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Tide may be turning in Harrison Co. football

Tide may be turning in Harrison Co. football
Tide may be turning in Harrison Co. football
Panthers head coach and former Indiana University tight end Darin Ward shows a couple of members of his squad the proper blocking technique.

The smell of ribeyes cooking on an open grill, tailgating and loading up the car full of blankets can only mean that Friday night football is just around the corner.
Harrison County football ebbs like the sea, with either Corydon Central or North Harrison picking up where the other left off. This year will be no different.
The Panthers scored a trio of wins last year while North let a few games slip away only to find success late in the season.
So what’s in store for the two teams on the gridiron in 2002?
Corydon returns most of its starting corps, while North Harrison will try to deal with the loss of arguably the greatest player in the history of the program.
Here’s a look at both teams:
Corydon Central Panthers
Head coach: Darin Ward (2nd season, 3-7, .300).
Assistants: Bill Baelz, Dave Bennett, Dale Dougherty, Kerry Zimmerman, Chris Baelz, Nathan Dougherty, Jeff Durham, Jason Timberlake.
2001 record: 3-7.
2001 sectional result: lost 21-0 to Batesville in first round.
Success is in the eye of the beholder, right?
Compared to the previous three seasons — when it won just one game in 30 tries and humbly sported a 23-game losing streak — last year’s football squad at Corydon Central was like a runaway freight train.
The Panthers won three times, all on the road (at Clarksville, Mitchell and West Washington), and had three games that could have been won with a big play here or there. In addition, the defense was downright stingy: Corydon sliced its defensive average points in half, from 31.4 in ’98, 39.4 in ’99 and 37.1 in ’00 to just 18.5 points per game in 2001.
Simply put, Panther Nation was on Cloud Nine thanks to the turnaround led by first-year head coach and former Indiana University tight end Darin Ward.
The coach isn’t so keen on the word, “turnaround,” however.
“If you call that a turnaround, I guess we won a couple of games last year. I just think we kept things simple and basic and worried about the fundamentals,” Ward said. “We didn’t worry about the teams we were playing against. We just kept working on ourselves and tried to make the games shorter by running the clock.”
Ward says the 2002-03 edition will basically have the same look as last year, minus the 14 seniors who graduated.
“Basically, we’ll be reloading. Everybody got a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger and, hopefully, matured a little bit more. We’ve had a chance to work with them all last season, with two-a-days this season, and a little bit this summer with the new IHSAA rule,” Ward explained.
“I think we’ll block better up front, be a little smarter at the quarterback position, and I think our running game will be better. We didn’t run the football that great last year. We just had some nice gainers where we did, but other than that, it was a stagnant offense.”
Corydon Central, which has 14 seniors this season, too, returns its nimble senior signal-caller, Justin McPherson. He’ll be joined in the backfield by senior Jon Windell at fullback and fleet-footed junior Corey Thatcher at tailback.
Don’t be surprised to see senior Jeff Conrad, a linebacker and wide-out last season, take a few snaps or run the ball a few times, either. Third-string sophomore quarterback and master of the run-and-shoot offense at the JV level, Alex Zimmerman, waits in the wings.
“Windell is now where we probably needed him all along,” Ward said. “He’s the ideal fullback that loves to hit, doesn’t mind if he gets or doesn’t get the football, decent speed, ran on the 400 relay team in track. Zac Robson moved in from Spokane, Wash. His dad was a real good athlete here back a number of years ago. He’s been a great surprise. He’s probably one of our top two or three football players and will probably see a lot of reps in the backfield.”
Ward says his defensive line will go 220, 235, 240, 190 and 265 across the front. Some of these guys can move despite their size.
“Justin Albin’s 30 more pounds than last year; Michael Tuchscherer is 30 more pounds; Jimmy Ward is bigger and a little quicker, and Eric Hoehn’s stepped up,” the coach said.
The season will hinge on a little bit of … everything.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football, but we’ll need to be able to pass it when teams put 8, 9, 10 guys in the box. We’ll need to be able to throw it on the outside a little bit and down the field. The main thing is that we’ll keep mistakes and turnovers down and play solid defense and not be afraid to punt the football.
“We need to have a positive gain on each down. Sometimes, a no-gainer is a positive gain because you don’t put yourself into a passing situation.
“And I think we had 10 or 11 turnovers last year and took the ball away 12 or 13 times. I’m happy about that. You are going to be in ball games when you do that. We just have to do a little bit of everything and avoid the injury bug. If we can do all that, and be in every game in the fourth quarter and have the opportunity to win it or steal one away, we’re happy.”
