Norris, Eakles shined during Redskins’ ninth straight winning season

WINTERSVILLE — While the Indian Creek Redskins will not be participating in the Ohio football playoffs after a 6-4 campaign, their ninth straight winning season, there were still a lot of positives for coach Andrew Connor’s club.

“The biggest bright spot was that at no point did our kids ever give up or not give their best effort,” Connor said. “That’s something that was very important for our program.”

For a fourth straight year ,the Redskins took home the Buckeye 8 North title and did not lose a conference game, something that was very important to the 15th-year sideline boss.

“It speaks a lot to the kids and our senior class,” he said. “At the start of season we have a lot of goals. One of our goals was to win the conference again, and we were able to do that. I think that says a lot about making sure you represent your school.”

Another bright spot is how Indian Creek came back from losses. The Redskins followed all four of their defeats by shutting out their next opponent.

After a tough 35-21 loss to playoff bound Alliance in Week 3, a game in which Indian Creek held a 21-20 lead in the fourth quarter, it responded the following week with a 36-0 blanking of Buckeye Local. In Week 5, the Redskins dropped a close 34-28 decision on the road to playoff bound St Clairsville and responded by shutting out rival Brooke 31-0. Week 7 brought another close loss to a playoff team, 14-10 to Martins Ferry, followed by a Week 8, 38-0 blanking of Beaver Local to secure the Buckeye 8 North crown. In Week 9, the Redskins dropped another close one to a playoff team, 28-25 at Columbiana Crestview, but rebounded to close the season on a high note by shutting out Edison 33-0 on the road last Thursday.

“It showed a lot of resiliency,” he said. “A lot of coaches want their kids to be resilient, and I think our kids showed that all year. They never put their heads down. They went back to work, and they got better for the next week.”

In total, Indian Creek finished with five shutouts and, with one week to go in West Virginia, as the second best defense statistically in the Herald-Star/ Daily Times coverage area, giving up just 192.4 yards (114.6 rushing, 77.8 passing) and 11.8 points per game.

“One of things that we’ve been proud of in my time coaching is we like to play sound and aggressive defense, and that continued this year,” he said. “Any time you get five shutouts in a season, it says a lot. Four of those came in the Buckeye 8 North. We lost four games that we feel like we could have won. They were heartbreaking losses, but we stayed in those games because of our defense. Our defense is what enabled us to get our ninth straight winning season.”

On offense, the Redskins averaged 309.4 yards and 27.7 points per contest, transitioning to more of a pass-oriented offense than in years past, averaging 201.4 yards through the air and 108 on ground. That was because of standout junior quarterback Brennon Norris, who shattered the school record in his first year as a starter to finish as the top passer in the area with 2,010 yards. He completed 160-of-265 passes on the season for a completion percentage of 60.4, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“It was kind of a transition year for us, going from kind of a predominantly running team to a passing team,” Connor said. “Sometimes that’s difficult to do, and I thought we did a real good job of it. We played to our strengths. Our strengths this year were Brennon throwing the ball well, our offensive line with good pass protection and our receivers doing a good job going into a different phase running more routes and better routes.

“(Norris) did a fantastic job for us; 2,000-plus yards speaks to what a season it was. It’s a credit to him and his offseason preparation. He would be the first to tell you it was a team accomplishment. A lot of people certainly had a part in that. “

Senior twins Devin and Devon Eakle finished as two of the top pass catchers in the area. Devin Eakle hauled in 57 passes for 758 yards and six scores, averaging 13.3 yards per catch to finish with the most receptions in the area through Week 10. Devon Eakle finished with 32 grabs for 418 yards and a pair of scores, averaging just over 13 per to finish sixth through Week 10.

Junior Matt Mamula finished with 11 catches for 266 and two touchdowns. A third Eakle, junior Derrick, hauled in 10 passes for 113 yards. Backup QB, sophomore Sam Mazar, caught nine balls for 103 yards.

Running the ball, sophomore Trevor Fante capitalized on the opportunity to be the feature back by running for 733 yards and 15 touchdowns on 170 carries, sitting as one of the top 10 backs in the area. Fellow sophomore Johnell Blair added 107 yards on 18 carries, and Mazar also ran for 81 and a score on just seven carries.

The Redskins graduate 10 seniors in Will Hopkins, Devon Eakle, Shawn Allen, Devin Eakle, Aaron Robinson, Keith Maple, Ian Belt, Evan Coppa, Andy Waggonner and Kyle Booher.

“It is tough,” Connor said. “You go through that process every year, but it doesn’t get any easier. A lot of those kids gave us four years, and I watched them grow up. The thing that we are most proud of is they turned into to not just good football players, but great young men.”

On the flip side of that, they will return 14 juniors and 15 sophomores, a lot of which were key contributors for Connor.

“There were a lot of underclassmen that got playing time,” he said. “Nothing replaces a game situation. You can practice all you want, but game situations make you better. We had a lot of kids grow up as the year went on.”