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FOOTBALL: Stars so close, but couldn’t close

BNL finished Steve Weber's fourth season as head coach with a 4-6 record.

BNL finished Steve Weber’s fourth season as head coach with a 4-6 record.

BNL finishes Weber’s

fourth season at 4-6

with frustrating losses

By Justin Sokeland

TheHHCSports.com

For the first time in Steve Weber’s four-year tenure as Bedford North Lawrence’s head coach, the Stars did not increase their win total from the previous season. Now that’s a difficult standard to maintain over an extended period, but with a few last-minute reversals of fortune and fate, BNL could have easily continued that trend in 2016.

The microcosm of BNL’s 4-6 campaign is simple: Painfully close. BNL, despite constant shuffling of personnel because of injuries, was competitive but yet found frustrating ways to lose., most of them traceable to mistakes or defensive softness.

BNLs Austin Jovanovich powers his way for yards. BNL starters have only played the first half in each of the first two games.

BNL senior Austin Jovanovich led the Stars in rushing with 427 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Perhaps one of these days, in the not-so-distant future, BNL will learn how to win those. To get there, the Stars must figure out why they currently fall short. The most obvious starting point is on the defensive side.

Over the last eight games, discarding the two shutouts that came against opponents that went a combined 1-19 (yes, Indianapolis Marshall did win a game), BNL allowed 33.9 points per game. During that span, the Stars surrendered 196 yards per game and 6 yards per carry. That’s too much, too easy.

“Defensively, we struggled to find certain positions,” Weber said. “We got close, but when you have kids in and out, it’s hard to get that chemistry. That makes it hard.”

That’s an obvious analysis. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

BNL sophomore quarterback McCall Ray and the Stars 2-1) will visit New Albany on Friday night.

BNL sophomore quarterback McCall Ray triggered an offense that averaged 32.4 points per game.

Offensively, BNL was explosive and dangerous. The Stars averaged 32.4 points per game, with sophomore quarterback McCall Ray triggering the triple-option attack. He threw for 1,364 yards and 9 touchdowns, and he was a running threat to complement the committee (senior Austin Jovanovich was the leader with 427 yards and 7 TDs) in the backfield.

Ray had plenty of dependable targets, including Drew Shoufler (18 catches, 311 yards, 3 TDs), Joe Jackson (16 for 298 yards) and Esteban Flores (15 for 333 with 4 TDs).

When the offense did stall, Flores could usually bail it out. He drilled 13 field goals, but that was also a symptom of a red-zone problem. Flores hit 7 from 26 yards or less, meaning BNL could get close but sometimes couldn’t finish. That played a huge factor in a couple of losses, especially in the sectional rematch with Floyd Central.

“What hurt us was settling for field goals in the red zone, instead of getting touchdowns,” Weber said. We didn’t have the kids to have a goal-line offense until the end. So offensively, we were good, but we could have been better.

Esteban Flores kicked two field goals and caught a touchdown pass.

Esteban Flores booted 13 field goals during the 2016 campaign.

“A kicker is a great thing to have, but we were down close several times, and you have to punch them in, especially when the defense is struggling.”

The outcome of three games doomed BNL to another losing season, its fifth straight since going 9-4 and winning a sectional title in 2011. The Stars were haunted by a 21-20 setback at Jeffersonville, a 44-38 home loss to Seymour and the 40-34 final in the sectional clash with the Highlanders. In all three, BNL could have won with either a last-drive defensive stop or a last-possession score.

“We were very competitive, and we put ourselves in position to win the game,” Weber said. “We were there, we just didn’t get it done. There was some room for improvement.

“Here in a couple of years, we’ll start getting closer. We were forced to play a lot of young guys, so with a year under your belt, those games start to slow down and you can pull those out. Once you get that experience, that confidence, you get that done. A little more work ethic will make sure it happens, you make sure you get those wins. We’ll get there.”

BNL's Wyatt Martin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

BNL’s Wyatt Martin had two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

BNL’s future is promising. The Stars lose 18 seniors, most of them important starters, but several underclassmen were forced to mature quickly when injuries occurred. Freshman Tabin Stillions and Skylar Bates, sophomores Wyatt Martin (2 kickoff returns for TDs), Jamey Deckard (who missed the bulk of the season with a broken collar bone), Ethan Stanley (who suffered a late-season concussion), Shoufler and Ray form a solid nucleus.

BNL just needs more like them. Weber dreams of a day when his program has 22 (or more) studs to allow offense-defense platooning instead of two-day demands. He needs tough ones who ignore fatigue, and the program requires seriousness and intensity in the offseason weight-room work. Just compare the physiques of Columbus East and Floyd Central to BNL bodies, and the difference is glaring.

The 2016 campaign will be one remembered for its agonizing finishes, but it could also be one later known as a springboard to greater success.

“The wins weren’t there, but we were very competitive in every game but one,” Weber said “But a lot of people in the conference are that way (against East). I think we’re very competitive with everyone else. To me, the biggest thing is the feeder system. We’ll work on it. If we can get that done, we’ll have things going in the right direction.”

BNL's Jamey Deckard looks for an opening in the Marshall defense.

BNL’s Jamey Deckard was a main contributor until an injury ended his season.

FINAL BNL STATISTICS

Bedford NL 89 126 61 48 – 324

Opponents 47 104 52 68 – 271

Team statistics

BNL – First downs 119 (60 by run, 47 by pass, 14 by penalty), Rushing 334-1645, Passing 87-158-5-1547, Total yards 3194, Fumbles 22 (lost 14), Penalties 51-436

Opponents – First downs 117 (95 by run, 19 by pass, 3 by penalty), Rushing 385-1941, Passing 68-126-7-966, Total yards 2906, Fumbles 20 (lost 12), Penalties 52-444

Individual Statistics

Rushing – Dillon Standifer 2-(-3), Justice Woods 14-30, McCall Ray 78-350 (9 TD), Austin Jovanovich 68-427 (7 TD), Joe Jackson 32-89 (1 TD), Wyatt Martin 19-156 (1 TD), Jamey Deckard 17-111 (1 TD), Drew Hensley 15-94, Jackson Bartlett 16-66 (3 TD), Ethan Stanley 28-130 (1 TD), Owen Beaver 6-28, Nick Rizzi 1-0, Sam Jackson 7-28, Tabin Stillions 23-147 (1 TD), Jace Rhorer 1-8, Skylar Bates 20-90 (2 TD)

IMG_3168[1]

Tabin Stillions was one of the freshmen thrust into a key role in 2016.

Passing – Drew Hensley 1-2-0-24 (1 TD), McCall Ray 82-160-4-1364 (9 TD), Jamey Deckard 2-2-0-35 (2 TD), Justice Woods 2-4-1-14

Receiving – (BNL) Joe Jackson 16-298 (1 TD), Wyatt Martin 3-57, Esteban Flores 15-333 (4 TD), Garrett Ramsey 1-24 (1 TD), Taylor Porter 1-6, Jace Rhorer 2-12, Jamey Deckard 3-67, Hensley 8-177 (2 TD), Drew Shoufler 18-311 (3 TD), Austin Jovanovich 9-67, Jackson Bartlett 1-8, Tabin Stillions 5-107 (1 TD), Skylar Bates 2-11, Owen Walker 1-11

Special teams points – Wyatt Martin 2 (2 kickoff returns)

Defensive points – Wyatt Martin (fumble recovery), Logan McDonald (safety), team safety

Field goals – Esteban Flores 13 (34, 26, 30, 24, 38, 28, 41, 23, 22, 23, 19, 37, 19 yards)