When Hesperia High School football coach Robert Kistner first took the job, the school's students would say it right to his face: The Scorpions sucked.


No one's saying that now.


The Scorpions have smashed their way through the Victor Valley this season, thundering through their best season ever, a Mojave River League championship and head into playoff season with no losses in the regular season.


"The players are the ones who deserve the credit," Kistner said Wednesday. "I think they knew they left a little bit on the field" last year, when the Scorpions finished up with a 9-1 season.


"Last year, when we played Serrano, we should have beaten them," said running back Gavin Santos. This time around, they did, winning 24-17 on October 31. "It's our senior year. We're not going to leave anything on the field."


A perfect season would be a nice bookend for Santos' high school football career, which began with an unbeaten season on his freshman football team.


"It began pretty cool," he said. "It's ending pretty cool."


Although leery of jinxing themselves, the team had already put up posters proclaiming their 10-0 season before Friday night's game against Apple Valley, when they completed their shutout of all challengers.


"So if we don't follow through," Santos said, trailing off.


"... we'll look pretty stupid," his coach finished.


Former Hesperia High principal Larry Porras credits some of the team's success to the school's football stadium, which opened in October 2006, 22 years after the high school opened.


"There's definitely some pride in that stadium," Kistner agreed, "Definitely some feeling that 'we don't lose at home ...'"


"It does give you a sense of pride," Santos agreed, whose first year of playing for the Scorpions consisted of "home" games played on Jay Reed Field at Sultana High School. "'Yeah, we lost, but we were just playing at Sultana.'"


But Kistner said it ultimately comes down to the players, not the stadium or even the coaches.


"We'd get in those big games and we wouldn't get it done," said the coach, who's had the top coaching job for six years. "You can talk about coaching all you want, but you've got to get the players who can make the plays. And they have."


"The last three years, the freshmen have done really good," said Santos. "You put that all together" and you get a more cohesive varsity team, he said.


"When I first started coaching," Kistner said, "I told the team 'there will be a [championship] banner up there, and every team is a building block to get there.' And it's finally paying off."


The team's 41-12 win over Rim of the World on November 8 was a typically lopsided one. The Scorpions have been running all over their competition all year, including a 50-0 victory -- although perhaps a stronger word than "victory" is required -- over cross-town rivals Sultana High School in the annual Key Game on October 17.


"In the past, it's seemed like what could go wrong, did go wrong," Kistner said. "And [this year], the shoe was on the other foot."


It was the school's fourth win ever in the rivalry game, and its first time successfully defending the 6-foot long wooden key.


"They're not a selfish group. They revel in each other's accomplishments. They're a team," Kistner said. "There's certain things that need to fall in line [to win], but the number one is the team concept."


"It's all coming together as a family," Santos said.


"We're always 'one step at a time.' That's been or mantra all season," Kistner said. "Now we're at step 10."


Step 10 was a game against Apple Valley High School at home Friday. The Scorpions beat the Sun Devils, completing their sweep. The Scorpions have gone 10-0, their best season ever, and clinched the Mojave River League championship.


And now, the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs beckon.


"Playoffs are a different animal altogether," Kistner said Wednesday. "You can't afford to have a bad game. And sometimes it happens."


"I feel we're ready and can do some good stuff this year," Santos said. "Not that we haven't already."


What future seasons hold for the Scorpions is an open question. Next year, the team will not only lose the Class of 2009, but the school's freshmen and sophomores will be split between Hesperia and the new Oak Hills High School.


"We worry about next year, next year," Kistner said. "Right now, we ride the wave of this year."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.