[This is my column in the Aug. 20 issue of The Commercial Review.]
The streak may come to an end Friday night.
It’s been more than two decades since the Jay County High School football team beat Delta on the gridiron.
(Yes, the Patriots were credited with a win in 2011, but only after Delta was found to have used an ineligible player. The Eagles won that game, 55-0).
The last victory in the series for Jay County dates back to 1993, a 27-21 win. But, it ended up a loss because of a forfeit for the same reason.
The previous season the scoreboard read 36-19 at the end of the game in favor of Jay County.
Twenty-four consecutive losses.
Friday, that number may not reach 25.
Sure, the Patriots will be running an offense not many outside of the program have seen before.
They threw in some wrinkles last season that amounts to their current run-and-shoot scheme.
This year, though, the plays have gotten larger in number and more complicated.
On offense, Jay County returns its top rusher in sophomore Cole Stigleman, who racked up 767 yards on 107 carries with six touchdowns. Drew Huffman had 411 yards and two touchdowns on 59 carries before his season was cut short by a broken collarbone.
He’s a senior now, and is hoping to have a comeback season as one of the Patriots’ wing backs.
“I’m extra motivated this year given what happened last year,” he said.
Huffman and fellow wing Stigleman, fullback Levi Hummel and first-year quarterback Holton Hill will be lining up against a defense that has huge holes to fill.
The Eagles are without seven of their top 10 tacklers from last season, and they accounted for more than half of the 744 total tackles. Delta had 10 interceptions, and seven of those are gone. Also departed are half of its fumble recoveries and 18 of the 21 sacks it had a year ago.
Delta does have, however, Kaleb Slaven, a 6-foot, 5-inch, behemoth of a nose guard, who had 17 tackles as a junior.
“We are going to double team and sometimes triple team him because it is the only way we have a chance,” said JCHS coach Tim Millspaugh, who has lost by a combined 82-21 in two games against the Eagles. “We are going to change our tempo. We are going to go with a hurry-up (offense) at times, not because we’re trying to get a million plays in, we’re trying to wear him out.”
Offensively, the Eagles lost starting quarterback Cade Jones — Riley Pease and Tanner Lambert will share duties at that spot.
Three of Jones’ top five targets are gone, and the two who return accounted for 10 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
Also gone is Delta’s career rushing leader Joe Spegal, who racked up 1,960 yards and scored 30 TDs as a senior.
But Millspaugh and company aren’t going to let themselves get caught up with what Delta doesn’t have.
“We are going to have to play the Delta team of 2015 and not worry about all the teams before,” Millspaugh said. “A lot of times when the kids constantly hear how long it’s been and the hype, that kind of creates some of that fear.
“We just have to beat the 2015 team.”
Huffman said Jay County has the squad to do it.
“I think this is one of the best teams we’ve had in a couple years,” he said.
And the Patriots are primed to knock off their rivals from Delaware County for the first time in their generation.
Wednesday’s practice was chock full of intensity and excitement. Helmets and shoulder pads were cracking with every hit.
Players were eager to get from one drill to the next, bellowing with enthusiasm and a sort of swagger that was missing from the program last season.
“I think this team … I wouldn’t call it cockiness, but I feel like this team is confident,” Millspaugh said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”