Kropka proud of his Huskies

CADIZ — The Harrison Central Huskies got off to a very tough 1-5 start to the 2017 season but closed it out on a four-game winning streak that saw them win each game by 19 points or more to finish at 5-5 and keep from having a losing season.

“It’s weird to say that you’re happy with a 5-5 season, but I was really happy with it with how the season unfolded and all the adversity these guys faced,” Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka said. “We haven’t had a losing season in a long time, and I’m thrilled that these guys didn’t let that happen. It’s going to happen some day, but these guys weren’t the class that did it because of their attitude and unselfishness. It was a lot of fun to coach these guys.”

Injuries and reacting to them having to move players to different positions contributed to the early struggles. But once they got comfortable they became hard to stop.

“We started off at 41 kids, and you’re always going to have some walk away,” Kropka said. “We had the natural attrition, and then we had a rash of injuries that kind of started in Week 2 and just continued. We lost eight third-year, two-way starters and we were down to dressing 25. It was just one of those years, kind of the perfect storm, happens to you.

“I was really happy with our seniors who were willing to switch positions midway through the year to help us get the best 11 on the field, and they responded.”

The Huskies lost a tough 42-39 game to playoff bound Martins Ferry in Week 5 that dropped them to 1-4 at the time, a game in hindsight Kropka believes could have made the difference in getting them a playoff spot. Harrison Central finished 14th (the top eight make the playoffs) in final Division IV, Region 13 computers ratings. In fact, all but one of the Huskies losses came against teams that have made or will make the playoffs.

“I would have liked to see our team with all of the bullets in the gun, but that’s football and that happens sometimes,” Kropka said.

The Huskies finished averaging 298 yards of offense and 30.4 points per game game, rushing for 228.3 and throwing for 69.7.

When senior starting quarterback Wyatt Elias went down with an injury after throwing for 210 yards and completing 19-of-30 passes (63.3 percent), senior DeJuan Caldwell stepped into the role and threw for 466 yards and four touchdowns, completing 31-of-59 (52.5 percent) with five interceptions. He also rushed for 747 yards and nine scores, averaging 11.3 per on 66 carries. Despite spending so much time at QB, Caldwell also finished as the second leading receiver on the team with 11 catches for 162 yards.

“He’s probably going to go on to the next level and play receiver,” Kropka said. “He sacrificed for the team and went and played quarterback and did a great job for us. He’s an unselfish kid and never asked what was in it for him.”

While the Huskies will have a new QB leading the offense with both Caldwell and Elias graduating, the center of the offense will focus around record-setting running back Ty West. He put up 1,607 yard and 24 touchdowns on 164 carries, numbers that trailed only Madonna standout Donavan Kirby in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area. The junior averaged 9.8 yards per carry and closed the season by setting single game school records for yards (387) and touchdowns (seven) in a 70-34 win over Buckeye Local.

“We knew what we had with him by about his first carry when he was a sophomore,” Kropka said. “He got mop up duty when he was freshman, and we thought he could be pretty good. Once he kind of earned that roll as the No. 1 guy, he has blossomed and is one of the best tailbacks in the area and probably will continue to be next year. It’s nice to have a three-year starter coming back, especially since we don’t have a returning quarterback.”

The Huskies top receiver was senior Caden Arbaugh, who finished with 13 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown. West was also a pass catching threat out of the backfield, hauling in eight balls for 141 yards and a score.

The Harrison Central defense allowed 291.8 yards (152.5 rushing, 139.3 passing) and 30.6 points.

The Huskies are losing 11 seniors in Caldwell, Arbaugh, Trent McDonald, Gage Rapavi, Elias, Coleman Dodds, Lindsey Ball, Jake Schoop, Blake Barnhart, Reese Beasley and Ronnie Bowers.

“They were the group that were kindergarteners when I took the job, so I’ve seen a whole generation come through the program,” Kropka said. “That makes me very proud. They got to go out with the most wins of any class.”