Sports Editor

Dan Nickles is coaching some slow starters at Verdigris.

And he’s rapidly developing heartburn.

His Cardinals have fallen into a habit of spotting the opposition a touchdown, or two, before coming to their collective senses.

But even Nickles knows that “all’s well that ends well.”

Over the last four weeks, everything has ended perfectly.

The Cardinals have strung together four victories, and that will ease a lot of headaches for a lot of coaches.

On the road at Beggs in Week 3, Verdigris fell behind, 10-0, at halftime. And won, 14-10.

On the road at Nowata in Week 5, Verdigris fell behind, 12-0, in the first period. And won, 20-15.

“It’s been exciting,” Nickles said this week.

“We’re winning, but, boy, it’s giving me a heart attack half the time.”

The season started off just like that.

The Cardinals watched as Claremore Sequoyah sprinted out to a 35-0 halftime lead. But instead of getting on the bus, the Cardinals stuck around and outscored what is now the No.1 team in Class 3A, 27-7, in the second half.

“We haven’t started games the way that we should,” Nickles says. “We’ve finished them really well, and as much as I hate starting bad, as long as we keep finishing the way we’re finishing, I guess I can take it.

“But I might have to change my diet.”

Not every outing has been cause for indigestion, though. There have been a couple of breathers along the way.

Take Inola, for instance. And Caney Valley.

The Cardinals gave away nothing in those two starts. They struck early themselves and proceeded to post winning scores of 31-7 and 45-6.

Now comes Sperry. The Pirates, like Verdigris, stand 4-1, losing only to Claremore Sequoyah (42-6 in Week 2).

Sperry handed the Cardinals a 27-13 setback in the final regular-season game in 2005 that deprived them of a district playoff spot.

Some around Verdigris might see Friday’s District 2A-7 game as one with a formidable revenge factor.

Not Nickles.

“Honestly, we’ve tried to not pay much attention to last year at all,” he said. “We’re talking about this year. We’re not concerned with what happened last year.

“This is a very different football team.

“The only thing about last year that I’m really focusing on is, last year was the first year that we didn’t make the playoffs since I’ve been here, and that’s as an assistant coach, or head coach.”

Nickles is in his eighth season with Cardinals, and his third as head coach.

“We don’t want to turn into a program that accepts that (not making the playoffs).

“Our goal is to make the playoffs this year, and then once we get into the playoffs, our goal is to try and go deep into them.”

Nickles calls last week’s come-from-behind win at Nowata “the first step toward that goal.”

Sperry, needless to say, would be the second step.

Nickles has told his players that Sperry is the biggest game, the most important game, on their schedule.

“Sperry is a good football team,” he says. “We’ve got to be ready from the beginning, and finish the way we did the last few weeks.”

Denton Wolf is a quality running back who was a force last year. But Berryhill transfer Kevin Smart has come in and shouldered the scoring load, posting 18 touchdowns.

“Sperry runs the football really well, and we probably throw the football a little bit better that most teams do in Class 2A. And, 3A, honestly,” Nickles said.

“It’s going to be a tough ballgame.

“For us to win the football game, defensively we’re going to have to play pretty dang close to perfect.

“But we’re capable of it, because we’ve done it,” he said. “It’s not something that’s out of the realm of possibility.”

The Cardinals just need to quit spotting teams early leads.

It’s harmful to Dan Nickles’ well-being.

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