Football fights against possibility of winless season

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It is written on every Guilford football players’ face: This could be the week. Is this the week? Please, let this be the week. What was a lean and hungry look in August resembles something more like desperation in October. It is a look that’s not hard to detect. It is there, plain as seven losses in a row.

“You walk around on the sideline and everyone has sort of a dazed look,” said Justin Parker, a senior wide receiver for the Quakers. “We’re all just shaking our heads wondering how this can be happening.”

Everyone associated with the Quaker football team knew this season would be particularly trying. There were too many questions in the running game, too many holes in the offensive and defensive fronts to simply brush them aside. But no one expected the Quakers to be 0-7 heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against 7-0 Hampden-Sydney, and flirting with the school’s first winless season in 38 years.

Linebacker David LaPlaca certainly never saw it coming.

“It’s hard to believe,” said LaPlaca. “I mean, we have the talent and the ability to play with everyone, but somehow we lose those skills when it’s time to play on Saturdays. It’s like we make a mistake or something goes wrong in a game and you see a lot of guys starting to think, ‘Oh, no. Here we go again.'”

Parker said he has experienced tough years at Guilford, “but never as bad as this year.”

“It’s been difficult for me personally,” said Parker. “To come out and work so hard in practice, do everything right and then let down on Saturdays is tough to live with.”

“This isn’t the team I thought we’d be. I don’t want to name anyone because we’re making mistakes on both sides of the ball.”

Indeed, the Quakers have been inept in many parts of a game, but nowhere are those deficiencies more exposed than in the second halves of games. In six of its seven games this season, Guilford has led or narrowly trailed at halftime only to unravel down the stretch. The numbers don’t lie: Guilford has been outscored, 164-64 in the second half.

“That’s what’s frustrating,” said Parker. “We’ve had a chance to win almost every game we’ve played except the last one (Randolph Macon), but we always seem to find a way to give the games away.”

Unlike a year ago, when Guilford benefited from the balanced running of Justin Parker and Mike Williams, the Quakers are hurting for a quality running back. They are last in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) in total offense, averaging just 327 yards a game. Their 67 rushing yards per game also ranks last among ODAC schools.

“Whenever you’re a one-dimensional team like we are you’re not going to have a lot of success,” said Parker.

“There are games we pass a lot successfully or run a lot (successfully), but we can never seem to get both in the same game.”

As the losses have mounted, so, too, has the frustration. Jordan Nelson, a senior defensive back, questioned whether younger players are committed to finishing out the season.

Nelson said some underclassmen teammates have recently stopped attending mandatory Sunday workouts – and that Coach Kevin Kiesel hasn’t stepped in to discipline the players.

“Coach is a little more lenient than my freshman year,” Nelson said. “Now it’s like kids can miss a workout if they have an excuse.”

Kiesel did not return phone calls this week for comment.

“Football should come first,” said Nelson. “If you came here to play, you made a commitment. That should be your priority.”

The Quakers made contending for the ODAC title their top priority in August. Now, they’re aiming for something a little less, but just as daunting.

“Nobody wants to lose every game,” said LaPlaca. “This is my last year for football on any level. I don’t want to go out without at least one win. How bad would that be?”