The gorilla jumped off the back of the Little Falls Flyers football team, but a monkey remains.
The Flyers broke a 21-game losing streak with their 16-7 win at Rocori in Week Two of this season. They own a 3-2 record, their best start since a 3-2 start in 2004, but are 0-2 at home.
Little Falls will look to rectify that Friday when they host Central Lakes Conference foe Fergus Falls.
"It's a really big deal for us," said Flyers senior lineman Collin Swanson. "There are only dedicated fans showing up to the away games. Everyone shows up for the home games so it's important for them to see how we can play and win."
With wins at Rocori, Moorhead and last week's stunning upset at St. Cloud Tech, football is fun again in the Charles Lindbergh community.
A combination of tough defense and ball-control offense helped the Flyers win for the first time at Clark Field in St. Cloud since 1991.
"It all comes down to first downs," said Flyers head coach Aaron Sinclair. "If we can get three or four yards on first down that makes the play calling easier on second and third down. We've told the kids that we need to have great first downs to open up things later on.
"We don't have a team that's built on scoring on big plays. We're a grind-it-down-the-field-slowly type team."
Against Tech, Little Falls held the ball for 32:16 compared to 15:44 for Tech. The Flyers ran 67 plays to Tech's 41, collected 13 first downs to Tech's seven and gained 214 total yards to Tech's 165.
On the season, the Flyers have run 306 offensive plays to their opponents' 267. They've outrushed opponents 1,016 yards to 582.
"You have to be physical and just do your assignment," said senior lineman Dustin Yorek. "Then you have to trust your teammates to do their job. We just pick each other up when we don't and hope they'll do it next time."
The team's transformation started with a change in focus off the field. Sinclair said the coaching staff stressed good citizenship and academics first, explaining that it takes the same set of skills to be successful in those areas as it does on the football field.
"After that, we addressed football and changed the culture with the weight room," said Sinclair. "Physically, our kids are able to compete now and are physically just stronger. You can tell by just looking at us as a team. Second, we needed to get kids out for football and make sure it was a positive experience for them."
Only three players start on both sides of the football for the Flyers, but a number of athletes still play offense and defense. With the increase in numbers, Little Falls hasn't had to use as many players on both sides.
Swanson and Yorek said the weight room was the place to be last summer.
"A lot more people were showing up over the summer and not skipping a bunch of days," said Swanson. "Nobody was screwing around. Everyone was lifting hard compared to years before where people would just show up, lift a little bit and not really care."
Sinclair said his players look as fresh in the fourth quarter as they do in the first. And, the team is healthy. This year's homecoming game drew one of the biggest home crowds in years. There is a buzz around town.
Still, the elusive home win remains.
Friday presents a prime opportunity as the Otters are 0-5.
"Every game is important," said Yorek. "You have to try in every one of them. It's not going to be a bye week for us because they're 0-5."
Little Falls will have one more opportunity for a home win as they host Sauk Rapids in the final week of the regular season. They also could get a home playoff game. Currently, the Flyers are fourth in the Section 8-4A standings and would host Rocori.
"For us, we have to continue to establish ourselves as a running team and continue to execute," said Sinclair. "Fergus Falls is going to play well and our kids understand that. They know you don't take anything for granted. They know first hand. We've been there."
Not any more.
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5856.
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