Peach looks for ways to carry success to post-season

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'What can we do differently to play well in the playoffs?'

By John Herndon

That loss that sends you home is the one you just can't get over.

There is no game the next Friday. No Monday practice. No Saturday film session.

You preach putting things behind you and focus on the next game. But try doing that when the next game is nine months away.

"I have lost a lot of sleep over this one," Anderson County football coach Mark Peach said Thursday. Nearly a week had passed since the Bearcats had seen Doss roar back from a 30-19 fourth quarter deficit to upset Anderson 40-37 in the first round of the state playoffs.

Missed tackles. Missed blocks. Crucial penalties. A blocked punt when Doss did not even have the block on. "That was the first time we have had a punt blocked since 2006," Peach said.

Peach ran down a litany of errors, far too numerous to list here. No single one caused him to lose sleep over a playoff loss. Added together, though, they were the recipe for a pre-mature season's end.

"We made so many mistakes against Doss that we had not made all year," Peach said. "That is going to bother me all of the off-season."

A less-than-acceptable performance when the stakes were the highest bothers Peach, who has just finished his fifth year at the helm, more than the loss itself.

Normally one with a quick, yet straight-forward reply, Peach was much more reflective as we talked.

"When I went to Franklin-Simpson High School as an assistant coach, Jean Rollins (Franklin-Simpson's highly successful coach) told me, 'When something goes wrong, take it personal."

Mark Peach is taking the fact that his team, touted by many as a regional championship contender, was one-and-done very personal.

Those injuries to Neal Wells and Dustin Combs down the stretch? Peach agrees the were major factors. "Sure. You have to have some luck, there's no question. But we are not going to use injuries as an excuse. Great teams and great programs find a way to overcome those things,” he said.

It is Highlands seeing its quarterback go down and not miss a beat. The line between the good and the great appears so thin, yet can be wider than the Grand Canyon.

And make no mistake, Peach intends to take Anderson County football to the other side of that canyon.

He has studied his schedule and sees a non-district opponent, Henry County, playing for a regional championship this week. Overall, the non-district foes are now 33-35. Meade County was much better than its 6-6 record, Mercer County turned out to be not nearly as good as anticipated. It is something you can't totally control when making out the slate.

"We looked at the schedule and thought it would challenge us," Peach said. "The district schedule (four games) is set for you."

As of now, a schedule replay of 2009, just flip-flopping the sites, is set for 2010, but in high school sports, that could change.

What is sure is that Anderson County, the team and the community, is not where Peach wants when the games etermine if your season continues or not. “Over the last four years,” Peach sighed, “we have won 33 games in the regular season. That is a lot. But we have only won two playoff games. I have spent many late nights thinking, 'What can we do differently to play well in the playoffs?'”

Last week, Peach observed a practice at Boyle County, perhaps the state's best program among schools with demographics similar to Anderson County. What he saw reaffirmed his convictions. “They do a lot of the same things we do,” he said. “One thing they do is work really hard. They are really good, but they work really hard.”

Others might have more advantages, but no one will outwork Peach and his staff.

What he has done at Anderson in five years is remarkable. The fact that I am writing a column addressing a short-coming instead of addressing some kind of unproven hope is a testament to that.

“We have had our fourth straight winning year,” Peach said. “We tied for the most wins in school history over four years and have won 27 games over the last three. That is the best three-year stretch in school history.

“We scored 400 points for the third straight year. We gained 4,000 yards for the third straight year. We have accomplished a lot.”

The nay-sayers are already out in force, noting that Anderson will have to replace its entire offensive backfield and top receiver next year. But Peach noted that the Bearcats return half of the starters and have some good young talent.

“One of my most enjoyable years in coaching was at Hancock County the year after (Travis) Atwell graduated.”

Hancock had been to the Class A state championship game in 1999. Atwell had been named Mr. Football. The Hornets were not supposed to be good. “We went 7-4,” Peach smiles.

There will be some major holes to fill, but some talent returns and Anderson appears to be reloading at the younger levels. The freshman team went 5-3, basically playing the teams it will be playing over the next three years. The middle school team is very promising.

But Peach knows the Anderson program still has not crossed the chasm to greatness.

“You have to put yourself in a position to be successful every year,” Peach said, “and I have to find a way to get us to play better in the playoffs.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.