There’s a bitter taste lingering for the Black Hills High School football team — and the Wolves are determined to get rid of it.
Last season, Black Hills finished 5-5 and played in its first playoff game since advancing to the Class 2A state playoffs in 2009.
After erecting a 21-0 lead into the fourth quarter in the 2014 district playoffs, the Wolves dropped a 24-21 heartbreaker to 2A Greater St. Helens League champion Hockinson (11-1).
“For three quarters, we dominated the No. 4 team in the state until we blew it and let them off the hook at the end,” coach Kirk Stevens said.
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And then, he joked, “Not that I remember that or anything.”
But remembering it — and mentioning it often — has proved a motivational tool as the Wolves continue with fall practices.
“It’s picking the scab,” senior cornerback and running back Jordan March said.
Added Cameron Berndson, a senior linebacker and running back: “I think we’re using that as something to fuel us. We don’t want it to happen again.”
The Wolves have 17 seniors on the roster this season, and for the first time in four seasons a returning head coach. Stevens — who has been on the coaching staff since the school opened in 1997 — is entering his second season at the head of the program.
In 2014, he was hired as the third coach in as many years.
His predecessor, Dominic Yarrington, coached for one season after replacing Jack Zilla in 2013 — Zilla had coached the previous 15 seasons.
With the turnover, Black Hills faced a steep learning curve and it took much of the 2014 season just learning Stevens’ spread offense, which the Wolves will run again this season.
“It’s rough having a new coach every year, but running the same offense again it’s like we’re working out the little details,” March said. “It’s not about learning like it was before.”
That also extends to the defense. Black Hills will run the same 3-4 defensive scheme as last season and returns most of its defensive line and linebackers — including four starters. The secondary is young but returns March, who was a first team All-2A Evergreen Conference selection last season.
Seven starters return on offense, but who will lead that offense is still in question. Stevens said senior Chase Morrow and junior Christian Williams are both in consideration at quarterback.
“No one’s got a position written in stone,” Stevens said. “Everything’s fluid. Everyone gets a chance.”
Morrow started three games last season in place of injured senior all-league quarterback Jaydon Troy. Williams also took snaps at the position last season.
As it stands, the two could split time during the beginning of the season.
“I have a feeling it will carry over because we have four nonleague games (to start the season), and there will be some competition,” Stevens said.
Black Hills starts its season at home against Montesano on Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. The Wolves travel for all three of their league games, beginning with W.F. West on Oct. 2.
Stevens said the Wolves are working to improve on last season’s third-place league finish and push the playoff picture further. The program has reached the state playoffs five times since its inception but has yet to win a game.
“We just haven’t been able to get over that hump,” Stevens said. “This group wants to get over that hump and get to that next level.”
Lauren Smith: 253-358-4160