There is nothing like a late season loss to get a team ready for the playoffs.
Any semblance of being over-confident is gone, as team members look deep within themselves seeking answers for the setback. Practices can get a little more intense, with players eager to try harder, fully believing that more sweat and more hard work will make a difference down the road in pursuit of a championship.
That is how it went for the Abington North Junior Comets B team, which rebounded from a loss in their regular-season finale to post three playoff victories, capping the season with a 13-7 win over the West Side Falcons in the Northern Area Junior Football League (NAJFL) Super Bowl.
Not bad for a team of 11- and 12-year olds that came from an organization that had two teams, and split its players equitably, not resorting to stacking one team with all of its better players in order to win.
"We made sure each team had a center, quarterback, running back, etc.," Abington North head coach Mark Pronitis Jr. said. "We had 25 kids on each team. I was fine with that. We had a lot of really good football players."
Having all the kids practicing together made the job of dividing the kids into teams, and made for a competitive atmosphere. Going against their peers proved to be the right fit for the title-winning team.
"Both teams would practice together, and the last half-hour would be a scrimmage," Pronitis said. "It usually ended up a draw."
As it was, Pronitis found dispensing playing time a tough task, trying to make sure each player got a fair amount of time.
"It was difficult," Pronitis said. "You try to do your best."
But making the coaches' jobs go a little easier was their ability to talk to and watch the Abington Heights varsity coaching staff. Any questions about what they were doing were answered, all in the hopes of seeing many of the youth players continue to strive for a varsity uniform when they get old enough.
"The coaches at the high school level welcomed us, and let us watch their practices," Pronitis said. "They showed us what they wanted us to teach the kids. The high school coaches told us if we ever had a question, ask. We had access to them."
A bonus for Pronitis came when various high school players would stop by and give a hand, many of them to help out their younger brothers who were on the Abington North team. Some of those varsity players even stopped at the junior team practice after their practice concluded.
"Most of the help from the high school kids came before they started their season," Pronitis said.
It worked wonders, because the Abington North team rolled to wins in their first seven games, four in the Northern Division and three crossover contests.
The team was led by a strong defense, which was versatile enough to run a 6-2, 5-3 or 4-4 scheme, with the linemen listed first before the linebackers. Pronitis was proud of the job turned in by defensive coordinator Chad Stevens, the brother of Dan Stevens, a two-way starting lineman for the playoff-bound varsity Comets.
"We were blessed with a lot of good kids," Pronitis said. "If we ever had someone injured or otherwise out, we would come in with other good kids with a lot of potential.
Game eight was against Western Wayne, which had also gone unbeaten in their first four Northern games.
For once, the Jr. Comets tasted the bitterness of defeat, 16-13, unable to stop Western Wayne's inside running attack.
But after the Comets opened the playoffs with a 19-0 win over Lackawanna Trail, it set them up for a rematch with Western Wayne and came away with a resounding 32-18 win.
Then came the West Side Falcons from the South Division, and Abington North delivered another victory to close out a 10-1 season with a Super Bowl title.
"I will remember after the Super Bowl victory, how neat it was to see all the smiles, happy to have won the whole thing," Pronitis said.
It bodes well for the Abington Heights varsity team a few years down the road. After all, it's a program that relies on its present and past players to ensure itself a strong future.