How would Oneida head coach Tony Lambert grade his team after the first half of the season? The jury is still out, he said. 

“Incomplete,” he said Friday, after the Indians’ 26-7 win over Cumberland Gap. “I’m going to leave it right there. It’s incomplete and I don’t know which way we’re gonna go.”

Oneida is off to a 4-1 start but has not looked its best since an impressive win at Gatlinburg in the second week of the season. The following week, the Indians led Wartburg just 13-6 at halftime before eventually winning 46-6. The week after that, Oneida let a game slip away amid a flurry of turnovers at Harriman, losing 19-7 to the Blue Devils. Lambert still felt his team didn’t play its best football in a 26-7 win over Cumberland Gap last week.

“We can be a good football team if these guys want to be, if they’ll buy into what they need to,” he said. “And if they don’t, then you can let dissension and individualism and things like that creep in. It becomes all ‘me, me, me’ and ‘my, my, my’ or ‘my four and no more,’” he said. “So we’ll see.” 

Lambert said he’s proud of his team’s 4-1 start, but said he’s looking for more.

“I want the execution and the passion and the intensity that walked off the field at Gatlinburg-Pittman,” he said. “I have not seen it at that level since then.”

The schedule gets markedly tougher for Oneida in the second half of the season, beginning with this week’s visit from York Institute. The Dragons are undefeated and ranked among the state’s Top 10 teams in Class 3A.

“They’ll come in here and they’ll be by far the most physical team we’ve played,” Lambert said. “It’ll be interesting to see how serious we take them. Here’s the good news: It’s a non-region football game. It’s straight for pride.”

Lambert said the game gives his team a good chance to assess itself before two key region games at Rockwood and at Meigs County.

“We’re going to have to pick it up but we’re capable of picking it up,” he said. “That’s the thing. We’re capable of playing with great effort and great energy.” 

Playing snake-bit

After losing 13 of their last 14 games, Scott High coach Josh Terry thinks his Highlanders are focused too hard on not making mistakes rather than playing loose and with confidence.

“I heard a saying one time that said good fortune favors the bold,” Terry said after Friday’s loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman. “I think right now what we’re fighting is an overall sense of what’s gonna go wrong or an overall panic, in terms of not messing up instead of playing mistake-free and making plays, instead of cutting loose and letting it rip as somebody who’s seeking to win would.” 

The Highlanders are 1-4 through the first half of the season, but have had opportunities to win in three of those four losses, with the lone exception being Alcoa. Instead, mistakes at inopportune times have plagued Scott High, including unfortunate turnovers and drives that have stalled in the red zone.

In Friday’s game against Gatlinburg, Scott had three first half turnovers that were turned into three touchdowns by G-P, allowing the visiting Highlanders to build a 21-0 halftime lead.

“You’ve got to play to have fun,” Terry said. “Because if you don’t, that’s when the finicky, loosey-goosey stuff starts happening. It’s a confidence thing.

“If I told you, ‘Don’t think about a white polar bear,’ you just thought about a white polar bear,” Terry added. “You get a bunch of guys that are almost freaking out about not messing up, and that’s what’s on their conscience. It’s not on making the play, it’s not on competing with the guy across from you so much as it’s on not messing up.”

But Terry made it clear that he believes in his team and stands by them, as the Highlanders continue to work on turning the corner.

“That sun will come out tomorrow,” Terry said. “You’re never as good as your best-looking wins, and you’re never as bad as some pretty ugly losses. When you get down to it, it’s a game of inches. There’s corrections to make and there’s a process with which to approach those. That’s the arena we’re given to operate under, is what we do with the time that’s given to us.

“This is where we’re at and we’re all in it together,” he added. “I’m in it with them, they’re in it with me. I’m not infallible, they’re not infallible, but we’re who each other’s got.”

From the Pressbox is a weekly sports column of Independent Herald Editor Ben Garrett.