PARK HILLS, Mo. -- The Perryville football team, like it or not, is getting lessons in persevering through rough times.
The Pirates fumbled on their first play Friday night and fell behind Park Hills Central 21-0 after one quarter before suffering a 42-7 loss.
The decision dropped Perryville to 0-3 this season and 1-22 in its last 23 games. The Pirates will ride a 15-game losing streak into this Friday's home game against Potosi. Their last win was Oct. 16, 2009 against Kennett.
First-year coach Mike Wojtczuk, who stepped into his role this summer, said keeping the team positive has not been a problem.
"I have to admit, this is one of the most positive groups I've been around," Wojtczuk said. "They're pretty self-motivated and they pick themselves up, and it makes things easy for us as a coaching staff. If it continues, it will get tougher. We're going to have to find ways to boost their morale.
"We're young and we're inexperienced. I don't mean this to be derogatory, but we're playing a varsity schedule with almost a JV team. That's how young we are at some positions. They're getting after it. We just don't have enough of them. Numbers have been a problem for us."
Turnovers were another problem for the Pirates on Friday. The opening fumble led to the Rebels' first scoring drive, and an interception was returned 41 yards for a touchdown later in the half.
The Pirates also failed to finish two drives after marching inside the Rebels' 20-yard line.
Park Hills did what it wanted Friday: relentlessly rush the ball at Perryville. The Rebels racked up 342 yards on the ground, led by Derek Mitchell. He carried 17 times for 158 yards and four touchdowns.
"We knew what they were going to run from watching film," said junior Chris Zahner, who plays defensive back as well as quarterback for the Pirates. "All last week, we ran it with scout team against our starting defense, and I thought we did pretty good in practice, but executing in the game and practice are completely different things."
Mitchell, a junior who transferred to Park Hills from North County before this school year, carried nearly the entire way on the opening, 32-yard scoring drive. He capped it with a 1-yard touchdown run less than 3 minutes into the game for a 7-0 lead.
After Perryville went three-and-out on the next possession, Park Hills covered 45 yards with eight rushing plays. Mitchell scored on a 5-yard run for a 14-0 lead.
"I think the guys up front really helped me out and worked hard, and I just tried to run as hard as I could," Mitchell said.
On Perryville's next possession, Zahner was intercepted by Cody Harrison, who weaved his way 41 yards to the end zone for a 21-0 lead with 1:54 to go in the first quarter.
Perryville responded by marching 59 yards to Park Hills' 5-yard line, but Zahner was sacked on a rollout option play on fourth down. He had completed two passes on the drive, one for a third-down conversion, and the drive was helped along by a horse-collar tackling penalty against the Rebels on a fourth-down play.
Penalties were a problem for Park Hills, which was flagged 11 times for 115 yards. Many of the penalties were of the serious variety with two 15-yard face masks, a late hit and a roughing the kicker.
"We'll be working on that Monday," Mitchell said.
But the Rebels overcame their errors.
After turning back Perryville, Park Hills marched 90 yards for another touchdown. The Pirates jumped offsides on a fourth-and-2 at the Rebels 30, and Park Hills then ripped off three consecutive plays of 10 or more yards to get into Perryville territory. Mitchell capped the 14-play drive with a 2-yard run.
Mitchell opened the second half by running 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, setting the score at 34-0.
Perryville came back with a drive to Park Hills 10 that was helped by two face mask penalties and the roughing the punter call. But the Pirates could not convert on two pass plays to end the drive.
They finished the next drive, a 94-yard march after Joey Hagan's 55-yard punt had pinned them at their own 6. On the first play, the Pirates were running a trick play that ended up especially tricky. After taking the handoff on a reverse that ended up as a broken play, Kirk Hadler found running room and then found Zahner off to his right as he was about to be tackled. Hadler attempted a pitch, which bounced off the turf and into the arms of Zahner, who completed a 47-yard gain into Rebels territory. A few plays later, Hadler picked up 16 yards on third down and was hit late out of bounds, moving the Pirates to the 13-yard line. On third-and-11, Zahner hooked up with Cody Call on a 14-yard scoring pass, making the score 34-7 with 58 seconds to play in the third.
"We had some trouble at the beginning, and we fought through it," Zahner said. "We've got some things we need to work on for next week, and that's what we're going to do."
Park Hills scored the game's final touchdown with 13 seconds to play.
The Perryville coaching staff, after putting its junior varsity players into the game, asked the Park Hills staff to run plays after the Rebels ran one play in the kneel-down formation. The Rebels obliged, and sophomore Matt Moss ran 24 yards for a score. Dakota Duck ran for the conversion.
Park Hills (2-1) had 47 yards passing to give it 389 yards total.
Perryville had just 132 yards rushing and 172 yards total.
"We're going to come out next week, we're going to work hard and we're going to give them a run for their money, I think," Zahner said.
Perryville 0 0 7 0 -- 7
Park Hills 21 7 6 8 -- 42
PH -- Derek Mitchell 1 run (Joey Hagan kick), 9:04
PH -- Mitchell 5 run (Hagan kick), 3:27
PH -- Cody Harrison 41 interception return (Hagan kick), 1:54
PH -- Mitchell 2 run (Hagan kick), 3:26
PH -- Mitchell 80 run (kick failed), 11:41
P -- Cody Call 14 pass from Chris Zahner (Call kick), :58.1
PH -- Matt Moss 24 run (Dakota Duck run), :13.2
First downs 10 18
Rushes-yards 41-132 44-342
Passing yards 40 47
Passes 4-10-2 6-11-0
Punts 1-38.0 3-45.7
Fumbles-lost 3-1 0-0
Penalties yards 11-115 4-25
RUSHING -- Perryville, Cody Crawford 3-6, Kyle Welch 1-(-1), Wyatt McAfee 9-38, Chris Zahner 3-(-6), Levi Zook 5-30, Jonny Pruiett 5-(-8), Kirk Hadler 7-20, Chris Zahner 7-50; Park Hills, Derek Mitchell 17-158, Ed Cruz 5-28, Levi Sutton 1-6, Matt Moss 1-24, Daniel Marler 8-56, Hunter Courtois 2-3, Mikey Clark 5-44, Kris Pyatt 1-14, Dakota Duck 1-5, D.J. Hill 1-4, Alex Ashcraft 1-(-4).
PASSING -- Perryville, Chris Zahner 4-10-2-40; Park Hills, Jon Comfort 5-9-0-45, Hunter Courtois 1-2-2.
RECEIVING -- Perryville, Cody Call 2-22, Levi Zook 1-13, Kirk Hadler 1-5; Park Hills, Joey Hagan 2-26, Kurt Richardson 1-7, Daniel Marler 2-12, Dillon Ball 1-2.