On Oct. 16, Okolona handed Vardaman its third loss in five games.
The Rams were struggling after opening the season with two wins over larger schools Bruce and East Webster.
But somehow on that mid-October night, head coach Justin Hollis was able to leave the Vardaman field with an optimistic feeling for what was to come.
“We went through a tough time in the middle of the season,” the second-year Vardaman coach said. “We were trying to find our identity.
“After we played Okolona, that’s when it came together. I saw it in their (his players) eyes. It was on from there.”
The Rams responded by winning five in a row, including last Friday’s 13-7 MHSAA Class 1A quarterfinals victory in overtime against Coffeeville.
That win against landed the Rams (9-3) a home semifinal game against Durant (12-1) on Friday.
Durant is “obviously talented,” Hollis said. “You don’t go 12-1 and get to the North half (1A semifinals) and not be talented. Coach (Ashley) Kuhn does a really good job with his team.
“To us, it’s another ballgame and another opportunity for us to play the great game of football. We just enjoy playing.
“We’re just trying to get the job done Friday night.”
The enjoyment the Rams’ players get from playing the game has made it easier for the players to work hard at improving.
“It’s amazing to see the smiles on their faces in practice everyday and at school,” Hollis said. “Anytime you have a good group of kids that love to work – if you get a bunch of kids to work hard and believe in their coaches and each other – then you got something special brewing no matter who you play.”
That is why Hollis had a gut feeling at the beginning of the season that his team, with only six seniors, would be just as successful, if not more, than last year’s.
“Just the way they worked in the offseason and the summer, I just had more of a feeling about this team than last year’s team,” he said.
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal