Hard to imagine a football team having a much rougher first two games than Whiteland Community High School.

The Warriors opened with 2015 Class 5A runner-up New Palestine and now must play host to defending 6A state champion Center Grove on Friday night.

“You play your nonconference schedule to get you ready for your (Mid-State) conference games,” Whiteland coach Darrin Fisher said. “You want one game to be even. You want one game that stretches you, so you find out what you’re good at and what you need to work on. That’s why we scheduled the first two games the way we did. We thought this game (New Palestine) was an even matchup for us. We made one too many mistakes to win the game.”

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New Palestine, ranked No. 2 in 5A, topped No. 10 Whiteland 38-26 Friday night in the Horseshoe Classic. Center Grove opened the season ranked No. 1 in 6A, but will drop in the rankings after a 21-16 loss to Warren Central.

The Warriors, who trailed 31-13 at halftime, staged a huge rally in the second half. New Palestine’s Brady Walden put a halt to it by returning an interception 35 yards for a score.

“We’ve got to start faster,” Fisher said. “We just can’t start slow. We’ve been talking about that in practice, in the weight room. Against a good team, we started slow and got down early. You just can’t do that. If that first quarter goes differently, that’s a way different story.”

Even though this was the season opener, Fisher said starting slow has been a problem.

“Each team has their own personality,” Fisher said. “Unfortunately, that’s this team’s personality.”

Fisher did see some positives in the second half. The Warriors had two time-consuming drives and shut down the Dragons’ potent offense.

“You want your kids to come out and play hard in the second half, and I think they did,” Fisher said. “We made good adjustments on both sides of the ball.”

Fisher said the offense played faster into the third and fourth quarter.

“For us it’s, we’re going to try to beat you with the sweep,” Fisher said. “If you adjust to the sweep, we’ve got inside things. In the first half, (the Dragons) were adjusting to the sweep well and we were able to run the ball inside. In the second half, they loaded up inside and we were able to run the sweep well. I thought we adapted, adjusted and executed the game plan pretty well from the second quarter.”

Fishers said the Warriors have to be ready to work as soon they get out of the locker room.

“The other thing is attention to detail,” Fisher said. “That happens when you’ve got seven new starters on defense and six on offense. Good football teams improve the most between week one and week two. That’s what good football teams do and that’s what we intend to do.”

Warriors junior running back Ryan Hammond, who rushed for 117 and three touchdowns, is convinced they will.

“We made some mental mistakes we have to fix,” Hammond said. “I think we’ll learn a lot from this game. I think we’ll just get better throughout the season. I think this week we’ll really pick it up.”

Senior running back Edwin Cisneros paced the Warriors with 148 rushing yards, including a 1-yard TD run.

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Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.