(ST. JOSEPH) Lafayette continued to trend upward under head coach Paul Woolard in 2012, finishing 7-3 with a host of athletic prowess.
But they had a habit of getting in their own way.
"You get into the close games, and you've got to do those little things," Woolard said. "Those championship minutes, that's where we were with Maryville last year and with Liberty North also."
The Fighting Irish's only MEC losses came to the Spoofhounds and Savannah before a promising playoff run ended abruptly in the first round of district play.
"Lafayette can't beat Lafayette. You've got to make the other team have to beat you. You can't give anything away to those good teams because they'll burn you."
The team has a heavy dose of skill position talent to replace, many of which are off to college careers. But, despite the graduation of Jurrell Green, Kenny Grant, Austin Day, and others, the feeling is the changes could make this offense even more explosive.
"A lot faster, quicker, and we've stayed in better condition for wearing defenses out," senior WR/SS Cody Massey said.
"We've been running back-heavy the last couple years and now we really feel like we're kind of receiver-heavy," Woolard said. "That's helped us transition."
Drew Cortez, who got ample snaps as a sophomore last year, also takes over for D'Treal Stone at quarterback. The meaningful playing time has already gone a long way towards familiarizing him with the system.
"The game will, hopefully, slow down for him just a little bit. He's really able to make some reads a little better."
"He's matured a lot, started calming down a little bit," Massey added. "He's got a little more experience, so I think it was good for him to get in."
The shift in responsibility extends to the trenches too. After the departures of guys like Bryce Denton and Foster Brown, senior guard Ricky Martin now leads a unit tasked with keeping the MEC's big bodies from bearing down on the playmakers.
"The younger guys have been doing really well. They came and stepped up," he said.
"In some positions they're even bigger," Woolard said. "But bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. They've got to play better."
Lafayette could very well have the talent to create a new conference king. However, whether they can push past the late-game mental mistakes that plagued them a year ago could determine their story in 2013.
"It definitely drives us a lot," Massey said. "We don't want to lost to those guys anymore. I definitely want to make it a lot better than how it's been."
The Fighting Irish open the season Friday hosting Mexico.