KAPLAN — After five weeks and sitting with a 2-3 record, the season was looking grim for the Kaplan Pirates.
They started 2-0 with an expected win over Abbeville and a strong win over Vermilion Catholic.
After that Stephen “Tank” Lotief’s squad played a tough, hard-fought game against Church Point in overtime in Week 3, fumbled late in a game against E.D. White in Week 4 and put an injury-riddled team on the field against perennial state power Patterson in Week 5 — all three losses.
“We could easily be 9-1 right now,” Lotief said, “but we lost a close one to Church Point, and we fumbled the game away late against E.D. White. We feel like we really could have beat both of those teams. But, you know, we just grinded and grinded and ended up 7-3.”
Lotief said despite the loss to Church Point, the week of practice leading up to E.D. White was a good one. After two more losses, however, Lotief admitted the team may have been doubting the coaches and their philosophies at 2-3.
“It was rough,” Lotief said. “They start doubting you and doubting what you’re telling them. I think they doubted us all year, but luckily, we had our next-door neighbor on the schedule next and we got up for North Vermilion.”
Kaplan beat North Vermilion 46-20 and never looked back, winning the rest of their games and finishing 7-3. Lotief attributed the late season success to a little scheduling luck toward the end, but also to the kids finally coming around and owning their shortcomings.
“We got on a little roll there at the end,” Lotief said. “We try to teach them more than just about football. We let them know that life is sometimes going to do that to you, and you always hope you can respond when it does.
“You hope to maybe get some competition at a few positions, and the kids keep competing. Our young kids were hungry. We have some freshmen on the field; we have some sophomores on the field. Those kids battled. They have fight in them. That is great to see.”
Lotief said the Pirates are healthy going into the playoffs, but they’re still playing a lot of young players. Even though those youngsters are starting to respond, Lotief said he knows Kaplan drawing Brusly as a first-round opponent is a tall task.
“We got a lot of youngsters in there, and we found our mojo,” Lotief said. “Brusly is big and fast, and everything we aren’t. They have the speed and size, and we know what to expect.
“They’re going to be faster than us, and we’re going to be slower than them. We’re not going to get tricky. We’re going to keep doing what got us here and hopefully we’re not finished yet.”