Piqua prepared for next week’s season opener with an impressive effort, if not outcome, against Wayne, leaving Bill Nees with a list of things to do the likes of which he does best.
Piqua coach Bill Nees will readily admit that he’s never let good competition stand in the way of the fortunes of one of his football teams. He likes to play, and he likes to play good people.
So when Wayne head coach and athletic director Jay Minton called this summer asking for a scrimmage date Nees immediately jumped on it.
“I asked him about it before I agreed to do it,” said Piqua athletic director Dave Palmer before Friday’s final pre-season tuneup with the talented Warriors, favored to compete for the GWOC Central crown this year. “Bill never hesitated. He said let’s play.”
The final outcome of Friday’s contest at Alexander Stadium, a 21-9 Wayne win on the scoreboard, would hardly surprise anyone: big, bad Wayne against a Piqua team that everyone except the most ardently loyal expects to finish behind Trotwood in the GWOC North. But the manner in which the outcome was determined would surprise.
For much of the 36 minutes of varsity action Friday the Indians outplayed the bigger, more experienced, and talented Warriors. After an opening defensive series that looked suspect, the Indians righted the ship, forced Wayne to punt, and set about establishing some good habits going into next week’s season opener against Elida.
The offensive line played well, protecting quarterback Justice Young and opening holes for running backs Austin Covault and Ryan Hughes.
Young acquitted himself well with good decisions, moving the offense down the field and finding open receivers in the Wayne secondary.
Sophomore receiver Tate Honeycutt helped move the offense with six catches on the night, the highlight being a 27-yard touchdown grab that gave the Indians a 9-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Piqua’s defense, always a special work in progress under Nees, played with enthusiasm, accounting for the game’s first points on a safety. It didn’t always tackle well, but that’s one deficiency that Nees can coach through. As we say, a work in progress.
In the absence of senior Solomon Carnes, held out with a minor ding, junior Hayden Hall played well at inside linebacker behind a defensive front that withstood what appeared to be a bigger, more physical Wayne offensive line.
Leading 14-9 early in the third quarter heralded Wayne quarterback Javon Harrison finally broke the game open with a five -yard touchdown run, ending any suspense for an Indians’ comeback, but hardly putting the damper on the evening and what Nees expects to be a full-out week of preparation and anticipation for Elida, a top candidate for title honors this year in the Western Buckeye League.
“We did a lot of good things,” said Nees afterwards. “We wanted a good challenge going into the season and the last two weeks we’ve been able to do that…better than what we did with our scrimmages last year. Our offensive line played well tonight. I really like the series where we had four or five consecutive first downs and we should be playing like that because we’ve got what should be one of the best offensive lines we’ve had recently. That should be a strength for us.
“We had an opportunity on the goal line at the end of the game that we didn’t capitalize on it. Had a penalty that bounced us back. We didn’t execute, but that’s something we’ll can work on. It’s a work in progress, but we’re making progress. Justice (Young) did a good job tonight. Overall he had two bad decisions, but aside from those he had none. I love the fact that he was able to come out of those two bad plays and back on track.
“We ran the ball OK. Ryan Hughes broke a couple and Austin Covault has done a good job. Tonight he didn’t get much opportunity because he played and blitzed a lot of defense. He was running on fumes at the end. But both those guys have run the ball hard for us.”
A work in progress regarding Piqua football can take on many colors. But the one color that continually flashes neon red is the Indians’ defense, which gave up ground Friday but not as many points as some might have expected. They competed, bounced back after a sluggish start, and forced Harrison and the Warriors’ high-powered offense to gear down for their 21 points. Nees was pleased, complimenting and encouraging his kids for their effort in the post-game huddle.
“We tell our kids all the time that we still play a schedule and competition as if we’re a Division I school,” he said. “And if we get an opportunity to get in the playoffs that helps us. Now along the way sometimes we get slayed by our own schedule, but when we got the opportunity we had tonight we jumped on it. It was great for our players because these are the guys (Wayne) that they see and read about. It was good for us and I thought our kids handled themselves very well.”
His colleagues in coaching will tell you that no one coaches the line of scrimmage better than Bill Nees. So it’s not surprising that he’s counting on three years of hard work, in the weight room and on the field (a 14-16 cumulative record), paying dividends for the Indians in 2012.
“On both sides of the ball,” says Nees. “We’ve got three seniors on the defensive lines and four seniors on the offensive line. Those guys are experienced and they have four years in the weight room. They’re serious about their work. I think it’s going to be one of the strengths of our team…the play of those two lines. They get after it every day in practice against each other and that brings everyone else on the team up to that level of intensity.”
Very little surprises Bill Nees after 20 years of coaching. He makes it a point to know his kids. He watches their work in the weight room. He encourages. He reminds them of opportunities that eluded them in the past for lack of execution, exhorting them to focus, to work, to execute in the future. His best teams have always been a work in progress on and off the field. So it’s no surprise when he tells you he expects no surprises in 2012, just the benefits of all the hard work since last year’s 6-4 season.
“I think we might throw the ball as well as we’ve thrown it in a while. I think Justice can do that, and I think our defense is going to be a little stingier than it’s been the last couple of years. That’s about it. This is a very coachable group. They work hard and they have a little edge to them…a good edge,” he says, flashing a knowing smile.
Bill Nees knows his kids…his latest work in progress.