The last time the Circle Thunderbirds took the field, they suffered a heartbreaking loss to Augusta. That sat with the team has the endured a quarantine due to COVID-19 forcing the team off the field for two weeks.
On Monday night, they exorcised some of those demons from two close losses and turned them into the biggest win since 2010.
They did it in every facet of the game as Circle beat Nickerson 47-18 to pick up their first win of the season.
"This is what we’ve been working towards," head coach Logan Clothier said. "We stayed on it during our time away with zoom calls and constant communication."
Circle (1-3), which has been trying to change the culture of Circle football may have gotten that first mark of the way.
"We love this feeling," Clothier said. "This is what we want to be the norm."
It almost was the old norm as Nickerson (0-5) drove down the field and scored on the game’s first drive but with the new norm, Circle answered back. Junior Luke McGinnis scrambled through the Panther defense, tiptoeing down the sideline. No one from Nickerson tried to force him out as he strutted into the end zone.
"We’re have confidence we can go out and response any time they score," McGinnis said.
Circle wouldn’t really have to do that in this one as the T-Birds would roll off 47 unanswered points and sent Nickerson back to Reno County with a loss. Circle, gains the momentum to the last part of their season.
"We are always talking about the next play," Clothier said. "That’s what we’re about."
There were plenty of issues where Circle would have made excuses and let "old" Circle back into it. Instead, they hunkered down and made the plays when they mattered.
After forcing a 3-and-out on Nickerson’s next possession, sophomore Ty Smith returned a punt 25 yards deep into Nickerson and McGinnis went for the throat as he found Jake Brown for the 25-yard touchdown pass, giving Circle the lead for good.
Then, Jake Shaults blocked a punt in the middle of the second quarter, which sent everyone into a scramble that ended with Sam Uhlman recovering it in the end zone for six.
"Our defense played amazing tonight," McGinnis said. "They are why we won this game."
Two possessions later it was Shaults again. This time he stepped up and took a tipped ball back 89 yards for the interception return for the touchdown, giving the Thunderbirds the 27-6 lead at the break.
After Circle fumbled the second half kickoff, they could have let Nickerson go down and score and change the complexion of the game; instead, they held them to minus-8 yards of offense.
"We’ve been so close and to make those plays and to get those points is really great," Dylan Bougher said.
Bougher punched his only touchdown into the end zone early in the fourth quarter. The junior had been punishing the Panthers all night. He finished with 117 yards on 16 carries.
Circle would find two passing touchdowns in the fourth, one to Shaults and one to Jacob Garbee to hit the 47 unanswered points mark.
The 47 points for Circle are the most they’ve scored since Oct. 15, 2010 when Circle shut out El Dorado 63-0.
McGinnis finished with 125 yards passing and 59 yards rushing, with four touchdowns combined through the air and on the ground.
"We’re changing the culture around here," Bougher said. "We are all doing it."
Circle will now take that culture change to El Dorado for a showdown with the Wildcats, who are also having a renaissance of sorts.
A win could push the T-Birds into contenting for hosting a playoff game in the first round of the playoffs.
"Next play, Next game," Clothier said. "That’s what we’re going to focus on."
Circle and El Dorado will kick off at 7 p.m. at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex on Friday, Oct. 16. Last year, Circle beat El Dorado 25-12 to end a seven-game losing skid to the Wildcats.
Nickerson – 6;0;0;12 – 18
Circle – 14;13;6;14 – 47
1Q (6:43) NHS – 4-yard TD run by Blake Teichmann (run failed).
1Q (3:51) CHS – 22-yard TD run by Luke McGinnis (Farjardo kick good).
1Q (1:39) CHS – 25-yard TD pass from McGinnis to Jake Brown (Farjardo kick good).
2Q (6:42) CHS - Sam Uhlman recovers blocked punt in the end zone (Farjardo kick good).
2Q (0:59) CHS – 89- yard INT return for a TD. (Farjardo kick no good).
3Q (1:50) CHS – 1-yard TD pass from McGinnis to Lukas Rogers (Farjardo kick no good).
4Q (10:33) CHS – 3-yard TD run by Dylan Beougher (Farjardo kick good).
4Q (2:44) CHS – 28-yard TD pass from McGinnis to Jacob Garbee (Farjardo kick good).
4Q (0:12) NHS – 8-yard TD run by Keaton Nevins (run failed).
4Q (0:00) NHS – 13-yard TD run by Colton Morrell (no PAT).
RUSHING: Nickerson – Nevins 22-78; Manga 12-29; Teichmann 9-(-5); Morell 3-39; Damato 2-7; Isley 1-(-25). Circle – Beougher 16-117; McGinnis 10-59; Chadwell 5-9; Brown 1-4.
PASSING C-A-I-YD: Nickerson – Teichmann 2-4-2-51. Circle – McGinnis 8-15-0-125
RECEIVING: Nickerson 2-51. Circle – Garbee 3-71; Brown 2-39; Smith 1-8; Shaults 1-6; Rogers 1-1.