The Beach High School football program sputtered along during the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons, winning a total of six games.

The Buccaneers went 3-6 in 2014, 2-5 in 2015, and last season compiled a 1-6 record – 0-6 in Region 5 play.

However, the program has been hitting on all cylinders thus far in 2017. With three games under their belts, the Buccaneers have already matched their victory total from the previous two seasons combined. Beach opened the campaign with a 40-6 victory over Ray-Powers Lake. The following week the Buccaneers defeated Richardton-Taylor 28-14, snapping a 10-game region losing streak. Last Friday they improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the region with a 56-38 victory over Hettinger-Scranton.

Beach will try to make it four straight victories out of the gate tonight when it goes against unbeaten New Salem-Almont-Glen Ullin (3-0 overall, 2-0 region) at New Salem.

After three straight losing seasons, Beach is liking its chances for a playoff berth.

“We're really excited. We're feeling pretty good about ourselves right now,” said Mike Zier, who is in his 12th season as the Buccaneers’ head coach. “The kids have been playing well. We began with a nice win over Ray and then we beat Richardton and Hettinger, a couple of teams that had beaten us the last three years. (The 3-0 start is) kind of unexpected because a lot of people picked us to finish dead last in the region like we did last year. We still have some tough games ahead of us, starting with New Salem on Friday, but the kids now know what they’re capable of and they’ve set some new goals. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better and get into the playoffs, which is something we haven’t done since 2013.”

With six returning starters on offense and seven on defense, Zier did expect things to be different this season.

“We expected to be better. How much, we weren’t really sure,” he said. “We only have 18 players, but eight of them are seniors and they’ve been through the grind the last few years. They wanted something different their last year and they went out and put in a lot of time getting themselves ready. It’s nice to see them get off to a nice start like this.”

Among the returning starters are four offensive weapons – running backs Clay Mattern and Gage Swanson, quarterback Josiah Orluck, and tight end Jared Wojahn. All four turned in stellar performances in the Buccaneers’ victory over Hettinger-Stanton. Mattern, a junior, carried 32 times for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Swanson, a sophomore, rushed for 109 yards, and Orluck and Wojahn connected on three scoring passes totaling 104 yards.

“Those four kids have really stepped up, and that's something we expected,” Zier said. “Clay and Gage are good solid backs … they run hard and it takes some doing to bring them down. We like to run the ball and when we run it well we can surprise teams over the top with Josiah's passing and Jared's speed. We have a balanced attack, and of course it all starts with the kids up front.”

The biggest kid up front is 6-foot-6, 280-pound senior guard Gunnar Farstveet. He is joined by interior linemates Blake Van Horn (225) and Ty Van Horn (205). The other tight end is Trevor Losinski.

“The offensive line has done an outstanding job,” Zier said. “Gunnar leads the way. He’s been a force, but overall, everyone is doing well. You don't score as many points as we have without a good offensive line."

Tonight’s game at New Salem is the start of what Zier calls the “meat grinder” portion of the schedule. The Buccaneers will host No. 2-ranked Shiloh Christian on Sept. 15 and Mott-Regent-New England on Sept. 22. Road games against Grant County-Flasher and Central McLean will follow.

“I guess we’ll see what we’re made of the next few weeks. We're in a tough, tough region and there are no easy ones from here to the end of the season,” Zier said. “But the kids are ready for it. They want to go to the playoffs and they know they have to play good football to get there.”

Shiloh Christian will host another battle of Region 5 unbeatens tonight, taking on Central McLean. Both teams are 3-0 overall and 2-0 in region play.