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Hornets look for second-half surge

The Hornets’ 22-20 double overtime loss to Sunshine last week served as an exclamation point to the first half of a John Essex season that saw the team suffer an 0-5 record while taking on five 2007 1A playoff teams.

“We let one slip away,” JEHS head coach Fentress Means said. “We got complacent. We ran out of gas with 19 layers and only about 14 that were able to play.”

After the Hornets built a 14-0 lead in the first half, they watched as Sunshine rallied back to tie the game before eventually taking the contest in the second overtime.

“The kids gave it all they had,” Means said. “They gave us what they had left in the tank. I can’t fault their effort.”

Means’ team had previously suffered drubbings against the likes of A.L. Johnson, Billingsley, Maplesville and Holy Spirit before pushing the Tigers to the limit last week. The second-yard JEHS head coach said he believes the necessity of playing the Hornets’ small number of players both ways eventually took its toll in that contest, leading to turnovers and missed opportunities.

“We didn’t stay focused the whole 48 minutes,” Means said. “They wore us down the second half. That line just wore us down.”

“Not to take anything away from Sunshine, but we actually just let that one slip away,” he said.

However, despite the result of the game, Hornet players seemed energized and reassured following the heartbreaking loss.

“It built (our confidence) a good deal,” senior receiver Zackary Fluker said. “After the game, we felt we had won.”

Now that the team has the meat of its schedule in the rearview mirror, it has set its focus on using the present to build for the future.

“If we could manage four or five wins here in the second half of the season, it would really help the program come spring in getting some more kids out here,” Means said. “And it would help (the current players) to know they are not quitters.”

“I want to make the guys behind me better,” Fluker said of his younger teammates who are set to return to John Essex next season. “I want to win, but I want to make these guys better.”

That intent to build a program has permeated John Essex during the first two years of Means’ tenure. All but three players on the team are underclassmen, setting the Hornets up to return a tremendous amount of experience in 2009. Now, Means and the team hope to build some of the intangibles surrounding the program.

“They need to get a win or two under their belts,” Means said. “We need to get the school spirit up.”

While the prospect of an 0-5 team staging such a turnaround seems unlikely to some, the Hornets second-half schedule is considerably more favorable than the five games that preceded it.

The Hornets’ first half opponents have a combined record of 15-8 heading into Friday’s action. The second half docket features a 5-0 Linden team and four teams with a combined record of 4-16.

“We’re not afraid of anybody,” Means said. “This team is not as bad as its record looks. We’ve got to continue working hard.”

The Hornets’ next chance at their first victory comes Friday night when they host J.F. Shields, a winless team who fell to Sweet Water 78-0 last week, for homecoming.