SHAWNEE TOWNSHIP – Shawnee has opened the season with three straight wins in impressive fashion.
The Indians have outscored their opponents 89-33 in posting victories over Delphos Jefferson, Celina and Defiance.
By going 3-0, Shawnee and Wapakoneta are the only two teams with unblemished records overall and two of four teams (Ottawa-Glandorf and Kenton) in the Western Buckeye League that have 2-0 marks.
But the road is going to get much tougher for the Indians as they enter the meat of the schedule and face a murderer’s row of the Western Buckeye beginning with big game against Wapakoneta followed by a trip to St. Marys, a home match against Van Wert and back-to-back road trips to Ottawa-Glandorf and Kenton.
“I’ve seen us do things that make me believe we can be a good football team but we are not there yet,” Cooper said. “We have run the ball pretty efficiently. We have been able to throw the ball a little bit so that gives our offense some blend and some balance.”
Staying healthy and being consistent are two factors that Cooper said are essential if the Indians are going to make a run at the WBL title.
“We will see how we react to adversity,” Cooper said. “In those first three games we haven’t experienced a bunch of adversity but there might be some adversity over the next four or five weeks.”
Being his second year at the helm for the Indians, Cooper said he has seen positive progress in his team. Last year, Shawnee finished 4-6 and Cooper pointed out that a couple of those games could have gone the Indians’ way.
Cooper added he knows it is going to be a tough stretch but added that his players are up for the challenge.
“I think they are excited about the opportunity to see where we stack up,” Cooper said. “We’ve competed against some of those teams last year and felt like we could have beaten. We lost to St. Marys by one in overtime and we lost to Kenton by three.”
Cooper still points out that it the Indians have got to show it on the field and demonstrate the deserve to win the game.
Because of this Cooper said the team came into the season determined to turn the tide around. A strong work ethic and senior leadership have been important factors in the team success in the early part of the season.”
“The thing that is positive is that last year we had 22 juniors and almost all of those guys came back and they are starting in almost every position,” Cooper said. “A lot of those guys it is their third or fourth year playing varsity football and their second year in our system so I have seen tremendous amount of growth in that class.”
Cooper added that there is also a large freshmen class and they are benefiting by learning from the seniors and being in Cooper’s system.
“I think learning the system is one thing but I really credit the seniors for their work ethic and their attention to detail and their dedication,” Cooper said. “We start early at seven thirty-five in the morning and starting last January our kids were hitting the weight room at five thirty in the morning so they could be ready to go by seven. We did that all winter and in the preseason and I think the work ethic and the commitment they have shown runs through our program.”
The Indians’ running game has spearheaded the team’s offensive output.
Behind the legs of Peyton Wilson, who rushed for 140 yards against Celina, and William Roberson, who gained 140 yards against Defiance, Shawnee is averaging 256 yards on the ground.
That is not to say the Indians are run driven. Behind the arm of John Barker, Shawnee is averaging 143 passing yards a game.
Taking care of the ball is one area Cooper hopes to see improvements. In the team’s first three games, Shawnee has turned the ball over eight times. The Shawnee head coach is also striving for better execution and staying away from long third down situations..
“We talk all the time about better execution,” Cooper said. “For the play to work that offensive line has to execute the play and we always try to be more physical. You can’t have those zero or negative plays.”
Defensively, like the offense, Shawnee has a well-rounded approach.
Cooper is also happy with the way the defense is playing but said the team has to avoid the big play.
“On the defensive side we have only given up four touchdowns but two of them have been on long runs… and we gave up a couple of long passes so we have done a good job of keeping the ball in front of us but we have also given up big plays. ” Cooper said. “Defensively we need to do a little better job of our opponents from converting and we would like to see us get a few more takeaways. We are making the stops but we are not taking the ball away ball away like I would hope to.”
Cooper understands the key to stopping the Redskins is keeping the run game in check. Wapakoneta comes into the game averaging ***. Behind quarterback Reed Merricle and Evan Kaeck, the Redskins come in with one of the best running games in the area.
“We tell our players and coaches that if you don’t stop the run you are not going to see any passes because they have done a really great job of moving the ball and they just do what they do,” Cooper said. “Defensively, I like what they do. They are aggressive and they are physical and they don’t try to do anything super flashy and just play fundamental football. Until somebody beats them I think they are best team in our league.”
Cooper added that he expects special teams to play a major role in the game.
“You have to use those special teams to create momentum in the game and to help yourself with field position because if you are deficient in those areas it puts you on a short field or it allows the other team to get some momentum.”