PERRY TOWNSHIP — After opening the season losing its first three games, Perry found itself at a crossroads.
The season appeared to be lost and any chance of a Northwest Central Conference title seemed slim and making the playoffs was not even thought about.
But fast forward five weeks later and that is where Perry (5-3, 5-0 NWCC) finds itself going into the final two weeks of the season. After the winless start, the Commodores have won their last five straight and find themselves with the opportunity of winning an NWCC title and a postseason appearance.
Perry plays Riverside (4-4, 3-2 NWCC) and a win assures the Commodores of a share of the conference crown and would bolster their chances for a week 11 showing as they stand seventh in Division VII Region 28.
“I got to give our kids and our coaching staff a lot of credit,” Perry head coach Dan Baker said. “We rallied pretty well after an 0-3 start.”
Baker adds that after the heartbreaking, 38-36, shootout loss to Delphos Jefferson he practiced the team a little harder the next week and challenged the squad to improve.
“We were tough on them and I think they stepped up to the challenge,” Baker said. “We have gotten a little better each week.”
In the first three games, Perry was outscored 113-52 and was giving up an average of 37.6 points a contest. In the five game winning streak, the Commodores have outscored their opponents 228-63 and are giving up an average of 12.6 points a contest.
The defense has shined in those five games, and the Commodores are coming off back-to-back shutouts.
Baker said he felt this team started picking up steam against a tough Hardin Northern squad in week five. The previous week, Perry downed Elgin 66-36 and then followed it up with a 24-13 victory against Hardin Northern.
“It is hard to go on the road and beat a really good football team and Hardin Northern is a good football team,” Baker said. “We did a lot to hurt ourselves and still…but it was OK we can go on the road and beat a really good football team.
Baker pointed out to his team that he feels a team makes its biggest strides between weeks four and five because every one has a half season under their belts so they know what to expect.
“At that point your freshmen act more like sophomores and your sophomores act like juniors and as young as we are it was a light bulb clicking on in week four and week five and it’s like ‘OK, it is not my first time playing football and think that was a big piece of it.”
After Hardin Northern, Perry bumped off a previously unbeaten Waynesfield-Goshen team, 40-14, to continue the momentum and bolster the team’s confidence.
One of the main factors in the team’s success has been the defense. Baker said they made several adjustments after the loss to Jefferson and a handful more after the Elgin contest.
“We moved a couple parts around here and there and we are willing to play around with a couple of different calls that we make here and there too,” Baker said. “At the end of the day we challenged them. We said at some point there is a team that is going to be able to stop us and somebody is going to slow us down so we can’t be down 21-0 and that is where we were against Allen East. It kind of throws a lot of the game plan out of your books.”
Baker added that he is a defensive guy at heart and is enjoying his team’s defensive success the last five games. The team has yielded 14 points or less in its last four games.
Offensively, the Commodores are blessed with two of the top talents in the area in sophomore quarterback Ryan Yingst and receiver Chazz Jackson. The two are one of the prolific duos in the area.
Yingst, who has come into his own as the season has progressed, has passed for 1,317 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He is averaging 164.6 yards a game passing.
Jackson has caught 30 receptions for 762 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averages 25.4 yards a catch.
Camren Dalton has handled the bulk of the rushing duties gaining 312 yards and scoring five touchdowns on 79 carries.
While he has a number of talented skilled players, Baker said it has been the offensive line that has really stepped up its game.
“I think our offensive line is one of our most improved areas since week two,” Baker said. “We lost one of our starters week two and we are extremely young on our offensive line. We have guys that aren’t the biggest up there but they do what we ask them to do and they fight. I would put our skilled guys up against any in the area and say if you leave our guys in space we are going to get a big gain and those guys up front are a big part of that.”
With so much on the line in the final two contests. Baker has tried to reiterate to his team that it has been playing “playoff games” the last five weeks and to maintain that same intensity.
“At the end of the day every game we have played this year has been big,” Baker said. “You go back to the Elgin game and if we lose that there is no talk of a conference title. There is no talk of playoffs. If we lose to Hardin Northern that is out the window. … If you lose to any of those teams along the way it is the same conversation. Now as we get towards the end everyone wants to put that pressure on.”
Baker added that even the week three game that they lost was huge because if the Commodores win that game they are probably in the playoffs and possibly vying for a home game in the playoffs.
With Riverside looming, Baker said he has to treat it as another football game and the rest will take care of itself.
“I think we have to stay true to who we are,” Baker said. “We will probably add a few wrinkles here and there. You can’t be too predictable on either side of the ball. We have to continue to play really good defense and our offense has done a great job.
Baker adds that the special teams play has also played a vital role in the team’s winning streak.
“I think we have forced a lot of bad snaps, and we have blocked a couple of punts. We returned one punt for a touchdown and three kickoffs for touchdowns,” Baker said. “We have done a lot to help our offense. I think the last five weeks we have played really good team football and if we keep doing the same things we will be alright.”