MIDDLETOWN — The area’s lone defending football sectional champion didn’t finish the regular season in regal fashion.
But, for the Shenandoah Raiders (7-2), that could be a good thing.
“I think in the last couple of games we played some really good football teams,” coach Scott Widner said. “They exposed some things that we weren’t doing right, and I think we’re a better team because of those games.”
In back-to-back losses against Eastern Hancock (9-0) and Cardinal Ritter (7-2), Shenandoah was outscored 131-54. But the Raiders got the chance to see two completely different styles of play.
Eastern Hancock, ranked No. 4 in Class 1A, relies on an aggressive defense to set the stage for its playmakers on offense. Ritter, ranked No. 3 in Class 2A, is built around the talents of strong-armed quarterback Jake Purichia.
Those contests represented a step up in the level of play for Shenandoah following a 7-0 start and prepared the team for the grueling postseason ahead.
“You can learn things about yourself through a loss that sometimes you can’t learn through a win,” Widner said.
Chief among the lessons? The Raiders need to tackle better.
That’s of particular concern in the Class 2A sectional opener on Friday at Broad Ripple. Rockets quarterback Camorrie Shittu is the team’s leading rusher with 759 yards and eight touchdowns on 85 carries.
Containing the multi-talented signal-caller will be of foremost importance, but Shenandoah also wants to get its own running game back on track.
The Raiders rallied late in a 63-35 loss against Ritter last week and hope to carry some of that offensive momentum over against Broad Ripple.
As always, Shenandoah’s offense is a multi-pronged attack, with Lane Young and Chandler Hale responsible for the bulk of the damage. Quarterback Adam Lovan can take off when his number is called as well.
The Raiders will need to fire on all cylinders in a sectional field that also includes fourth-ranked Scecina.
The Crusaders (7-2) open play at Centerville (5-4), and the winner of that game will meet either Heritage Christian (5-4) or Winchester (6-3) in one of next week’s semifinals.
The other semifinal will pit either Shenandoah or Broad Ripple against the winner between Union County (3-6) and Knightstown (5-4).
The Raiders bounced back from a season-ending loss at Milan last year to win their first sectional crown in eight seasons. The final featured a thrilling 41-35 upset of Heritage Christian in come-from-behind fashion at Dale Green Field.
“Last year was similar in the sense that we kind of had a couple games that we lost, and we learned from them,” Widner said.
Shenandoah will count on leaders such as Young and Hale to get the team ready for a similar run this season.
There has been a sense of urgency during practices this week that one would expect with the dawning of the postseason. But Widner hasn’t seen many changes in his team’s approach.
“These kids always play hard, and they always do the best they can,” he said. “So I kind of feel this week is about the same.”