much bigger than this game, but for Mercer's team, he said they just need to stay focused and not get caught up in the hype.

"Everyone has a rivalry, so as coaches we honestly try not to let our players get too caught up in it. This is not a playoff game or a do-or-die situation," Mercer said, "but I do respect the rivalry. We don't play until 7:30 Friday so if we get too excited we can set ourselves up to be let down."

The real key, Mercer said, is to build on the past two wins, fix mistakes and get better -- because the real tests begin on Oct. 7 when Spring Hill starts District 7-4A Division II play. That's when the schedule goes Gladewater, Pittsburg, Gilmer, Pleasant Grove and Atlanta.

"We don't want to be playing our best football just yet. If we're peaking right now it's going to be a long season," Mercer said. "We want to start peaking against Gladewater and building from there. I like to think we eliminated some mistakes from our scrimmages when we played Troup, and we eliminated some mistakes when we played Brownsboro and we need to do the same against White Oak. We just need to build toward the first district game and get toward playing our best football at that time. There's always something to build on each week."