Bears were doomed from the beginning
NEW MANCHESTER — The Oak Glen football squad finished up the 2017 season with a 2-8 record, but a lot of its young players got something that cannot be duplicated: Friday night experience.
“It was absolutely a growing year,” Oak Glen coach Ted Arneault said. “Next year our skills kids are still going to be young, but they will have a year of experience under their belt. All of our skill is coming back, so there is a lot to build on and we’re pretty excited about that. You can’t replace Friday night experience.”
The Golden Bears started the season with back-to-back losses to Weir High (52-0) and Steubenville Catholic Central (63-28), then rattled off a pair of victories over Buckeye Local (28-21, 2OT) and Warren Local (17-14) after a bye week to pull even at 2-2 through five weeks.
The last six games of the season were not as kind to Oak Glen, however, as it ended with six consecutive defeats. The Golden Bears fell 26-14 to Edison at home, then on the road to East Liverpool (52-14) and Harrison Central (48-29). It fell to East Fairmont at home (49-26) on senior night, then ended the season with back-to-back road losses to Beaver Local (69-25) and Wheeling Central (65-7).
“I think at the beginning of the year, we had more opponents that were in our competitive range physically,” Arneault said. “When we finished the year, other than East Fairmont, we were up against teams pretty considerably outmatched us physically. They had junior and senior kids that had Friday night experience.”
Offensively, the Golden Bears finished as the second best passing team statistically in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area, averaging 162.6 of its 250.4 yards per game through the air. Oak Glen averaged 18.8 points and 87.8 yards on the ground.
“We were able to get things going offensively in just about every game,” Arneault said. “We were able to find a balance between rushing and passing. We relied more on our passing attack as the season went along due to the fact that we were a little bit undersized. Our line did a great job pass protecting for us and giving us time to find openings.
“Next year, I think we are going to be in good shape offensively because we are only losing two starters and three kids that actually played, compared to this year when we had nine kids that we had to replace.”
Leading that offense was freshman quarterback Nick Chaney, who finished as the second best passer in the area to only Indian Creek standout junior Brennon Norris, racking up 1,593 yards on 102-of-242 (42.2 percent) passing for 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Arneault expects him to get better with experience.
Although the Golden Bears will lose senior running backs Jaden Glenn (164 yards, one touchdown on 26 carries) and William Straight (105 yards, four touchdowns on 27 carries), the team’s leading rusher, junior Blake Almo, will return after putting up 312 yards and a touchdown on 45 carries, averaging just less than seven yards per carry.
All of Oak Glen’s top receivers will be back as well, led by junior Ethan Travis and his 29 catches for 563 yards and four touchdowns. Michael Lemley hauled in 26 balls for 200 yards and a score. Freshman contributors Jeremy Taylor (16 catches, 318 yards, three touchdowns) and Gage Patterson (15 catches, 214 yards, two touchdowns) will also be back.
“We had a lot of kids playing new positions,” Arneault said. “They were playing positions they had never played before on top of playing at the varsity level for the first time. There’s no doubt that we’re going to have that in our back pockets, and that experience is going to be a big deal.”
Defensively, the Golden Bears struggled down the stretch, giving up 405.7 yards and 45.9 points per game. The biggest struggle came on rush defense, where Oak Glen allowed just less than 300 yards per game.
“We got pretty banged up as the year went on,” Arneault said of the defense. “We had linebackers in there that did not start the year at linebacker and were learning the position for the first time. We struggled with physicality, and we are undersized. We’re going to have to find a way to make up for that by probably being more aggressive next year. We really struggled against the run, so that’s got to be priority No. 1 this offseason, adressing how we’re going to stop the run better.
“I think having a year of physical maturity is going to be a big deal, especially defending the run. Often times we had 140-pound kids that were being asked to tackle 210-pound running backs. That year of physicality is going to help in terms of strength and experience.”
The bright spot of the defensive side, according to Arneault, was the pass defense that gave up 106.3 yards per game.
“If there was any bright spot defensively, our pass defense did really well,” he said. “When teams tried to go to throwing the ball and get a big play over the top, they were usually not very successful.”
The Golden Bears will say goodbye to 10 seniors in Glenn, Mac Enriquez, Collin Williams, Straight, Mathias Cook, Joe Durante, Noah Toomey, Ty Biela, Tony Minnis and Gus Weekley.
“The thing about these seniors is they really did a great job of changing our culture to a very positive, cohesive culture for the whole team this year,” Arneault said. “They really made the younger kids feel welcome and made it an environment for the younger kids to thrive. That’s going to pay dividends down the road. The kids really liked being around each other this year, and I think that is going to keep them coming back and working hard.”