Until the rest of the Mid-Southern Conference raises its level of play, Brownstown is still the team to beat, Ward says. Next in line he sees Salem, which returns many of its players from a 7-5 campaign last year, and then the rest of the league will fight for the third spot.
“We’re not good enough to look past anyone. We’ll finish anywhere from 10-0 and 0-10,” Ward said. “We’re not going to blow anyone out. And especially the way we want to control the game by slowing it down, teams you’d normally beat by two or three touchdowns, you only win by one, but a win is a win, and that’s what we’re after.”
The Panthers host 2001 Class 1A state runner-up and pre-season No. 2-ranked Perry Central this Friday at 8 p.m.
North Harrison Cougars
Head coach:
Dan Haskell (5th season, 14-27, .341).
Assistants: Rick Gunter, Tony Waynescott, Kevin Fessel, Kyle Eckart, Jared Goldman.
2001 record: 2-8.
2001 sectional result: lost 15-14 to Brown County in second round.
A Herculean task is at hand for North Harrison head football coach Dan Haskell: This year he’ll have to try to find a way to replace Gary Fessel, the school’s all-time leading rusher and scorer, who graduated in May and is now a walk-on player at Western Kentucky University.
Fessel accounted for about 90 percent of the offense last season, so filling his cleats won’t be an easy. Neither will filling the void left by the graduation of 12 seniors.
“In my opinion, what makes Gary such a fine player boils down to a love of the game of football, coupled with an overwhelming desire to succeed. That is why I believe he will be a success at Western Kentucky,” Haskell said. “Only time will replace a player like Gary. We will have to have people with that same love of the game and competitiveness to step up and make a place for themselves on the team. We do have some kids with some of the same attributes Gary has.
“I think the biggest change has already occurred. The kids understand that we don’t have a ‘go to’ player at the start of the season. Having lost 80 percent of our starters to graduation, almost every position on both sides of the ball is open. That changes the outlook of a lot of players who last year probably felt that they didn’t have much of a chance to start ahead of one of the seniors.”
The graduation of three-year starting quarterback Greg Hamilton leaves another big opening. Right now, Haskell said, two juniors are vying for signal caller: Brad Adkins and Cody Mitchell. Both are big kids — 6-1, 190 and 6-2, 200, respectively. They bring similar skills to the table, and as of now Haskell plans to rotate them. They will have to take charge on the field and work hard to win the sole starting spot, the coach said.
At tailback, North’s skipper is still undecided.
James Thompson sparkled while Fessel was nursing a shoulder injury last season, but the junior broke his sternum in a jet ski accident over the summer and is out for the season. Haskell says he’ll likely give the nod to Lance Mitchell and Cory Beckman. A couple of other players could emerge if they improve, but the coach was hesitant to give out the details.
“No one at the varsity level has the same running style that Gary displayed, which was, ‘If you get in my way, I will run over you.’ We do have some quick running backs, a couple of guys who are faster in a sprint, so we’ll use their speed. It will be interesting to see how they develop on Friday nights this fall,” Haskell said. “The potential is there for them to break plays open.”
Seniors Josh Jones, Wes Williams, Kay Brose and Nick Blanton will be asked to provide leadership roles on the team.
“We also have a group of juniors who show good leadership skills. This group has completely different team chemistry from past teams and is a fun group to coach,” Haskell said.
For the Cougars to be successful this year, they will have to “avoid injuries, play tenacious defense, work on timing and blocking on offense,” Haskell said, “and make big plays on special teams. And, as in every season, we must not make mistakes.”
North Harrison will play on a brand new surface this year. The football complex has been given a major renovation, including new Bermuda grass, new irrigation system, new goal posts, and a state-of-the-art press box.
So the makeup of the team isn’t the only thing that’s changed from last season’s crew, which fell to Brown County on a last-second touchdown and two-point conversion in the semifinal game of the Class 3A Sectional.
“We have many changes for the new season. Many of the changes deal with the football complex. But the change that matters most is how our staff and players deal with the changes in personnel,” Haskell said.
“Who is going to step up and assume the leadership roles once the Friday night crusade begins? As much as I am looking forward to the changes in the football complex, it is the personnel question marks that I want to see answered,” said Haskell.
North Harrison opens the season Friday at home at 8 p.m. against the Senators of West Washington.