Mercer County not troubled by season-opening loss

Posted Online: Sept. 04, 2014, 5:08 pm
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ALEDO — Observing his players go through agility exercises during practice on Wednesday afternoon, Mercer County football coach Nat Zunkel pointed out his team was loose and having fun.

Zunkel actually prefers that kind of atmosphere.

"It's been effective for us," Zunkel said. "Bottom line is this should be fun and rewarding. If it's not, then we're not doing the right things."

From the outside, the sky should be falling on the Golden Eagles after a season-opening 28-0 loss to Elmwood-Brimfield last Friday. Fun and rewards should not come from a defeat, especially on their home field.

Mercer County does not operate that way.

"With the kids we have on the team, we take (losing) with a grain of salt," Mercer County senior lineman Dalton Howard said. "It's not as big of a deal as some people would think. We take the criticism pretty well and we bounce back.

"We're working to get better."

Since Aledo and Westmer consolidated to form Mercer County prior to the 2009 season, the program entered the season with eight losses in 61 games. Never had the Golden Eagles lost their season opener. Not once had they suffered a larger margin of defeat at George Pratt Memorial Field.

All those streaks ended in a game Mercer County felt was defined by missed opportunities. Add those up, it was its ninth loss in six seasons.

How did the Golden Eagles handle the defeat? They refused to be concerned about it.

"We do what we do," Zunkel said. "We wake up the next day and go to work. We have to get better. That's what our focus has been."

The loss meant Mercer County has been shut out in back-to-back games dating back to a 14-0 setback against Sterling Newman in last fall's Class 2A state semifinal. The Golden Eagles have dropped consecutive regular-season games for the first time ever.

Given that information, there was no alarm. Mercer County wanted to get back to practice and start having fun.

"Most of the kids on the team got past it pretty quick," Howard said.

Examining the film and realizing part of the loss came from their own undoing helped the Golden Eagles get re-energized and refocused. The goal is moving forward, not dwelling on one game.

"Everyone has been pretty good about moving on," Howard said. "At practice this week, you wouldn't be able to tell that we lost 28-0 in our first game. Everyone still is up and going as hard as we can."

Rather than blow things up, Mercer County is keeping the status quo.

"This is a talented group of kids," Zunkel said. " ... We didn't perform. We're accepting the fact that we were our own worst enemy and learning from it."

Those wanting to see fireworks on the practice field would not find them. A program that has experienced countless success in its history was not humbled or humiliated by a 28-point loss. Practice was about getting better, having fun and preparing for Farmington.

Losing never is fun, but this group is not allowing it to consume them.

"We understand that we have enough talent, enough hard-working kids here that we can bounce back from anything," Howard said. "One loss isn't going to make or break a season, especially the first game of the year."

Contact prep sports reporter Daniel Makarewicz at danmak@qconline.com or follow on Twitter: @danmak57


Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.

(More History)