NORTH ADAMS -- After a 1-5 start, the Drury football team redefined its season goal. It wanted to finish the season .500.
The Blue Devils had that goal within reach with a 3-5 overall record before the highly anticipated Drury-Hoosac game on Nov. 3.
The loss to the Hurricanes made attaining the goal impossible, but a win Saturday against Pittsfield would complete an impressive turnaround.
"We definitely wanted to get 5-5," senior tailback Jose Melendez said. "It's an awful feeling losing to Hoosac, especially when they're your rival. We just want to get redemption [on Pittsfield] right now."
The reason turning around a 14-point loss in Week 5 isn't out of the question is because of the team's turnaround.
Winning two of your last three is enough to boost the confidence, but there's a much bigger reason.
"I'm holding on to the ball," Melendez said with a laugh.
Maintaining possession does far more for the psyche and the record.
The Blue Devils turned the ball over 16 times through the first five games. Three of those were interceptions, leaving the other 13 coming by virtue of the fumble. That's an average of 2.6 fumbles per game.
Through the last four games, Drury has turned the ball over just twice, both fumbles, and just once in the last three.
"We worked hard at trying to correct those, and it's a credit to the kids handling the ball that it's gotten better," coach Bill Bryce said.
The Blue Devils travel to Taconic High School on Saturday for an 11 a.m. game with Pittsfield. It's the plus-1 game for both teams. The game was originally supposed to be played at Wahconah Park, but the park has since been deemed unsafe.
The last time the two teams played, which was a 28-14 PHS win, Drury turned the ball over four times. The Blue Devils lost three of four fumbles and Jake DiLego threw an interception. Drury's first two fumbles were turned into Pittsfield points, fueling a 20-0 Generals lead before the second quarter was half over.
"You get drives going and turn the ball over and it gives the other team more opportunities to score, gives you less opportunity," senior running back and linebacker Alex Bush said. "That's what happened at the beginning of the year, and then the last few games, we've only turned the ball over once the past three games. We played all three good games."
It's no secret it becomes exponentially more difficult to win when you can't hold onto the ball. For starters, it's far more difficult for a defense and special teams units to supply the scoring. It gives the opposition a short field, and often times forces you to play catch-up much of the game.
It's tough to keep a level head when the turnovers come as steadily as they were in the beginning of the season.
"It's a tough thing to deal with," Bryce said. "They are teenagers and football is an emotional game. When the emotions swing negatively on you, it's tough to respond to that."
The fumbles weren't a result of a lack of effort. Quite the opposite. When running backs fought for extra yards, the ball became easier to knock free because it wasn't tucked neatly away.
Some film sessions helped to correct that.
"When I was watching film, the ball was like way out here, and I didn't realize it when I was running," Melendez said. "But now, the ball's been tighter up to my body, been doing a lot better job now."
The running backs have also become smarter with the ball. Instead of fighting for the extra two yards after a nice gain, they are more apt to hit the turf when contacted. While that doesn't sound like the type of running back a coach would want, it allows the team to maintain possession. So Bryce sees it as he's winning in the end. And the record has proves that.
"We did talk a lot about there's a point where you need to just go down or when you get into the congestion, you need to cover the ball up with both arms," he said. "If that means you don't get that extra two yards, then we'll take that and keep the ball, rather than turn the ball over a couple yards down the field."