Column: Ending the streak: GFW’s big victory

The monkey is off the back.

The Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop football team is feeling pretty good right now after picking up its first win since the 2014 season. The Thunderbirds didn’t just pick up the win, though, they took it with force with a 28-0 thumping of Windom Area last Friday.

Head coach Pat Hentges said that it was great to get back into the win column after the Thunderbirds spent too many years of being on the losing side of things. He said that despite the excitement of the win, he was thinking more about the work leading up to it.

“I can’t speak for the fans or even the boys, but I was thinking about the process,” Hentges said. “We did our summer camp and we did some volunteering. Believe it or not, I was thinking about us planting trees in the cemetery. I don’t think people see how hard these kids work. A lot of times we hear the older generation say that these kids don’t want to work very hard, but that’s not this team. This team is so close and they love to work.”

Whether he’ll admit it or not, Hentges has to be feeling a wave of pressure lifted off of he and his team’s shoulders after the win.

He said that his players won’t let the win get to their heads, however, because it’s not how they were raised. He also said that his team was confident before the meeting with Windom Area and that it paid off.

“It was almost like they expected [the win],” Hentges said. “We don’t talk about high expectations, we talk about positive expectations. They didn’t overreact, in all honesty I think some of the fans were obviously excited, but of course our boys were happy. Their work paid off based on the scoreboard, and they hear from me that already I think they’re successful — scoreboard ain’t going to determine that. You don’t have a scoreboard when you’re a dad saying, ‘Hey, you won today.’ So I’m real happy for the program, I’m happy for the community, it brings some excitement. But we have a lot of football ahead of us, thank goodness. We just want to go out and play.”

GFW, known for its defensive struggles at times a year ago, revamped its defense this year and limited Windom Area to just 7 offensive yards in the first half and 39 offensive yards the entire game. No matter how one wants to slice it, that’s saying a lot.

Offensively, the GFW attack was balanced, with three different players rushing for at least 50 yards in the game. Junior running back Tyler Hopp led the way with 110 yards on 15 carries, while senior McKray Schmidt added 69 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and junior Ryan Lavrenz had 52 yards and a score on four carries.

Junior JC Munoz also contributed to the rushing attack with 49 yards on 11 carries. Having to endure the losing streak for too long, Munoz is glad to get things back on track.

“The whole team was talking about that in practice — that we really need to get that win so we can get all that weight off our shoulders and so we can just start playing ball,” Munoz said. “To just get that out of our heads — it helped us get a good mentality because after we won, we didn’t really know how to react. We kind of just said, ‘Oh, we won!’ and we all started cheering that it was good to be a T-Bird and not to stop here. We need to keep playing hard. We still have the rest of the season.”

After a three-season long losing streak, it’s not hard to understand why the Thunderbirds would be so fired up and hungry to turn GFW football around again. Hentges is happy, the students and fans are happy and the team is ready to win again.

The Thunderbirds will have a tall order at hand on Friday, however, as they take on a very fast and aggressive Maple River team. Maple River (1-0) blanked GFW last season 41-0 in Mapleton.

This year will give the Thunderbirds a chance to get some payback on their own field as they look to move to 2-0 on the year.

With GFW football taking a small step in the right direction, this Friday is a great time for those undecided students and fans to show up and make some noise at the game.

“Just come and watch, and support the community,” Munoz said of the GFW fans. “Football hasn’t really been a big part since that losing streak happened … people just kind of stopped going. Last year we changed our offense and that kind of got the fans excited because we were scoring and competing with every team we would play, so that makes people come out.”