Northeast fell from the elite ranks last year, but is building another impressive winning streak.
By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
The thought sends shivers up the spine of Pinellas County teams.
The Northeast Vikings were supposed to be in mothballs now, packed away in their place in lore as the team with the county record for most consecutive regular-season wins.
Many thought they ran up the white flag when they had their 43-game regular-season win streak snapped last season, went 3-7 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
But Northeast is alive -- and kicking.
Four straight losses to start 2000 and the graduation of star quarterback/defensive back Andrew Harris appears to have done nothing but rekindle the Vikings' spirit. Northeast heads into tonight's game against host Seminole with a 7-0 record and the chance to win the Class 5A, District 8 title.
More than just making the playoffs, the Vikings threaten to build another streak. Northeast has won eight consecutive regular-season games dating to last season, the longest such streak in the county.
"It never takes long for a Northeast team to reload, so to speak," said Warhawks coach Sam Roper, whose team had a 21-game win streak snapped two weeks ago. "They had athletes last year but just had some bad breaks that led to their demise."
Northeast coach Jerry Austin said he isn't too surprised by last season's fallout. For as much as you count on the Vikings streaking toward the playoffs each year, you can also depend on the good times to be interrupted around the start of each decade. The only 3-7 teams Austin has coached in his 23 seasons at Northeast have come in 1979, '90 and 2000.
"Every 10 years or so you've got to get out the broom and sweep away the dust that builds up with the program," Austin said. "You hate to do it, but we had to get rid of the players who didn't want to be around, who didn't want to play."
The weeding-out process left Austin with players who wanted to be there for the long haul. Unfortunately, most of those players were young.
"The biggest difference between this year and last year is we're older," running back Bo Washington said. "We have more seniors, more leadership. That wasn't there last year."
Another factor that hurt the Vikings was injuries. Austin said he had 27 players at the end of last season.
"We were in a lot of games, but we just didn't have enough guys to compete," Austin said. "I'm not saying we would have gone undefeated again, but if we had more players maybe we could have had a better season."
Motivated by the memories of a season that got away, Northeast has returned to its winning ways.
"Last year teams did a number on us and we didn't give them much to worry about," said sophomore quarterback Josh Harris, who has taken over for his older brother, Andrew. "I was young last season and just getting a feel for things. I'm doing what I can to make my team better and get us in the playoffs."
Seminole is on a streak of another kind. The Warhawks have lost two in a row.
"One good things about those losses is they were not in the district," Roper said. "We still have the chance to win the district title, make the playoffs and have a good season. That's what we're going to build on. We're taking the perspective that we're the district champions and we have to defend that."