On a warm and muggy night, Piqua more than held their own with an athletic Lima Senior team, leaving Indian Nation to wonder what might lie ahead in the coming weeks.
Piqua – The Piqua Indians got the season off to a good start Friday night at Alexander Stadium. Even if the season doesn’t start for two weeks.
Bill Nees’ 24th edition got the better of a Lima Senior team that had defeated them in each of the last two regular seasons. The Indians put two touchdowns on the board and the defense pitched a shutout until the Spartans final drive of the night.
“I was happy with our physicality,” Nees said afterward, standing outside the Indians locker-room. “Lima Senior is known for two things: being physical and being fast. I thought we matched up pretty well with them in both situations.”
The scrimmage began with two eight play possessions for each team. The Piqua defense was stellar, allowing just 34 yards in the Spartans 16 plays. On the other side of the ball, Piqua put together a 70-yard touchdown drive on its second possession, with Darien Tipps-Clemons banging in from the one.
On its first possession of down and distance, the Indians did what they will do often this season: hand the ball to Tipps-Clemons. The senior, who rushed for 1,664 yards last season with 24 touchdowns, had runs of 25, 13 and 13 yards during a 9 play, 75-yard drive. Junior quarterback Austin Davis finished things off with a perfectly thrown 22-yard scoring strike to Ben Schmiesing down the right sideline.
“Austin Davis did a very good job for his first night at quarterback,” Nees praised. “He hasn’t played in two years. He made some good decisions and completed some passes, which is what we thought he would do. He made a few mistakes, but everyone does. It’s just that when you are the quarterback, your mistakes are always most visible. He overshot a couple of receivers, but overall, we are happy.”
The Indians rarely took a snap under center last season, but Nees wants to see the team more balanced this season to take advantage of the power running of Tipps-Clemons and Allen Schrubb.
“I thought it worked out well,” Nees said of Davis operating under center. “In our 24 years here, we have looked at a power running game, option game, short passing game, and the one back stuff. Tonight we were able to use all four. If we are able to stretch ourselves to use all four, we will be less one-sided than we have been in the past in some close games.”
Balance means different things to different people, as the coach explained earlier this summer.
“My definition is doing what you want when you want. We want to be able to throw on first down and believe that it won’t result in second and ten. We have gone years where we have thrown 33 times a game, and we have gone years where we have thrown 12 times a game. We have to find a balance for this team.”
Friday night’s balance was almost 50-50. Very, very unofficially (it’s the pre-season for this writer too) the Indians ran for 80 yards on 14 carries, while Davis was 5 of 12 for 97 yards and the one touchdown. The defense, with 9 starters back, stood out much of the night. Lima Senior managed just 81 yards in its first four possessions, before putting together a 50-yard scoring drive in seven plays on its final effort of the night. All seven of those plays were on the ground.
There was a freshman scrimmage before the varsities took the field, and the night ended with a twenty play junior varsity scrimmage, getting lots of kids on the field.
“Interest has never been higher,” Nees explained during our conversation last month. “We are having camp tonight for about 100 1st thru 6th graders, and we have 70-75 middle school kids in a summer conditioning program. Our varsity staff is in charge of all of that. These kids want to get better, and when they get to the high school level, they know what to expect. They know what the work ethic is and how important it is.”
The season and home opener with Meadowdale is two weeks away, but Nees said the emphasis this week in practice won’t change.
“Well, the teachers go back to the classroom this week. We are looking at Springboro (next Friday’s scrimmage opponent on the road) and we are also looking at some of the things that Springboro and Meadowdale might do that are similar that we can match up. But basically, next week will continue to be about the fundamentals, more fundamentals.”
So far so good for the Indians, but Nees and his staff know there is always danger ahead.
“We learned last year that there is always adversity. It’s how you handle it that determines your season. We were extremely fortunate in 2006, when we won the championship, that we had very little adversity. No major injuries, almost the same starting lineup every week. But you know that is not going to happen very often.”
Two weeks from his 24th opener, the coach is happy with his team’s progress.
“We came out fairly healthy. We have one injury that we need to deal with and hopefully that will come out all right. Other than that things are pretty cool.”
It was a hot night, but things are cool after a good start…for the Indians!