It hasn't been easy to notch win No. 1 under their belts, but Fulton has one more chance to do so before districts when the Hornets play at Sweet Springs tonight.
Much of the difficulty has been Fulton's own doing, head coach Dana Chambers said, as the Hornets (0-7) haven't been able to avoid the turnovers, penalties and negative plays that have bogged the offense down this season.
Fulton's playmakers won't have an easy challenge at Sweet Springs (5-3). The Hornets had a convincing 48-14 win against the Greyhounds a season ago but will be facing a more stout defensive unit this season with a struggling offense.
Sweet Springs' defense has allowed 16.9 points per game — the second time in the previous 12 seasons the Greyhounds have a mark below 20 — after giving up 23.1 ppg a season ago. Chambers was impressed after watching their film as he sees a team that plays hard throughout the formation, from defensive linemen to linebackers to secondary. The secondary has snagged several interceptions this season, including five in two of its previous three wins.
"They play hard," Chambers said. "The defensive line come off the line and hit guys hard. The secondary can play the pass pretty well. When you play that giving effort and doing all they can do to win a ballgame, it's tough so the offense will have to do their job every snap."
Having a defense give this much effort can lead to turnovers if Fulton isn't careful, as was the case in the Hornets' most recent 20-0 loss to Kirksville partially because of four turnovers. Taking away the run early can convince teams to pass a lot more, like what has happened every week to the Hornets.
Week after week, Fulton has tried to establish a run game to little success, Chambers said, but the Hornets can't give up now as the season is coming to a close.
"We need to be able to do both," he said. "We need to be able to run the ball, and we need to be able to pass the ball. Going into our last game before districts, I keep telling the boys to play your best football at the end of the season."
If Fulton is able to become the most balanced team it can be while also moving the ball steadily, this will in turn take more pressure off the defense, which has received a workout this season when it has allowed 35.7 points per game. This mark is still better than the previous three seasons, but Chambers said the Hornets defensive unit is capable of being better, especially against an offensive scheme they've seen several times this season.
Against teams such as Moberly, Mexico and Marshall, Fulton saw offenses that found ways to run the ball against them. Seeing Sweet Springs this week as the latest in this similar strategy means the Hornets better know what to expect and more capable of stopping it.
"It's something similar to what they're doing like in the double wing," Chambers said. "They'll motion and run toss, dive and counter and then throw the ball off play action. It's an offense we'll need to be disciplined for and read our keys."
While improving on all of these aspects are important, Chambers said enjoying the time playing with teammates helps every other are. With about a full season into his tenure at Fulton, the Hornets should have forged bonds with each other and can use that as motivation play the best they possibly can.
"First off, I want us to have more fun," Chambers said. "I want us to get out there and enjoy competing with the guy next to you. I want them to do what we've worked on in practice and prove to themselves that is something they can do (in a game). They've done it at times, but they just got to be more consistent."