The locker room was joyous: Celebratory grins, a stench of success and a reminder of the glory received from strenuous practices.

The Salthawks led 20-3. It was only halftime.

“I don’t think we were comfortable yesterday,” said Hutchinson head coach Mike Vernon. “I think that some bad things happened and thought, ‘oh goodness, it’s Newton.’ We had to react. We reacted very poorly at first, but then we came around and started to make plays and settle down.”

Hutchinson led 35-21 at halftime to Newton and lost 42-35 on Sept. 28.

“We were just thinking we can’t let this happen again,” said Hutchinson sophomore right tackle Jonathan Fan. “It felt different from Newton. We played hard and didn’t give up.”

Fan said the team had the mentality not to give up before the game even started, but he realized at halftime what needed to happen to turn the game back into the hands of Hutchinson.

“I got nervous, but we had to remind ourselves to stay calm,” Fan said.

Reaction is muscle memory, cause and effect, and an adverse physiological response to a substance.

The Salthawks had to remember the feeling of their first win and how they closed out Garden City. They had to understand costly fumbles could lead to 21 unanswered points by any opponent and not let the side effect of those turnovers cost the team their second win against a Salina South team searching for its first.

Friday was a true learning experience for the young Salthawks.

“That’s the microcosm of kind of what we are,” Vernon said. “We’re trying to do what’s needed to be successful. We’re learning how to act and how to react to negative situations. We’re learning how to react to positive things. It’s so many guys on our football team that’s extremely young or this is their first year starting and never been in this situation before.”

Friday wasn’t Newton 2.0 for Hutchinson. The Salthawks reacted. The record shows two wins and five losses, but it doesn’t show the gradual success from the first game of the season until now.

“We have a lot of energy from that game,” Fan said. “We have to take that energy and great effort next week and play butts off and win.”

Vernon described the season as strange and has taken lumps. No lump was greater than the 63-lumping left by Derby in a game where Vernon said the team took a step backwards. But within the program, the first-year head coach said growth is visible.

“Obviously, we need to get a lot better and a lot better faster,” Vernon said. “The boys are still invested and still working. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

The inaugural season is coming to its last stop on a journey with more valleys than peaks, but the win over Salina South sparked what Hutchinson already knew, they can win.

“They can see success, which is great,” Vernon said. “It’s good to see boys smiling again walking down the halls over in the fieldhouse in the north gym. It’s a lot easier to go back to work and put in those hours, kids coming in for morning film, getting in the weight room after a win. It just feels so much better.

“We’re going to get better after every practice, every rep, every series, and every game,” he added. “We just have to get better.”