Drab start extinguishes Patriots’ difficult season

BY JASON RECKER
Herald Enterprise Editor

LINCOLN CITY — Even with an idea that this season might stray toward a territory alien to most everyone with the Heritage Hills football program, coach Todd Wilkerson had a difficult time digesting the final dose of disappointment.

It’s one thing to hear the thunder.

It’s another to ride out the storm.

A program decorated with milestone victories ended the 2013 season with fewer wins and more losses than any in Patriot history after Friday night’s 34-14 setback to visiting Evansville Memorial in the opening round of the Class 3A sectional at Patriot Field. Wilkerson met the frustration head-on but simultaneously commended an eight-player senior class that endured a fall dented by injuries, a thinner-than-normal roster and the vexing feeling of almost turning the corner.

“We knew we were going to struggle a little bit because of the numbers. But even when you know something is going to be hard, you don’t realize how hard it is to live it,” Wilkerson said. “You can predict that, ”˜Hey, it’s going to be a tough year next year,’ but to feel it and go through it, it’s difficult. ... Every one of those guys are great kids, great character guys. They’re going to do great things in life. I wish things would have turned out better.”

A stalled start complicated the ending.

Steckler


Heritage Hills (2-8) waded through a first half that produced 75 yards, five first downs, four punts, two turnovers and zero points. The drab offense surprised the Patriots after a week of practice Wilkerson labeled “great” and left the defense scrambling against a Memorial offense that spread the field but did far more running than passing.

“We didn’t have anything in the first half,” Patriot senior Logan Steckler said. “There was a lot of pressure on (quarterback) Logan (Wilkerson) and he couldn’t get the ball off. We tried running but we couldn’t get a first down. ... We were playing defense the whole half.”

Memorial (3-7) leaned on the three guys in the backfield. McKinley Warren darted left and right for 179 rushing yards, while fullback Luke Shoulders steamed straight ahead for 69 yards. Quarterback Jordan Scheessele accumulated most of his 57 running yards evading pressure and added 97 passing yards.

Playing without their planned starting quarterback since an opening-week injury, the Tigers rode Warren. He set up the first touchdown with a 57-yard punt return, scored the second TD on a 16-yard dash and pumped the Tigers’ lead to 27-0 early in the third quarter on a 23-yard reception. He bit the Pats in chunks, netting 8 or more yards on 12 plays.

“You see him running past people in the city, and you know he’s fast,” Todd Wilkerson said. “They have good physical linemen on both sides of the ball. I had a feeling they’d want to run the ball.”

Heritage Hills’ attempted counter came through the air. Kenton Crews, Zack Jones and Gabe Konerding all received scattered carries, and a week after compiling a ghastly minus-18 yards rushing against rival South Spencer, the Pats increased their ground output to 130 yards. But Konerding was again limited by a nagging ankle and a chunk of those gains came from Jacob Pund (75 yards) with the outcome sealed.

Logan Wilkerson threaded a 5-yard touchdown pass to Sam Collins on fourth down to pare Memorial’s lead to 27-7 midway through the third quarter. He lofted a 24-yard TD strike to Steckler early in the fourth quarter to trim the Tiger advantage to 27-14 and spread his 176 yards among six receivers; Steckler led everyone with five catches for 74 yards. But the first-half fizzle undermined the second-half rally.

“I was pleased with the way we moved the ball. We just didn’t make some throws early and at times we didn’t catch the ball,” Todd Wilkerson said. “It’s nice to see kids hang in there and get through it. You hope for Memorial to make a mistake.”

The Tigers made only one: Sean Schaefer intercepted a tipped pass in the final minute of the first half. But the Tigers picked off a pass on the next snap, stopping a second consecutive Heritage Hills drive with a turnover; the Pats missed a scoring chance when Wilkerson was intercepted inside the 5-yard line with a 57 seconds left in the first half.

The aftertaste was the irritating flavor of one step forward, two steps back. The Pats missed a handful of big pass plays by inches while Memorial whirled its way out of long third downs and penalty-plagued drives. Again, injuries surfaced. Senior Andy Sickbert returned for the first time since August but Konerding, Jones, Aaron Boehm (twice) and Ryan Baker all limped off the field at some point.

“It stinks because we have just not been healthy all year,” Todd Wilkerson said. “We don’t have the numbers to get a next guy up. We have kids who will step up and say, ”˜Hey I’m in here,’ but the size and age of the kid is not comparable to who we lost.”

Wilkerson pointed to dipping enrollment — he said it’s under 600 after idling at more than 700 not long ago — as a cause for a roster of 34 sophomores, juniors and seniors. The eight-player senior class will be supplanted next year by a junior group that consisted of 14 Friday night. The hope is for a return to something more like the norm. Steckler remembers the catalog of semistate meetings with Indianapolis Chatard and sectional skirmishes with Indian Creek. He wants those following him to get back. Wilkerson, cognizant of the man he replaced, was around for plenty of that success. He’s appreciative of the seniors but eager to build.

“Obviously, you have to say you’re not going to take a Hall of Fame coach out of the equation and plug me in and have the same level. I understand that,” Wilkerson said. “The coaches I’m working with, we had to work through these couple years to understand how we work together. You can’t just take out Bob Clayton and say ”˜I’ll  jump in and fill his shoes in year one and year two.’ That’s just not going to happen. We struggled through that. We’ll work hard and we’ll get better.”

Contact Jason Recker at jrecker@dcherald.com.




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