Posted 8/16/16 (Tue)
By Jody Michael
Just two days remain until the Tioga high school football team’s season opener, at home Friday at 7 p.m. against the Central McLean Cougars.
The opponent is a tall order for the Pirates, who lost 38-7 in their meeting last year.
“We’ve got a tough game right away,” coach Tim Schaffer said. “They’re always a physical team. If we can’t stop the run game, we’re going to have a tough time.”
The Pirates’ run game, meanwhile, was the envy of many teams last year, but Schaffer must find new backs to help carry the load this year -- and he needs players at other positions to step up as well.
“We’ve got to try to sustain drives a little better,” Schaffer said. “We’ve lost our speed, so we need to control the line of scrimmage, throw a little better and give the quarterback protection.”
Despite the graduation of 10 seniors from last year’s team, turnout has increased by two players this year.
“We’ve got 26 out,” Schaffer said. “That’s not a bad number, but we need to stay healthy.”
Though the Pirates finished in a three-way tie for second place in Region 6 last year, Schaffer noted that their defense was often a liability.
“In our losses, we gave up a lot of points, and even in some of our wins, too,” Schaffer said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to stop teams, because we’re not going to be that quick.”
Ray saw some success last year in fielding its own football team for the first time since 2001, finishing with a 2-6 record and playing playoff teams Tioga and Divide County quite close.
With a second year comes more player development that will lead to increased competitiveness against tougher opponents, coach Steve Perdue said.
“Several guys hadn’t played football before or in a long time,” Perdue said, “so a year of experience will help.”
Next year, Ray will form a co-op with Powers Lake. This year, the Jays have 18 players, the same as 2015 but still fairly low.
“Depth is going to be an issue,” Perdue said. “We’ll have a lot of kids who are going to play both ways and kids who aren’t going to leave the field.”
Perdue said he particularly hopes his players can make progress on offense.
“We need to get some balance of run and pass,” he said, “and last year we had lots of turnover problems, and that just breaks your back.”
Both Perdue and Schaffer said they expect their respective teams to be looking up at Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood, Kenmare-Burke County and Divide County in an improved region -- but that would still leave one playoff spot up for grabs.
“I don’t know where we will stack up,” Perdue said, “but the team goal is to get into the playoffs.”
Ray hosts Beach on Friday at 7 p.m.