For three area high school football programs, the opening night of the 2021 season had to feel a good deal differently than the previous season.
In 2020, Dalton took a big loss at home to Calhoun to kickoff what would be the worst season by record for the Catamounts, at 2-7, since the 1940s.
Coahulla Creek began their campaign last year with a 27-6 loss to Northwest Whitfield, the third straight year that a Colt season began with a loss to Northwest on their way to a losing record.
Southeast Whitfield opened 2020 with a blowout loss against Murray County and only managed one victory on the season.
In 2021, only one of those three programs got to see a "W" rather than an "L" in next to their name after a week one game, but the other two sure have a lot to be excited about.
No one more than the fans at Coahulla Creek, after a triple overtime thriller against Northwest delivered arguably the best victory in the school's 10 years of football competition. The Colts, which have never finished better than 2-8, got to start their season off on a high note that they hope can lead to marked improvement on the scoreboard.
The Kit Carpenter era of Dalton football opened with a 42-35 road loss to Calhoun, but there's no doubt that any Catamount supporter would prefer that over the 41-14 defeat that Dalton took to open a season the Catamounts want to put behind them.
Dalton even had the lead at halftime, going swing-for-swing against a heavyweight Class 5A program like Calhoun. Dalton didn't get the victory, but it's much easier to get a team excited about a hopeful bounce-back season after a game that could have gone either way.
Then there is Southeast, which had every opportunity to fold late against a Murray County team that kept making big offensive plays down the stretch of the second half.
Southeast teams of the past couple of years might have done that. But the Raiders didn't last week. Southeast made play after play to keep themselves in the game, putting up an offensive scoring output the Raiders haven't seen in three seasons in a 35-34 loss.
Coahulla Creek's fans are hungry for a successful team after nine straight years of losing. Southeast made the playoffs last in 2017, and it's been downhill from there. Dalton dipped low in 2020 after a playoff appearance in 2019, but the Cats would like to view last season more as an exception than a rule.
Carpenter is in his first year as head coach at Dalton, and the other two schools have second-year leaders in Coahulla Creek's Danny Wilson and Southeast's Todd Murray. With the lack of spring practice and a delay in offseason work because of COVID-19 in Wilson's and Murray's first year at the helm, it's hard to tell how much they could have changed about their programs in year one without a lot of prep time.
It's been one game, but the area's three downtrodden programs of 2020, after combining for just five wins, appear to be on the upswing.
Daniel Mayes is the sports editor of the Daily Citizen-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org