Consistent success has been fleeting for the West Limestone football program. The Wildcats have just seven playoff victories in program history, with four of those coming in 1988's unexpected run to the state championship game, and before this year, just one region championship.
But this year's Wildcats team wanted to change that. They set out a goal at the beginning of the season to win a region title, and with last Friday's 47-25 win over Rogers, they achieved that, winning the Class 4A, Region 8 championship with a game to spare.
The only other region championship in West Limestone's history came in 1998, when the Wildcats won the Class 3A, Region 15 title.
“When they won in 1998, that was a 3A region championship, so this is the first 4A region championship the school has ever won in football,” West Limestone coach Shelby Davis said. “That's something our team and our seniors set out to do. Our biggest goal was to win that. To go out and set that goal and go get it, and it be the first time in school history they get that 4A region championship, that's pretty special.”
So what is it about this year's Wildcats football team that's different? Davis said it is the desire of the players to push as hard as they can, whether in workouts, practices or games.
“They grind. We still workout at 6 a.m. Monday and Tuesday before school,” Davis said. “That's something they wanted to do. They felt like it would be an advantage to get a workout in before school and have all day to recover so we could practice at a higher level.”
Those early-morning workouts are just one example of the team chemistry that elevated West Limestone from last season's disappointing non-playoff season to a season that could see them finish undefeated in region play if they defeat Priceville in Friday night's region finale.
“A lot of times when you've got a good team it's hard to explain,” Davis said. “They want to do whatever it takes to win. The team chemistry is really good. These kids have been together three years now. They are really close. They know what motivates and pushes each other. They compete and that's what drives excellence.”
Another thing West Limestone has excelled at this year is finishing off games. While the Wildcats lost some close games last season that ultimately kept them out of the playoffs, they have won those games this year, defeating Central 28-20 and Brooks 29-27 by getting stops in the final minutes.
Another example of West Limestone's ability to close out games came last Friday against Rogers. The Pirates scored in the third quarter to close to within 20-19, but West Limestone outscored them 27-6 the remainder of the game to pull away for the 22-point win.
Davis said winning the fourth quarter is something the team emphasizes in practice every week.
“We do some stuff during the week where we emphasize trying to make the other team tap out,” Davis said. “That's something they've really bought into. When it gets tough at the end of practice, they're willing to reach a little deeper and dig down and make the other team quit.”