Tuesday night, our high school football Training Camp Road Trip wraps up District 7-2A Div. II with the Petrolia Pirates!
Last year, they started 4-0 before losing their final 6 games of the year. They're looking for more consistency this season.
Last year was a tale of two seasons for the Pirates. Before losing do-everything senior Bandy Mataska to a knee injury, they were 4-1, leading eventual district champion Seymour 20-0. But after he went down, the Panthers came back to win 26-20, and the Pirates didn't win another game.
Now, they're building around senior quarterback Dane Williams, a good group of receivers, and Henrietta transfer running back Reed Latham. Williams is the only returning starting quarterback in the district.
"He's in his third year, and he's feeling obviously more comfortable, experience-wise," coach Byron Gravitt said of Williams. "I think the main thing I'm seeing out of Dane is his leadership. We're definitely putting a lot of stock in him. We're looking to him to be the glue of the team, basically."
"We've grown up together," says fellow senior Blaine Chandler, who plays wide receiver and defensive back. "We've played ball since we were 'this tall,' and you can just tell what he brings to our team. How he says things, how he does things, how he leads by actions, just as well as his words."
"[I] felt like I was a freshman yesterday, and here we are now and it's our last go-around," Williams said. "Hopefully we can get something going this year."
He'll have an experienced receiver corps led by senior Blaine Long and junior Jake Edgemon, who had about 2/3s of the teams' receiving yards last year.
"Our skill guys are really, really good," Williams said. "Not trying to be conceited, but they're really good. I think our run game's going to be a big threat, too, but if we get the pass game going it should be pretty good."
"It's huge, first of all, when you've got a quarterback and receivers that have been working together for a few years now," coach Gravitt said. "The timing and the understanding of the game and where they're going to be and when they're going to be there, it's a whole lot better obviously."
Also keep an eye out for a pair of sophomores, Hunter Baker and Dayton Romines, who coach Gravitt said could take advantage of the extra attention being paid to Blaine and Jake.
Reed Latham came in from Henrietta in the middle of last season and played on JV. He's eligible for varsity now, and with Romines could help fill the void left by Mataska.
"[Latham]'s kind of a stocky kid, got a little bit of speed," coach Gravitt said. "With the combination of him and the Dayton Romines kid, we're gonna try to kinda combo those two together, and I think that'll help with the absence of Bandy, with those two."
They'll be operating behind a reworked offensive line, which trades in last year's size for more speed. Taylor Colley and Jacob Stacey both are moving from skill positions to the two guard spots.
"I think this year it'll be a lot better with the smaller, quicker guys," said Chandler. "Because last year, we had the strength, we had the size there, but I guess that size kinda slowed them down."
"There was a bunch of things we couldn't run [last year]," Williams admitted. "And now this year we have these guys that are quicker. You know, they're not as strong, but they're quicker and they can move and get to places. And I think that will open up the offense a lot."
"It's a hard-working group," coach Gravitt said of his linemen. "We're a little bit more athletic, especially at the guard spots. And I think our intelligence is up a little bit. Like I said, they're intelligent kids."
Even with a pretty good group returning on offense, the Pirates need to improve a defense that gave up almost 33 points per game a year ago.
"We're not wanting to rely on scoring 50-60 points a game to try to win," said coach Gravitt. "I don't want to win games 62-58."
"We're trying to get the fire going on defense," Williams said. "You know, the Bells game last year, that was probably the best game we had all year. That fire was there."
The Pirates will hit the field on Friday, August 26th in Fort Worth, against Lake Country Christian.
Tuesday night, we'll start District 5-2A Div. I with a look at the Seymour Panthers.
Petrolia Pirates 2016 Schedule
Aug. 26 at Lake Country Christian, 7:30
Sept. 2 vs Olney, 7:30
Sept. 9 vs Lindsay, 7:30
Sept. 16 at Seymour, 7
Sept. 23 vs Alvord, 7:30
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7 at Quanah, 7*
Oct. 14 vs Archer City, 7*
Oct. 21 at Electra, 7*
Oct. 28 vs Munday, 7*
Nov. 4 at Haskell, 7*
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