It has been a rough stretch for the Midland Valley High School football team.
Last season, the Mustangs struggled, earning just one victory. The 2012 campaign didn't get off to a good start either, as four consecutive defeats stretched the losing skid to 10 consecutive games.
All of that came to an end last Friday. Midland Valley, a team that has shown improvement each week of the season in spite of the losses, went to Hollywood, S.C. and used a second-half surge to get its first win of the season - a 22-6 triumph over Baptist Hill.
"It wasn't easy," longtime Mustangs head coach Rick Knight said of the win. "We did everything in the first half not to score. But the second half was better. We were patient on offense and gave it to Dre play after play."
"Dre" is sophomore running back Dre Carr. In his first year on the varsity squad, Carr has mirrored his team - getting better and better each game. And just like the Mustangs, Carr had his best showing to date in Friday's win.
Like Knight said, Carr got plenty of carries - 24 to be exact. He gained 192 yards and had two touchdowns. His second score clinched the Mustangs' first win of the year.
Because of Carr's outstanding performance, he has been selected as the Aiken Standard Player of the Week for Week Five.
"He ran extremely hard; he always does," Knight said. "He's a hard worker and great to be around."
Prior to the start of the season, Knight didn't know what to expect from his team. He's counting on lots of young and inexperienced players to help, and Carr is chief among them. It's been a long time since an underclassman has played such a prominent role as primary tailback for the Mustangs, but that's the role Carr finds himself in.
Part of it is because of necessity. Derrick O'Conner was supposed to be one of Midland Valley's main ball carriers, but his experience on defense made him focusing on that side of the ball a priority. That allowed Carr to get the lion's share of rushes, and he's shown great potential.
Following Friday's win, Carr's season totals increased to 71 carries for 446 yards and four touchdowns. That's an average of better than 6 yards per rush, and against Baptist Hill many were earned with hard runs up the middle.
"It seemed like the old days, we were able to run off tackle and pound them," Knight said, praising Carr's effort, something he gives in every situation be it a game, practice or conditioning. "He goes full speed in practice and tries to do everything asked of him. He's young, only a sophomore, so he's going to make mistakes. But he's getting better every week."
While Knight is pleased with Carr's running ability, he'd like to see his feature back develop into a more complete player. He's confident that if Carr remains as dedicated as he's been to this point, he'll continue to improve. The specific areas the coach wants to see Carr continue to grow are protecting the ball, making catches and in pass protection.
"He's trying to be a complete running back," said Knight, who is optimistic about Carr and his team's future. "His strength and speed will continue to improve. I look forward to two more years of what he's doing now. He's been nothing but a pleasure for us."
Carr is just one part of a young core of talented players beginning to emerge for the Mustangs. His cousin, Daniel Carr, is only a freshman but looks to have taken control of the team as its new starting quarterback. Dre's younger brother Drekwon, also a freshman, is one of the top playmakers on Midland Valley's junior varsity team and according to Knight, is looking forward to competing with his brother for carries next season. They all are part of building blocks for what can be future success.
"It eases the mind a little that they're so capable at this young age," Knight said. "I feel like we've got good pieces, it's reassuring."
Noah Feit is the Sports Editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.