By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Editor
Central Valley High (Pa.) coach Mark Lyons didn’t need to put a slogan on a t-shirt to remind his players of their mission this fall.
After falling in the Pennsylvania state championship game in 2019, his players committed to finishing the job in 2020. They did just that with a 35-21 win over previously unbeaten Wyomissing. With the win, the Warriors captured their first state championship in program history — and erased the heart-breaking memories of last year’s loss once and for all.
Lyons recently caught up with FNF Coaches to discuss how his team used a setback to inspire a major comeback.
When did you start to get a sense that this would be a special season?
“After the way we finished last year, we knew we had a lot coming back. After coming up short in a heart-breaking loss in a state championship game, we knew we’d have a very motivated group. We thought we had enough leadership coming back to finish the job.”
Did you lose any momentum due to the pandemic?
“Our district put in a plan to follow that allowed us to be the judge of what’s best for the kids. We followed that. Our kids were willing to do anything they had to do to play this year. They sensed that they had an opportunity to make another run. Whatever we asked them to do, they did. We never used the locker room together as a group. They didn’t shower here; they showered at home. It wasn’t easy for them. They knew that if they wanted to play, these are the things they had to do.”
How often did you use the 2019 loss as motivation for the players?
“Knowing this group of players, we didn’t need to say anything or put a slogan on a t-shirt or in the locker room. The minute we left Hershey in 2019, we knew it would be the driving force. It was definitely a motivational factor, but a quiet one. We never rehashed what went wrong with the players. We did internally as a staff, but our guys were smart enough to know what went wrong. They knew the opportunity that they had.”
Was it difficult to stay motivated during the regular season when everyone knew the ultimate goal was the state championship?
“No, we actually had the Mercy Rule go into effect in every game except the state championship. In Pennsylvania, they stop it if you have a 35-point lead in the second half. So, we were only getting a half game of experience each week. We created competitive situations in practice to make up for that.”
What kind of situations?
“We split up groups in practice and developed some 1-on-1 situations. We had game-like situations. One side is behind, and they have to convert some key first downs. Our young guys were good about creating that in practice, and we had a lot of one-way guys, so we could do it.”
Did you coach any differently in this year’s state championship game?
“I don’t think we did anything differently from a team standpoint. From a staff standpoint, we wanted to dictate the pace of the game regardless of the score. We were not going to allow ourselves to deviate from the plan because we were behind on the scoreboard or behind the sticks on third down. We stayed true to who we were and let the kids plays. We put them in situations to take chances. Don’t be afraid.”