ANDERSON — Shenandoah football coach Scot Widner said he and his players were just happy to be in the regional round of the 2012 IHSAA Class 2A state tournament.
No matter that they lost by 42 points to Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter, the eventual runner-up in the state title game. Taking down perennial powerhouse Heritage Christian in the sectional championship, 41-35, alone made last season a success.
“It was a great win for our program,” Widner said. “We felt like that senior class last year set the bar for the program for future classes.
“I hope they enjoyed the experience more than anything, just the opportunity to advance in the tournament and play the extra week and see what it’s like to play the caliber of team we played in Indianapolis Ritter in the regional.”
But now that his boys have tasted it once, Widner said he doesn’t want to settle for just enjoying the experience of a regional game anymore. He thinks his squad learned a lot from the big loss and will come back stronger this season.
Widner wants to compete.
“I think that was great for those kids to see where we need to get to if we want to get to be a championship football team and program,” Widner said. “That’s the biggest thing, I think, that’s going to help us from last year is that we got to that point. We made some mistakes, some coaching mistakes and playing mistakes. We’ll do our best to fix those and hopefully narrow that gap a little bit, a 40-point gap last season. We’ve got a lot of work to do obviously to make that a respectable game.”
This summer Widner said he’s been a bit disappointed at the number of kids he saw during offseason workouts, but the ones who showed up put in quality work. He added that after looking at tape from the postseason games, his returning players have been very receptive to tips that Widner and his staff have tried to instill.
Although the numbers for the Raiders have been down, Widner insisted the experience returning to this fall’s team is what will make it special.
Shenandoah’s core will include two running backs who each gained 1,000 yards last season. The men blocking for them will also be a strong force, with both offensive guards, the center and an offensive tackle returning to the offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, Widner will have eight experienced players returning.
As in the past, Widner hopes to be able to rely on the Raiders’ running game to carry the team deep into the postseason, but the key to a successful season, he said, will be developing a defense that can defend exactly what his offense is good at.
“Something we’ve worked on in the offseason, all winter with the coaches and in the spring and summer with the kids, is our run defense,” Widner said. “We’ve really spent a lot of time and energy to that. I hope that improves as well. I think our key at our level is being able to run the ball and being able to stop the run.”
Widner wasn’t quite ready to put a win total out there before the season started, but he added that now that his team knows what it takes to make it to the regional round and taste defeat, he hopes they work even harder to make it back and beyond.
“It’s hard to tell what people have until we get going, and it’s hard to tell what team we have until we get going,” he said. “We’ve got an idea of what we’ll be like, but you really just aren’t sure.
“We’re just going to pound it out one at a time and try to improve each time we get on the field, and hopefully if we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”