The immortal Vince Lombardi once said, “The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”
If that’s true there are plenty of Hillsdale County high school football squads hoping to achieve their greatest accomplishment the next time they step on the field.
It’s still hard for me to believe seven of the county’s eight high school football teams are sitting at 0-1, needing six wins in their final eight games to qualify for the state playoffs. But that’s what makes sports so fascinating, especially when its deal with the young stars of our communities, because it teaches lessons that textbooks and AP tests cannot.
It also reminds me how very hard it is to predict Class C and D football games from week-to-week, let alone year-to-year.
This is the first installment in a series I will putting out nine times this season, focusing on the surprises and disappointments that surround the ups and downs of high school football in the county.
I do not pretend to know everything, instead I will admit my wrongs, delight in the pleasant eye-openers I experience first hand, and play my hand of knowledge from the local sports scene.
1.Reading’s rushing attack
Who cares the Rangers graduated two 1,000-yard rushers from 2008 or that QB Joe Hubbard is oozing with confidence and ability, giving the Rangers the opportunity for a potent aerial attack? Apparently Rick Bailey doesn’t, that’s for certain. In his first career start, halfback Brian Rauth tore up the field to the tune of 237 yards and the Rangers ran for 407 yards as team. The numbers alone aren’t what stands out, as it was against a Camden-Frontier squad known for giving up big plays in recent years, it is the number of options that is impressive. Matt VanNuys had 58 yards on eight carries, Billy Julian, a transfer from Edon, Ohio, ripped off a 54-yard TD run, and brother Jimmy Julian also found the endzone. New names, same results — kind of what Bailey is always preaching.
A combined 0-3 record isn’t usually something to try and glorify, but I was actually impressed with the quality of losses the county’s three new coaches endured. In Jonesville Joshua Lindeman had his team tackling better and his players had some pep in their step before a rough final four minutes led to a loss. For Waldron, it appears a few head coach to QB chats could do wonders, and a 26-14 loss to Britton-Macon wasn’t all that far from a victory for Jimmy Biggs. If not for the three interceptions his team surrendered he could be 1-0. I like the fact he used Fletcher Masters as a primary weapon (five receptions, 104 yards, TD) and four different backs carried the ball at least five times, including freshman Taner Cooper. Camden-Frontier newbie Scott Campbell took the biggest beating in week one, 55-30 at the hands of Reading, but it may actually be a result to celebrate. Consider the fact the Redskins haven’t put 30 points on the board in a season opener since 1991, and doing it against a Big Eight squad with a good mix of speed and size speaks volumes. Remember, a first date is not always the best date. It usually doesn’t involve the perfect kiss, marriage is not the main topic of conversation and it is certainly not always a genuine look at who a person is. These first dates weren’t memorable, but I have the feeling they could lead to lasting relationships.
The first week means for players missing calls, blowing assignments and ultimately a whole lot of big plays. In wins and losses alike the local teams did not disappoint. The longest play from scrimmage from a county player was Robert Bernath’s 78-yard burst in Waldron’s loss. Almost as massive was Brian Rauth’s 77-yard TD run in the first quarter of Reading’s win. Young gunslingers also made highlight reel tosses, in their first varsity action to boot. Jonesville junior Spencer Nielsen threaded a text-book spiral to John Sigler for a 47-yard touchdown in the first-half Friday, equalling the 47-yard bomb from junior Dan Vear to Dustin Moyer in the Hillsdale contest. Big plays can turn the course of a game in a few quick seconds and it’s also a great way to get your name in print.
1.Hillsdale’s rushing defense
No one deserves to be singled out because teams win and lose together, but anyone who says they saw Hudson piing up 403 rushing yards coming is either a prophet or a liar. The Tigers felt compelled to pass just twice all night Friday, proving they were having their way, and enjoying it immensely in the process. Four different Hudson players totaled at least 60 yards rushing, and what is hard to believe is what the locals have been telling me about the disheartening defeat. Most of the people I’ve talked to said sure a few assignments were blown, but the sheer fact was Hudson was just quicker and more athletic than the Hillsdale defense. That makes me weary, because you can teach technique and tactic, but you can’t put rocket boosters on the cleats.
The starting quarterbacks from Camden-Frontier, Litchfield, North Adams-Jerome, Pittsford and Waldron threw a combined nine picks and went 0-5 Friday. I was most surprised that Garet Lee threw for just 29 yards in Pittsford’s loss, but the rest of the teams need their QBs to at least be efficient to have a shot at the postseason this year. Dakota George (N A-J, 150 yards) and Dylan Emens (Waldron, 113 yards) proved they are capable of hitting receivers downfield, but three interceptions each might be the difference in a pair of two-touchdown losses. Kurtis Tyler’s 174 yards through the air against Reading have a more positive feel to them, but C-F’s Campbell would feel even better if Tyler got his 44 percent completion percentage over 50. Lee did run for 139 yards, no surprise for this stud, but it looks like he’ll have to find guys to replace the likes of Zac Vanlerberg among others.
Excluding the Camden-Frontier, Reading contest (because it included two local teams), county squads were outscored 81-20 in the fourth quarter of their season-openers. A lot of the games were still close when the opponent tacked on some more points, making me wonder aloud if some of our local teams just need a little extra conditioning or depth to go with their talent. Litchfield trailed Bellevue just 7-0 before a 19-0 final period and Jonesville led 7-0 before giving up the final 20 points of the contest. And the Wildcats and Rams both allowed a pair of touchdowns late in games they were within striking distance heading to the final 12 minutes. It’s not how you start, but how you finish and that’s why I’m going to leave county teams with a reminder that early leads are great, except when they turn into come-from-behind victories for your arch nemesis. Study hard and condition even harder.