It hasn’t been difficult to notice the buzz around the Jay County High School football team this season.

Exhibit No. 1: the stands at Harold E. Schutz Memorial Stadium in each of the Patriots’ three home games.

Exhibit No. 2: comments from Patriot players as well as the team’s coach, Indiana Football Hall of Fame inductee Grant Zgunda.

Exhibit No. 3: Bluffton coach Brent Kunkel’s assessment of the crowd during his team’s 40-27 loss to Jay County on Friday.

It’s helped that Jay County has had special events for each of the team’s three home games: honoring the Jay County Pee Wee Football league on Aug. 20 — the first football game without attendance restrictions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic; the JCHS cheerleading squad inviting participants from its clinic to cheer alongside them Sept. 10; and a 35-year reunion for the class of 1986 at the homecoming game on Friday.

Nevertheless, the bleachers were packed. Fans were nearly elbow-to-elbow standing along the fence in front of and beside the stands as well.

It was a sight not often seen around the football program.

Even during Jay County’s away games Aug. 27 at Huntington North and Sept. 3 at Southern Wells, there have been an above-average number of fans who made the trip to support the Patriots as compared to previous years.

The hype is real, and for good reason. Jay County is 3-2 and has a chance for its fourth win Friday night. The last time the Patriots had four wins in a season was 2018, and the last time they had a winning record was the 6-4 mark in 2016.

(Jay County travels to Woodburn at 7 p.m. Friday to take on the Woodlan Warriors, the same school the Patriots almost beat — they lost 22-20 — in the winless 2020 season. John Harrell’s website has Woodlan as a one-point favorite.)

“I see so much potential in these guys,” Zgunda said after the homecoming win Friday. “What a great win it is for them, for our players. They work hard for it.

“I know things aren’t pretty at times but there’s a passion there with these guys. They want to play well for the community. It’s just a neat thing. It’s something I haven’t experienced in a while.”

The Patriot faithful were as loud as possible following each of Quinn Faulkner’s five rushing touchdowns Friday. They were especially loud when the senior came up with a big defensive stop late in the fourth quarter, and even more so when his 38-yard run in the final minute sealed the homecoming win.

“It’s electric,” he said. “It makes it so much easier to play. Your adrenaline is going. You don’t feel anything, you just go out and play. That’s who you’re playing for.”

Atmosphere can be everything at a football game. A raucous crowd can make communication for the other team difficult.

Kunkel and the Tigers discovered that Friday.

“Every time we come here it’s homecoming because they know they can … stomp us,” Kunkel said. “You’ve got everybody in the stands. The band is awesome so it’s a great atmosphere. We have to figure out how to get that at Bluffton because we don’t have it.”

Faulkner and Zgunda gave proof how much the team enjoys playing in front of big crowds. Kunkel said how tough the fans have made it for opposing squads.

But Jay County is on the road for the next three games.

Woodlan, Friday’s opponent, beat Bluffton two weeks ago. South Adams, the Patriots’ Oct. 1 foe, showed it is vulnerable with a shutout loss to Monroe Central last week. The Patriots travel to Lapel Oct. 8 and are 0-2 against the Bulldogs, who scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns following high winds and torrential rain to win 28-6 in the team’s first meeting back in 2019.

It’s been a while since the county has had a reason to get excited about the Jay County football team.

Travel to Woodburn on Friday night. Then go to Berne a week later. On Oct. 8, go down to Madison County for the last regular-season road game to cheer on the Patriots.

And of course, rep Jay County proudly in the regular season finale Oct. 15 as it hosts Heritage for the Patriot Trophy.

Keep up the support for the Patriots. The kids need it. The community needs it.

“We’re getting there,” Zgunda said. “It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to be a part of. These guys … we’re going to try to keep getting better each week until sectional.”

The hype is real.