Benefield: Piner football riding high after years of struggle
Piner High’s football team has scored 338 points and allowed 14 in the first six games of the season. Some quick math shows their average game score to be 56-2. In all six games, a running clock has been used so that the score doesn’t get even more out of hand.
This is a Prospectors program that has had one winning season since 2004. In 2015, they went 6-5 and 4-2 in league. And this is also a Prospectors program that has been on the receiving end of its fair share of beat downs — for years.
Last year, Tamalpais High beat them 52-7. The year before that, Petaluma beat them 50-19. In 2016, their first three games of the season look like this: Montgomery 59, Piner 7; Santa Rosa 56, Piner 0; Ukiah 48, Piner 6. Then they faced longtime powerhouse Analy. Score? Tigers 68, Prospectors 0.
With that in mind, if anyone is grumbling about Piner’s scores this year, first-year head coach Terence Bell doesn’t want to hear it.
“Where were they when it was happening to us?” he said. “It’s a bit hypocritical.”
Actually, back in 2015 I was indeed asking about scores — Analy’s scores. The Tigers (where Bell was an assistant coach at the time) were crushing people, and like the Prospectors of this season, their playbook was heavy on the aerial attack — which put points on the board in bunches and stopped the clock a ton. It felt a bit over the top at times. In 2015, the Tigers beat the Prospectors 56-7.
When I asked Piner’s then-coach John Antonio about Analy’s lopsided scores, he said he felt sorry for the Tigers because their first stringers were only getting about two quarters of football in before getting pulled.
Other coaches had similar (public) sentiments — that Analy was just that good, that their teams needed to be better.
So perhaps this is all cyclical. For the record, Piner beat Analy 41-0 last week.
So all things considered, it’s kind of hard to fault Piner for being their best selves after so many years of struggle.
“We aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done to us,” Bell said.
The Prospectors were 4-6 last year and 1-4 in the North Bay League-Redwood Division. The year before they were 4-4 and 2-2 in league. The last time the Prospectors made the playoffs was 2015. They were bounced in the first round.
So what’s in the water on Fulton Road this season?
“I don’t know that there’s ‘magic,’ per se,” Bell said. “I know it definitely starts with culture. I knew we had it in spades here at Piner. I have been a teacher here three years and an aide three years before that. Piner is a resilient kind of campus.”
So Bell, who graduated from Piner in 2006, is tapping into that toughness.
“The way we practice is hard,” he said.
He means it. I asked what was on tap for Thursday’s practice — a walk-through for Friday’s game against Healdsburg? Nope. Piner doesn’t do walk-throughs.
What Bell is doing is clearly working. One would be hard-pressed to ask that he change it up to soften the blow on anyone.