PALMER-The Sutherland Sailors' turnaround season came to an end on Thursday when they were defeated by Palmer, 63-14, in the first round of the Class D1 state playoffs.
The rushing attack of Palmer (7-2) was too much for Sutherland to overcome in the matchup between the eighth and ninth seeds.
Palmer will play No. 1 seed Overton on Wednesday in the second round.
Sutherland makes playoffs with desire, intensity
When new football coach John Sloup arrived in Sutherland this season, he guaranteed the Sailors they would have success.
He did not guarantee wins, something Sutherland hadn't seen in two seasons, he just guaranteed that with their best foot forward they would get the most out of themselves as a team.
But the Sailors took it one step further and they got some wins - five of them, to be exact, and an appearance in the Class D1 state playoffs.
Sloup said that after going 0-8 in 2011 and 2012, the Sailors were just sick of losing and they did what it took to win this season.
"It shows just how determined they are, every one of them could of given up on the sport and no one would have blamed them," said Sloup, who was previously an assistant coach at Hartington and a thrower on the track and field team at Wayne State. "They bought in from day one and the seniors really took this team over early and said they didn't want anything anymore, they needed success."
This season has been a return to form for Sutherland. From 2007-2009, the Sailors qualified for the playoffs in three straight years and in 2009, they made it to the Class C2 quarterfinals behind star running back Randon McKain, among others.
But in 2010, Sutherland only won one game and then came the two winless seasons. But then came Sloup.
Even though he wasn't around for those three miserable seasons, Sloup knew how bad his players wanted to turn it around. He said that there was a way to do just that, but it was going to take everything they had.
"What I meant (when I guaranteed success) is I expect everyone's best attitude and best effort," Sloup said. "When you can give everything you have to yourself and your teammates then success takes care of itself."
But it didn't reflect right away on the scoreboard. In the Sailors' first game on Sept. 6, they lost 69-22 to Overton, who is currently entering the playoffs undefeated.
But the week after that, Sutherland won its first game in nearly three years by beating Southwest, 66-42.
It felt good but the Sailors weren't satisfied.
"The win over Southwest was great for our guys to get that monkey off their back," Sloup said. "The most impressive part of that victory though was how they knew immediately that, although the win was a long time coming and well deserved, that wasn't the only goal we had for this season. There was going to be a long road ahead of them and they had to keep their nose down and go to work for the rest of season."
Sutherland lost its next two to Arapahoe and Hemingford, both playoff teams who are a combined 14-2 this season. But then on Oct. 4, the Sailors beat Maxwell 56-44 and since then, they haven't lost. After the win over the Wildcats, Sloup's team finished the regular season with victories over SMC, Paxton and Morrill.
"We stood in the locker room after the Hemingford loss knowing we were 1-3 and as a group we made a promise to each other that we would do absolutely everything it took to get to the playoffs and that meant winning out," Sloup said.
In the previous two seasons, Sutherland was undermanned with barely enough players to field a team. That meant an opportunity for younger players, sophomores and even freshman, to get experience and that experience has paid off.
Sloup said that when the season first started, he just saw a lot of untapped talent.
"There were good football players here when I got here they just hadn't been used or motivated properly for a couple years," he said.
But Sloup says that the biggest thing Sutherland has done is sustaining a high level of intensity from week to week, which is fueled by the players' desire to play well.
"There are so many things our guys have done well but the main point that I wanted these guys to accomplish was getting rid of just wanting success and turning that into needing it," Sloup said. "There are wants and needs in life and they have really done a good job of needing success this year, almost like an addiction. Week by week they just get hungrier for more and more success but that only comes from the fact that they work so dang hard each week."