If Parma Western football coach Dave Mifsud is wearing his visor backward this week, you need to know the backstory.
A week after suffering their second straight loss, Western coaches were preparing for a Week 5 game against Charlotte when one remembered the shoes he was putting on had been worn for the first time the week before — a 34-0 loss to Coldwater.
Soon, all the coaches were changing into older shoes — and Mifsud began thinking about his visor.
“The kids got all excited in practice when I got all excited and put my visor on backwards,” Mifsud said. “They had fun with that. I said I was going to put my visor on backwards for this game. I don’t care if I look like an idiot if it’s going to help us win.”
Western defeated Charlotte, 35-0, that night — and sure enough Mifsud’s visor was on backward again Friday when the Panthers stunned Battle Creek Harper Creek, 28-25.
Of course, the Harper Creek win had less to do with the placement of Mifsud’s visor and more to do with the players, like sophomore Steele Fortress, who has one of the coolest names in the state.
In his first start at quarterback, Fortress ran for 167 yards on 34 carries and completed 10 of 18 passes for 195 yards and three TDs, with junior Luke Raczkowski catching three passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
When starting quarterback Austin Cooper suffered an injured knee, Fortress, 6-feet-4, 210 pounds, took all of the snaps in practice last week and got the start.
“Steele just had a great week of practice,” Mifsud said. “It was like, ‘oh, my gosh.’ Then he went out and just dominated.”
The much-needed victory improved Western to 4-2, two victories short of an automatic spot in the state playoffs.
Western is one of the few schools in the state that has never qualified for the playoffs. In 2011, the Panthers started 4-2 but lost two of their final three games. In 2009, they were 5-1 but finished 5-4.
Before that, you have to go back to 1986 to find a 7-2 record, but that was before the playoffs were expanded to 256 teams and included all teams with at least six wins.
Western won its first two games this season and headed to Marshall with a head of steam, trailing, 14-6, at halftime. But a scoop-and-score followed by another Western fumble and a Marshall touchdown a play later put the game out of reach and sent the Panthers into a funk that carried over to the 34-0 loss to Coldwater.
“We had those two games, and it was like, where are we right now?” Mifsud said. “We had some high hopes for the season, and we just got drilled in two games. But we went out and had such a great week of practice going into Charlotte.”
This is Mifsud’s third season at Western after a brilliant career at Dearborn, where he built the Pioneers into an annual state playoff contender.
This job has been much more challenging but could be more rewarding. Western was 1-8 the season before he took over — and the win over Harper Creek can’t be underestimated.
“This Harper Creek win, if Harper Creek beat us it’s just a win for them,” he said. “Us beating Harper Creek, I don’t know if I want to say monumental, but that’s such a class program, and for us to beat them and be 4-2 right now means the world to us.”
Ultimately, it just might mean a state playoff berth, which is why Mifsud’s visor might be on backward Saturday when the Panthers play at powerhouse Jackson Lumen Christi.
“If it makes those kids believe it’s going to help us or whatever, I’m doing it,” he said.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.