Their 2016 season ended in unimaginable fashion when a playoff spot was ripped away by the mess in Dayton. With seasoned veterans returning at skill positions offensively and an improving defense, the Piqua Indians have big aspirations for 2017.
Piqua—2016 was the season that might have been for the Piqua Indians.
Bill Nees’ team had to do a complete re-boot after injuries ended the seasons of Darien Tipps-Clemons and Derek Hite in a week two loss to Trotwood. The Indians bounced back with a 6-game winning streak, but a last game loss to Troy, and the scandal involving Dunbar cost the Indians a post-season spot.
“In our minds, we made the playoffs,” Nees said following practice recently. “We went 7-3 and did what we had to do to make the playoffs. Now, we didn’t get to play a playoff game, but that was out of our control. We should have been in there, and we leave it at that.”
Nees has been happy with what he has seen as the Indians prepare to open at Meadowdale Friday night.
“The summer has been good. I have been really happy with our passing game and offensive line. Austin Davis (5-11, 200, senior) has been terrific with his accuracy and his arm strength. We have four of five offensive line starters returning, and Zayne Arbogast (6-0, 226, junior) started a couple of times for us last year, and we plugged him into that open spot.
“Ben Bynum (5-11, 239, senior) who is a three year all-league selection, has been out with a broken bone in his foot, and that has allowed Riley Hill (6-4,300,sophomore) to get a ton of work. So not only are we good on the offensive line, we have depth there as well.”
Along with Davis, who completed 60% of his passes last year for 974 yards while throwing just one interception, Ben Schmiesing and Hayden Shrubb return. Schmiesing, a 6-1, 197-pound senior, had 1100 yards running and receiving and scored 15 touchdowns. Schrubb (6-2, 163, senior) caught 28 passes for 446 yards and hauled in four touchdown passes.
Defensively, Piqua allowed 19.6 points per game, their lowest since 2011. Nees thinks that unit will be solid this season as well.
“Our front four really got after the quarterback in our first scrimmage with Lima Senior. We have returners everywhere at linebacker, so that is probably the most solid position we have. Our secondary is all new people, but they have been playing pretty well. We aren’t ready to label them very well, yet, but they are getting better. Jacob Bushnell, 5-10, 170 senior, is the veteran back there.”
Nees is beginning his 25th season as the Indians head coach, and is a big part of the tradition that is Piqua football.
“We talk about that a lot. The kids see the history of this program everywhere. It’s in the locker room, it’s in the meeting room, it’s in the weight room, it’s in the stadium. Most of our coaches played here and are part of that tradition. If we fail to contain on a punt, I might bring up something that happened in 1997. But we don’t have daily history lessons. The kids are aware of what this program has done.
“It means a lot that people want to come back here and coach. Our coaches have a lot of pride in this program. That so many of coaches played here and wanted to come back means that they enjoyed their playing experience. That says a lot to our current players.”
The Indians were state runners-up in 2000, and of course, won it all in 2006 with a guy named Brandon Saine in the backfield. Nees said the program is still reaping the benefits of that championship.
“You just try to get there every year. You never know. The first time we went to the state championship game, we probably had three or four previous teams that were better than them that didn’t get there for whatever reason. You just have to be ready to go, stay healthy and hope for the best.”
While the national discussion surrounding football is about concussions and should kids play the sport, Nees has record numbers this year; 75 players in grades 10 through 12 and a record 40 freshmen.
“We have a great football atmosphere in this town,” Nees said, explaining the record turnout. “The other thing we do, and we preach it quite a bit, as to the things that we can do to keep our kids safe. We get the best equipment we can, we get the best training we can, and we try to keep everyone informed as to what’s going on.
“Having that many players means we have to coordinate a little better, especially with our JVs. You can have 22 guys on the field getting something done, and we have to make sure the freshmen and JVs work together. We don’t want all those kids just standing around watching.”
Nees likes the current configuration of the GWOC North, which includes Troy, Greenville, Sidney, Butler and Tippecanoe.
“The only problem I have ever had with the GWOC were the forced crossover games. The GWOC was originally supposed the have a power ranking, that took into consideration records, school size, that type of thing. Then the next thing you know thay have a schedule for the next 20 years. It just favored the bigger schools and didn’t help us at all. It’s switched back now, so it’s ok.”
Nees was the defensive coordinator for the Indians under Steve Magateaux, and talks about his tenure in one of the area’s most enviable jobs.
“I had to wait for my chance to get the job, and when I did it just became so enjoyable. Every year is new. There is new technology, and you just enjoy every season. It’s a great job. I have had college coaches tell me that If I decide to leave anytime soon, to let them know because they would be interested. It’s just a great place to coach. “
You can’t talk Piqua football without talking about their arch-rival to the North, the Troy Trojans. Troy went 10-2 last season and beat Piqua 37-14 last season to snap a four game losing streak in the rivalry.
“The rivalry is relevant again. We played for the division championship last year, and a lot of people noticed. We always play attention to the Piqua-Troy game, but when both teams are successful, people outside the two communities pay attention.
What are the goals for this team?
“We need to get off to a good start,” Nees acknowledged. “We have Trotwood and Franklin in weeks two and three, and they were a combined 18-2 in the regular season. So that will be a formidable task. The GWOC North will be a challenge every night. I would think that if we are a player in the GWOC North, we will also be in the hunt for a playoff spot. That’s the goal, because once you make the playoffs, you never know what might happen.”