TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Hayden Wildcats hope their strong finish in 2016 can help them this season.
The Wildcats lost four out of their first five games in 2016.
"It was a little bit frustrating at the very beginning but you know I think you just go back and look at the character we had in the senior class last year and you know the consistency that we had with the coaching staff," said Hayden High School football coach Bill Arnold. "We just kind of stayed the course and kept plugging away and I felt like we did a good job of getting better every week."
After the sluggish start Hayden won seven straight games to get to the state championship gave for the second time in three years.
"After those first loses we definitely pushed ourselves to be better than when we started off," said Hayden senior quarterback Sampson Huston. "It definitely helped us a lot getting to that state championship game."
"I think it's definitely helped with our confidence knowing that we can get the job done and knowing that when we depend on each other it just looks good coming out with a victory," said Hayden High School senior wide receiver DeShawn Hanika.
Hayden would lose 48-14 to Pratt in the 4A Division II title game, ending their season with an 8-5 record.
"Anytime you get that close to a state championship and you come away feeling empty, I would hope that there's some motivation in the off season," said Arnold.
The Wildcats lost their top three rushers from last season but the key for 2017 could be through the air. Huston threw more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
"You know it started off I didn't even want to play quarterback but definitely now I've worked my way into it," said Huston. "It's a fun thing to do now for me."
Hanika reeled in six touchdowns last year and has seen his quarterback grow over the last year.
"We've been putting in a lot of work in the off season," said Hanika. "His confidence has gone way up and he's starting to really get comfortable back there and it's really fun to watch."