OLEAN - Given all its recent successes over the past few years, it's understandable that some would forget that Southwestern has been in this situation before; just a season ago, in fact.
A little history ...
In late September of 2011, the Trojans suffered their first regular-season loss in almost four years - first since Oct. 12, 2007, to be exact - to the Salamanca Warriors. During that game, the Warriors piled up more than 300 yards of offense, including 160 on the ground, and won in rather lopsided fashion, 21-10.
While the prognosticators went about drawing quick conclusions from the loss, going so far as to suggest that it was only the beginning and a tell-tale sign of an inevitably disappointing season ahead, the Trojans simply moved on, put their heads down and got back to work.
They went on to win their next eight games, including a Section 6 Class C title, and made a third straight appearance in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association state championship game, on the way to finishing as the third-ranked team in the state.
"Teams lose games," Southwestern coach Jay Sirianni said. "We've lost in the past, but what matters is how we bounce back."
Now, back to the present ...
Last week, Southwestern lost a game at Charles A. Lawson Field for the first time since Sept. 14, 2006, to Westfield in rather lopsided fashion, 27-0, snapping a 29-game home winning streak. During that game, the Wolverines piled up nearly 140 yards on the ground, returned the opening kickoff 88 yards to set up their first score and picked off quarterback Jake Pilling three times.
Once again at a crossroads of sorts, what the Trojans do at 7:30 p.m., on Saturday at Bradner Stadium against Olean could do much to determine which path it is they follow the remainder of the season.
We've got to get back on track," Sirianni said, "that's the important thing. We have to win games and make the playoffs. That's our focus."
But can this team bounce back like it did a season ago?
"That's what we'll find out," Sirianni said, "What is our resolve? We've challenged our team to show us where their heart is at. Is it with the team? Are they making the commitment? If yes, then we have that potential."
Standing in their way will be the Huskies, who, unlike the Trojans, haven't enjoyed much success in recent years. In 2011, they began the season with a pair of victories, but lost four of their final six games to finish 4-4. The .500 record did mark, however, the first time in five seasons that Olean didn't finish with a losing record and the first time since 2004 that they earned a playoff berth.
With two losses to start the 2012 campaign, the Huskies have now dropped six of their last eight contests. None of which were more heartbreaking, perhaps, than last week at Dunkirk.
After a promising start - quarterback Chance Anzivine connected with Luke Hennessy for a 78-yard touchdown pass on the game's opening play - Olean allowed a 70-yard punt return and a 26-yard touchdown pass, all in the final 40 seconds of regulation, to lose, 34-28.
And with only 22 players on the roster and just five starters returning from last season, Southwestern would seemingly have the edge.
Given the magnitude and importance of the upcoming game, however, Sirianni isn't taking anything for granted.
"They're a tough opponent," he said. "Coach (Mike) Kane does a great job and they've got athletes. They may only have 22 (players), but it's the right 22."
The main focus this week, Sirianni added, hasn't been so much on X's and O's, but on making sure that his players respond to last week's loss in the right way and have the focus necessary come opening kickoff to capture the victory.
"This is a non-league game (Olean is in Class B South) so it won't affect our league," he said, "but it does affect us mentally (the rest of the way). This is a big game. We have to be competitive, because we weren't last week."