White Castle lineman Fred Villavaso

Few people remember how a season starts. Which is why White Castle lineman Fred Villavaso’s only concern is about how his team finishes.

White Castle (5-5), the No. 10 seed, hosts second-seeded Homer (8-2) for a Class 1A quarterfinal game set for 7 p.m. Friday. Villavaso says means this game means “everything.”

“The tough times paid off,” Villavaso said. “That 0-5 start is a distant memory. We kind of know what to expect. This was kind of the same route we had last year.

“We know it’ll be a tough game. We just have to protect the ball like we’ve been doing, and we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win.”

The Bulldogs started the year 0-5 after advancing to the quarterfinals where they lost to Homer 18-13 last year. They are two years removed from a runner-up finish in 1A.

“We played a tough schedule to prepare us to make a run,” White Castle coach Marc Brown said. “I told the guys we took our medicine. We are gelling at the right time.”

The offense has come together over the last five weeks. WCHS has averaged 42 points per game during that stretch.

The offensive success coincides with the growth of first-year quarterback Hakeem Young, previously a wide receiver. But the dependability of a two-way line starter like Villavaso also has been invaluable.

Figuring out what Young was capable of and felt comfortable with was one of the keys to offensive success. Like most 1A programs, a lack of depth can be an issue and many players must play both ways, including Young.

But the grind of playing on the line both ways is unique and is another key to success for WCHS. Brown praises the way Villavaso handles that work load along with a leadership role.

“We just had to keep playing through it,” Villavaso notred. “For me it’s about staying in front of these guys and showing leadership. When you lead, they’ll follow.”

How much success can follow an 0-5 start? Brown and Villavaso don’t believe there is a ceiling on that.

“We took away different things from each experience,” Brown said. “I applaud the kids. Even though we started 0-5 they have never wavered.”