For all the successes and achievements of the Perry football team this fall any objective look back on the 2013 season must include visions of what could have been, head coach Jason Olejniczak said.
"It was really only the Harlan game (a 42-14 loss) where we were simply overmatched and outplayed," he said. "If we play a better first half at Glenwood (the Rams won, 31-14) and Lewis Central (a 17-7 setback) and catch a break at Creston (a 28-21 setback) we could easily have been 4-2 or even 5-1 in the district instead of 2-4. Of course, it is easy to say "if only this or that" but really that is what our season came down to — a play here or there and everything could have been very different."
Perry ended the season on a three-game win streak to finish 4-5 overall after a 2-4 mark in Class 3A District 1. Turnovers deep in enemy territory and an inability to score from inside the 20-yard line hampered Perry all season and likely cost the team at least two wins.
"We have to figure out how to score, not just move the ball," Olejniczak said. "We have simply got to put more points on the board and have to come up with some kind of a power running game, because once you get in the red zone the field compresses and it is much more difficult to pass the ball."
A total of eight seniors — Cody Chance, Ben Daniels, Austin Dunn, Cavan Finn, Michael Lansing, Michael Pentico, Seth Stetzel and an injured Omar Marquez — were part of a team that won one more game than in 2012, claiming the Cowbell Trophy from Greene County three times in their four years and qualified for the playoffs as sophomores.
"You have to look at what you need to do to get better, of course, but you also have to stop and look back at what you did well, and these guys were a big part of some real improvements," Olejniczak stated. "We had more than 800 more yards on offense, scored almost 80 more points and played some pretty darn good defense most of the year."
The Bluejays had 2,832 total yards of offense in 2013 as opposed to 1,995 in 2012 and increased their total points scored from 149 to 223 while shaving points allowed from 218 to 182.
While the team rushed for 276 additional yards and two extra touchdowns (14 to 12) it was in the passing game that the greatest increase was seen. Perry increased their aerial TDs from seven to 13, cut interceptions thrown from eight to four and had 561 more yards passing.
Junior Will Whiton was 58-122-4 for 1,018 yards and 11 TDs and senior Finn 13-32-0 for 206 yards and two TDs, both of which went to Whiton.
The switch of Daniels to a wideout spot paid handsome dividends, as the 6-2 speedster pulled down 35 passes for 788 yards and eight scores. Nic Wilhelmi (11-139) and Whiton (8-116, 2 TDs) also reached triple digits in receiving yards.
Whiton ran 144 times for 888 yards and seven scores, with Stetzel busting loose in the final three games to finish with 500 yards and three scores on 105 carries.
Despite the increase in yards gained and modest rise in points scored, it was on defense that Perry showed the greatest improvement.
"Outside of the Harlan and Glenwood games I thought our defense performed incredibly well," Olejniczak said. "We figured some things out on the back end (linebackers and secondary) and showed them on tape what they needed to do and from that point on we saw improvement each week and that is reflected in the numbers."
The Jays had nine sacks and 19 tackles for a loss while intercepting eight passes and falling on two fumbles. Whiton and Finn each returned an interception for a score.
Lansing led the team with 115 tackles, with Wilhelmi adding 109, which were the second and third best in the district at the end of the regular season.
Daniels proved an effective weapon punting the ball, averaging 36.6 yards per boot but with a very good net yardage of 34.4 yards as the Jays yielded just 73 return yards during the season.
Whiton proved deadly in the kick and punt return game for the second straight campaign. One year removed from returning two kickoffs for scores, he had one kick and one punt return for TDs.
In addition to the loss of Daniels’ production in the passing game and of Stetzel’s presence on both sides of the ball the Jays will need to replace Pentico at center and Lansing at guard and middle linebacker.
"We will miss both of the Michael’s up front, but I truly believe that we have a chance to have the best offensive line in my four years next year — if they do what they should do in the off-season," Olejniczak said. "If we hit the weights like I believe we are going to than I think we are going to be pretty darn tough on the offensive line. We don’t lose anybody off the defensive line and I think we could cause a whole lot of problems for people up front next year.
"We do lose three of the back five on defense and some skill people in other places, so there will be opportunities all over the field for guys to step up and claim a spot," he added. "Every year you lose people that are hard to replace, but I think our depth, especially among the linemen, is better than it has been since I have been here as coach and I look forward to seeing what we can do."
The IAHSAA will re-district teams sometime early next year. It has been the normal practice to not send the same teams west to District 1 for consecutive assignments, but there is no guarantee Perry will see a radically different set of opponents for 2014-15.
"I know people like to talk about it, but I don’t worry about it because we have no control over it anyway," Olejniczak concluded. "We need to worry about ourselves … the schedule will take care of itself."