Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Hebron wide reciever Lew Stephens (3) runs the ball during a game against Athens Christian earlier this season.
DACULA -- In a way, this week of practice leading up to Hebron Christian's home football game against Georgia Military College has kind of had mixed messages.
On the one hand, there was definitely a feeling of relief after finally getting into the win column for the first time this season -- and giving first-year head coach Sal Battaglia his first win at the helm of the Lions -- with last week's 31-7 win over Baconton Charter in Pelham.
"It's certainly a good feeling," Battaglia said. "The boys have worked hard all year."
On the other hand, there is also a sense that the celebration is short-lived.
But Battaglia says it also may stem from a young team that is beginning to mature, and realizes it must look forward, not back.
"I felt Monday was the crispest practice we've had on a Monday all season," Battaglia said. "The kids haven't really changed their mental approach to the game. Yes, it's great we won, but Monday it's right back to work.
"It goes back to the four things we've needed to do all year long. We needed to learn how to prepare. We needed to learn how to compete. We needed to learn how to win. Now, we need to learn how to handle winning."
Much of the heavy lifting for that task will fall to some of the few veterans the Lions have, such as juniors Lew Stephens and Tyler Matthews and senior Tyler Smith, all of whom were part of Hebron's nine-win season last year and played a big part in last Friday's win.
From Stephens' viewpoint, winning can feed on itself, especially now that the Lions have actually experienced it and can go into tonight's game with a little less tension.
"(The 0-5 start) has been tough because of the expectations from last year," said Stephens, who was 8 of 14 passing for 111 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score last week. "I think we can relax a lot more this week. Last week was like, 'When are we going to win?' I think once we got that (win), everyone is able to ... settle in and be ready to go."
According to Matthews, it wasn't just the win that has given the Lions a boost. It is the way they won -- jumping out to an early lead, seeing Baconton Charter rally for a score to get back into the game in the fourth quarter before answering the challenger to put the game away late.
"It's definitely a turning point," said Matthews, who had two receptions, including a TD, last week. "Once we finally got that win, I think this week will definitely be a good (chance) to see where our young guys are. ... I think (the score following Baconton's big drive) was a big turning point, just to get that momentum back."
But if the Lions are to make it two wins in a row tonight, they will have to do so by dealing with some key injuries, not the least of which is one to Matthews, the team's leading receiver with 19 catches for 358 yards and 3 TDs, whose role may be limited to just punting and long field goal attempts.
Still, Battaglia sees it as just another test for his team.
"It will be interesting to see what happens this week and how they handle the win," Battaglia said.