POMEROY - Sanford Bates has been involved in the football program at Pomeroy High for most of his 27 years at the school, ranging from junior high coach to varsity assistant coach to head coach on two different occasions.
But Bates was no more than an interested bystander during a five-year span beginning in 2000 when the Pirates made five consecutive playoff appearances. The Pirates reached the Class 2B-11 state quarterfinals in 2000 and the semifinals in 2002.
Mike Gwinn coached four of those successful Pomeroy teams, but he stepped down following the 2003 season after the Pirates posted a 7-4 record and were eliminated in the first round of postseason play.
Pat Grimm took over for one season and managed to get the Pirates back into the playoffs where they were once again eliminated in the first round. And they haven't been back since.
Until Friday afternoon, that is, when Pomeroy entertains Northport in the District 7-9 crossover elimination game. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.
So it's easy to understand why even the low-key Bates, who is in the first year of his second head coaching tenure, is excited about Friday's big game. Heck, the whole town is excited.
"Any time you are winning and get to the playoffs, there is a lot of excitement. Especially in a small town," said Bates, who was the defensive coordinator under Scott McGee last year when Pomeroy made the transition from 11-man football to the 8-man game.
"It's been a fun year," Bates continued. "Winning breeds success, and we have a great group of kids to work with who have worked hard and keep improving. That makes my job a little easier."
McGee, who became Pomeroy's head coach in 2005, stepped back this season when a non-school job commitment required more of his time. He remains on the coaching staff as the Pirates' line coach while Bates has taken over offensive coordinator duties and Doug LaMunyan has filled Bates' defensive coordinator role.
"It's basically the same coaching staff," Bates said. "And it's been a smooth transition. I think the success we're having shows that everybody is in the right positions. It's working well."
And last year's schooling in 8-man principles, a year in which Pomeroy fell just short of the playoffs, has paid huge dividends this season.
"The learning curve was huge," Bates admitted. "Last year was a learning experience to figure out the things that are unique to 8-man football.
"You always here about the space out there, and we had to get used to that, especially on defense. There are a lot of things to cover. You learn some things and you change some things."
One concept the Pomeroy coaches had to come to grips with was that it is difficult to slow down an opposing offense. You learn to prize any kind of defensive stops.
"You learn that it is important to get stops - on downs, on turnovers - just get them stopped."
It helps, of course, when you are calling plays for an offense that is rarely stopped. And that certainly describes the ground-pounding Pomeroy offensive unit led by junior quarterback Ryan Smith and running backs Tory Knebel, a senior, and Austin Reisdorph, a junior.
"We've only punted 16 times this season," Bates said. "And most of those came early in the season. In the last three or four games we've only punted once."
Pomeroy enters Friday's game with an 8-1 record and a six-game winning streak. The Pirates haven't lost since a 54-52 defeat here at the hands of Southeast 1B-8 League rival Colton on Sept. 23, a game in which Pomeroy misfired on two-point conversion attempts following six of its eight touchdowns.
"I think momentum is in our favor," Bates said. "We had a big win at Touchet two weeks ago (48-42) and we finished well in our last league game (a 62-20 win at St. John-Endicott). Our goal was to make the playoffs and we are there. The kids are pretty excited."
As for Northport, which comes to town Friday with a 5-4 record, Bates has a somewhat incomplete scouting report.
"It looks like they want to throw and run pretty evenly, maybe a little more throwing," Bates said. "They like to spread things out and run a little out of the shotgun.
"But in the film we have, it was kind of a rainy night and the throwing game wasn't as crisp as it could have been," he added. "They remind us a little bit of Lacrosse-Washtucna as far as trying to run their offense as evenly as they can.
"What we want to do defensively is get as many stops and as many turnovers as we can and keep giving the ball back to our offense."
A successful game plan if there ever was one.