PANDORA — Focus. Focus. Focus.
Pandora-Gilboa head coach Matt Hershey is preaching this to his Rockets this year after enduring a 5-5 season last year that could have easily been an eight or nine win season.
The Rockets lost three of their games by 10 points or less in 2019.
“We showed flashes of greatness,” Hershey said. “Unfortunately it was for a quarter or for a half most of the time. I think we would find our way to hurt ourselves in the second half a lot of times and in four league losses and a non-conference loss we had the lead at halftime or were within one score the entire game.”
With 12 returners back from last year’s squad including all-state receiver Bryce Basinger, Hershey said he expects his team to provide the necessary focus to achieve a winning season.
“These guys had to learn to win ball games and they learned quickly it wasn’t good enough to just be there,” Hershey said. “They learned to play four quarters and hunker down and get some things done and I think and we are going to return quite a few players and I think they understand what it is going to take to win games.”
Basinger had a huge year at the receiving position and highlights an offense that also returns receivers Bryan Pugh, Blake Steiner, along with quarterback Silas Schmenk and running back Sam Burkholder.
Schmenk was the league leader in touchdown passes last season as well as passing yards and was a third-team All-BVC selection.
The Rockets also return two starters from their offensive line in Gavin Biery and Thomas Hovest.Both of them are three-year starters.
“We do feel confident we have centerpieces to work with we just need to get some of the guys who have not played as much varsity up to speed as fast as we can,” Hershey said.
The same holds true for the defense as many of these offensive players will be manning positions on the defensive side of the ball.
Biery was a third-team all-BVC selection last year and will anchor the defensive line.
The Rockets will have to replace standout Isaac Stahl, an all-state performer and one of the league leaders in career tackles in school history. He holds the mark for tackles in a game and tackles in a season.
“We are missing him as a stud in the middle but Sam Burkholder is going to take over that spot and is a very qualified player. He was second-team all-BVC as a linebacker last year,” Hershey said. “He is ready to take on his role as the run stopper.
Chuck Ritchey returns as a linebacker and Cole Wentz is back and he played as defensive line-linebacker position last year.
Defensive back Basinger is the mainstay in the secondary with Schmenk back at safety and Brian Pugh and Blake Steiner filling out the backfield.
One player Hershey said could make an impact is freshman Aiden Morris.
“We have to find a way to get him on the field as receiver or defensive back,” Hershey said. “He is going to play it is just a matter of where he is most comfortable at but we are going to ease him in to Friday night action.”
With a veteran squad and an off site facility to train in the Hershey said he feels the team is pretty much right on course for the season and preparation has gone smoothly despite the pandemic restrictions.
“We have had good attendance and the kids have been showing up,” Hershey said. “I don’t know if it is the kids want to show up or the parents want them out of the house but we did not have any trouble getting them here which is refreshing.”
With no seven on seven practices, Hershey added this hurts the incoming freshmen.
But more importantly the Rockets are set back without preseason scrimmages because they do not have enough players to have an intrasquad scrimmage.
“We can go one’s vs. one’s but our one’s on offense are our one’s on defense,” Hershey said. “That is kind of an issue for us but I feel in a strong way that we need some form of a scrimmage.”
Like every coach, the opening part of the season will be crucial in a number of factors.
“We are going to have to go in blindly with some of our players and trust them and let the chips fall where they do,” Hershe said. “We are going to have to react what we are seeing in real time. We are going to have to see what is happening on the field and act accordingly.”