So close, and yet so far away.

No, we're not talking about a prisoner whose girlfriend is standing outside his cell.

We're talking about Shamokin Area's football team, and how those associated with it must feel about now.

First-year head coach Yaacov Yisrael sees good signs, but the Indians are at the stage where for every step forward they take, it seems like they take two back. Sitting at 0-3 with a mostly brutal schedule ahead, people are already talking about a winless season, which would be Shamokin's eighth straight losing season.

The latter may happen but I don't think the former will.

Based on their play against Pottsville in the opener and the way the Indians competed against defending District 4 AA champion Danville, it says here the Indians will win some games this season. But they've got to compete like they did in the first half against Pottsville, and like they did against Danville. They can't lay down and get pushed around like they did against Jersey Shore, a team they probably should have beaten.

Yisrael looked back to the early stage of the game against Danville.

"I think about that interception we got on the second play of the game," he said earlier this week. "If we could have put the ball in the end zone there, I think the whole game might have been different."

Instead, the Indians had to settle for a missed field goal attempt.

That's what separates the wheat from the chaff, and Yisrael knows that's true at any level of football.

"Good teams score there," he completed his thought.

The Indians also had two touchdowns wiped out by penalties against the Ironmen.

That's all part of football, and eliminating those mistakes will go a long way toward a couple of wins.

"We are very close to putting it together," Yisrael said. "One of the things I liked last week was that we were able to put together a drive, and control the ball against a good team."

Now they have to do that more often, more consistently.

Whether that will happen tonight against 2-1 Selinsgrove is a big question. The Seals are coming off an upset loss to arch rival Shikellamy and will likely be in a bad mood.

But Shikellamy wasn't supposed to enter that game 0-2, either. At this point, it's pretty hard to tell just how good or bad most of the teams in the Heartland Athletic Conference Division I are. It seems like one of those seasons.

"They (Selinsgrove) look well coached," Yisrael said. "They have a very tricky defense (the 3-5) and they try to confuse you. This is a very big game for us."

Until the Indians get a win, all the games are big.

They're so close in some ways, so far away in others.

(Souders is a sports writer for The News-Item)