"If you work hard, good things will happen."

That is the basic coaching philosophy of Jeff Blattner of South Gray High School.

He has a lot to be proud of as the head football coach for the Rebels.

His team ran the table during the regular season, finishing with an unbeaten 8-0 record.

Then they rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs and held on for a tough win in the semifinals before falling in the Eight-Man Division I state title game, 30-12, to defending champion Madison.

In the process, the Rebels outscored opponents 562-182, or 47-15 per game.

The second-place finish was the highest in the history of the consolidated schools that prior to 1992 were Copeland and Montezuma. The Rebels, more known for their basketball prowess, have won three Class 1A state titles.

For his team's efforts and success, Blattner was named The Telegram's Area Football Coach of the Year.

It's an honor he accepts humbly.

"I'm just really proud of the kids," he said. "They just make everything special, and that's what makes it fun."

A 31-year coaching veteran, Blattner has only been with South Gray for three of those. But just like every other town in which he's coached, Montezuma has been outstanding with its football supporters.

"I think if we went 0-9, they'd still be out there screaming and yelling," he said. "They just support the kids so darn well."

Blattner said a coach always goes into a season hoping for a great year. This year, he felt the Rebels had the potential to have a good team.

"Just like everything else, the pieces had to all fall into place," he said. "They did this year. That was fun."

The other part of Blattner's coaching philosophy is something he heard at a graduation speech: "The only time you'll find success before work is in the dictionary."

The Rebels worked and as a result, had success.

With the impressive offensive numbers, it's easy for the defense to get overlooked, Blattner said. But this team's defense was successful in its own right.

"Our defense saved our bacon a lot of times," he said. "We had several goal-line stands that just amazed me. Just like the offense, this was probably the best team defense I've ever had. They just did their responsibilities so well, they team-tackled well, and they converged on the ball well."

Tackles were spread throughout the team all season long, he said.

"That's what made this a special year. Everyone felt they were big contributors," Blattner added.

A prime example of playing both sides of the ball was the Osborne game, a 42-38 victory to reach the state title game.

Blattner's team held a 12-point lead late, then saw it cut to four, with Osborne driving for the final score. On fourth down from the 17, Coulter Croft intercepted a pass at the goal line to seal the win.

Losing the title game hurt, Blattner said. But he told his players afterward that losing something they worked so hard for will hurt. It meant that they had earned the right to play in that game. All the success they had was a result from hard work.

"I'm just so proud of the kids," Blattner said, "every one of them."