Stepping Up: Pam Pack coming around one year since Sawyer’s departure

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tuesday marked one year since former Washington head coach Sport Sawyer announced his resignation. It had been a tough two years for the Belhaven native. After directing the Pam Pack to the state-championship game in 2014, it was shutout by Northside-Jacksonville in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Then, in 2016, Washington missed the playoffs altogether after going 3-8.

There were problematic signs from the get go. The Pam Pack didn’t find the end zone until Week 3 against Conley. After getting blown out by the Vikings, Washington went on to play close games against Roanoke Rapids and Kinston, but lost both by two possessions.

Even after starting the season 0-6, the Pam Pack nearly wandered its way into the postseason after winning its first three conference games. It needed at least one more win in its final two games to possibly earn a playoff berth, but was decisively defeated by North Johnston and Southwest Edgecombe.

Three-hundred-and-sixty-six days have passed. Jon Blank, who served as Sawyer’s defensive coordinator and is Washington’s athletics director, was named the next head coach on Jan. 3.

Blank said after the season came to a close this past Friday that there have been highs and lows throughout the last year. It looked like Washington would win its first game under Blank’s leadership, but the Pam Pack watched helplessly as East Carteret erased a 27-14 fourth-quarter deficit to win, 28-27.

After running into powerhouses in Conley and Tarboro, Washington wouldn’t win its first game until it traveled to Northside in Week 4. Behind a four-touchdown performance, the Pam Pack earned its first victory in comeback fashion against a local rival.

There were heartbreakers. Ayden-Grifton used a last-minute touchdown pass to spoil Washington’s homecoming. A strong defensive performance wasn’t enough to hold off Kinston on senior night.

As much as those losses stung, it made it that much more fulfilling when Washington ended the regular season with a statement 47-28 win at West Craven. The Eagles were perfect in league play, but Washington did what no other 2-A Eastern Carolina team had done yet and knocked them off.

It was as significant and impressive a win as Washington had earned since 2015. It gave Blank and the Pam Pack tangible evidence of their improvements from the prior year and earned them a trip to South Granville for the first round of the playoffs.

Washington competed with undefeated South Granville for a good chunk of the game, but was sent packing after the 41-21 loss.

Washington has made strides in 366 days since that Monday when Sawyer announced his stepping down. It’s just the beginning. Blank and the Pam Pack want to get the program back to where it was in 2014.

The seniors that played their final game last week were dealt a tough hand. As freshmen, they got to see Washington football at its zenith in 2014. The program slid in the final two years, but they played a part in whatever success the Pam Pack enjoys in the coming years.

Their legacy will be the example they set this season. They showed dedication and resilience in their willingness to put in countless hours of work for this season. It has established a foundation for the talented returning players to build on. Blank told them this in the post-game huddle on Friday.

The 366 days since Sawyer’s departure have been tough. However, Washington has endured them. These are the kinds of trials that teach high school football players lessons that they’ll apply throughout the rest of their lives.