For the first time in a year, the Centreville High School football team has the swagger of a winning football team.
The Wildcats defeated Yorktown High School 21-20 on Sept. 17, improving to 1-2 record on the season and ending the Wildcats 10-game losing streak.
"It feels great [to finally get a win]," senior quarterback Cameron Walter said. "We haven't had this feeling for a whole year."
Sophomore running back Manny Smith said that the victory created strong emotions for the team that struggled to a 1-9 record last season.
"It's crazy," Smith said. "After we won we all kneeled down by the coach and I almost came to tears. It's just good to know that we are going in the right direction."
The Wildcats opened the game with a 62-yard interception return by Marcel Smith and then rode the back of Manny Smith for 136 rushing yards and one touchdown.
Trailing 20-12 in the fourth quarter, Walter punched in the game-winning touchdown with an 18-yard run. With the game tied, the Wildcats successfully executed a 2-point conversion to seal the victory.
"We got the lead and the kids had a good feeling," Head Coach Gerard Pannoni said. "I told the players that if we scored, we'd go for two and we got it. Then we were able to get some momentum and carry it to the end of the game."
The 10-game losing streak is uncharacteristic for the historically strong Centreville football program, but Smith said his teammates believed in their coach and themselves
"I didn't feel too happy [after we kept losing] but Pannoni knows what he's talking about," he said. "We just had to go out and work to accomplish our goals. I knew we couldn't keep hanging our heads low, we just had to keep working."
Pannoni said that the victory could be the spark that changes the team's fortunes as the season progresses.
"All it takes is to win a game. Once you win a game, then you can turn it around," Pannoni said. "When you lose 10 games in a row and then something bad happens — all the kids [hang their heads]. You have to teach them to forget it and keep playing."
With the first win out of the way, Smith said his team is now focused on living up to Centreville's winning tradition.
"I think about [Centreville's winning tradition] every day," he said. "Me and my [teammates] talk about it a lot and we just need to keep the right attitude and keep working hard. We'll get back to that level."
The win didn't just instill some much-needed confidence in the team, but also changed the mood of practice.
"It's a different feeling at practice," Walter said. "It's just exciting now. We know we're a good team. It was disappointing to keep losing, but it's good we got this win early. We can try and build on it."
Walter, a member of the 1-9 Wildcat team from 2008-2009, said that he knew the wins would come after the team's 31-30 loss to Edison High School on Sept. 11.
"We were getting better and we saw that with our loss to Edison," he said. "But we hung in there and we're getting there."
Smith echoed Walters' sentiments about the Edison game.
"It was hard to lose that way, but it made me happy to know we were getting better day by day," Smith said.
Now the Wildcats are looking to play the role of spoiler to teams in the Concorde District.
"People don't really look at us as a scare [to their team]," Smith said. "But I think we can surprise some teams."
The Wildcats continue their season on the road against South County High School (2-1) on Sept. 25.