Three-tenths of a point. That’s what kept Utica out of last year’s Region 15 playoffs. “We missed it by about as thin a margin as you can,” said longtime head coach Randy Felumlee. “It was basically a quarter of a point. But that’s the way it goes. Somebody always finishes ninth.” This year the Redskins hope it’s not them again.
* Players To Watch – OG/OLB Derek Posey (5-11, 180, Sr.); OG-C/DT Creston Gray (5-9, 210, Sr.); QB/S Jason Hoar (5-9, 160, Jr.); WR/S Scott Cline (6-0, 165, Jr.).
* Outlook – Three-tenths of a point. That’s what kept Utica out of last year’s Region 15 playoffs.
“We missed it by about as thin a margin as you can,” said longtime head coach Randy Felumlee. “It was basically a quarter of a point. But that’s the way it goes. Somebody always finishes ninth.
“One year we went 10-0 and finished fifth and didn’t get in (when the regional playoffs were limited to the top four teams). Granville was sixth that year and we were both undefeated.”
What hurts more, though, is the 27-21 overtime loss the Redskins suffered at Johnstown-Monroe on Oct. 3. That denied Utica the Mid-Buckeye Conference title and all the trimmings that would have come with it.
“That cost us the league right there,” Felumlee said. “We moved the ball on them and didn’t finish it off. That was frustrating.”
Still the seven-win season was an improvement on the 5-5 mark of 2007 and the Redskins are intent to take the next step this fall.
To do so, Utica will have to lean on several unproven but talented players.
“We’re a team with a lot of questions,” said Felumlee, who is heading into his 21st season at the helm of the program. “We have a relatively small, inexperienced team and we’ve got a lot of holes to fill. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Utica showcased 15 seniors last season and will have six this year.
Typically, Felumlee likes to rely mostly on his defense but the Redskins lost seven starters on that side of the ball including a pair of three-year starting linebackers in Ethan Brewer and Joey Caplin. Given that and the team’s struggles last year at times to finish off drives, the ’Skins will look for even more out of Hoar.
“He started from Day One as a freshman and there was never any question about it by anybody,” Felumlee said. “He has that demeanor; never an ego problem.
“That had never happened in all my years of coaching, starting a freshman quarterback, but it was an obvious decision to make. He’s a good runner, a good thrower, a great all-around kid. He’s a team captain and just a role-model kid.”
Hoar will have to carry the offense early on until the coaching staff figures out how to fill the holes at running back. Brewer would line up at running back when Utica was in the spread and would shift to fullback when the situation called for a two-back look.
Felumlee is not sure how that will play out this season and termed the running back outlook “a committee situation.”
He also labeled the kicking game as another question mark.
One thing is clear: Utica wants to strike a balance so that it can keep defenses honest when it enters the red zone. Last season, the Redskins stumbled there, including coming up empty four times inside the Johnstown-Monroe 15-yard line in that nagging loss to the Johnnies.
“One thing we’ve set as a goal as a staff is to get better at scoring in the red zone,” Felumlee said. “When you get 390, 350 yards in high school, you should be scoring at least 28 points a game and we were at 23.”
The overall concepts of the offense won’t change, however. The Redskins are a spread team and again should be able to move the ball between the 20s with relative success.
“The way we play, we’ll put a lot on Jason, but we believe he can handle it,” Felumlee said. “He’s got a lot of ability and the other kids respond very well to him. He’ll be out there making plays and leading the others and we’ll rely on him a lot.”
The defense will remain in a 40 base but the coaching staff would like to show a little more variation this season.
“We’d like to be able to use more of a five-man line once we get into the league,” Felumlee said. “We’ve got a lot of two-way players so we’ll see what the kids can adjust to.”
Utica will have a familiar-looking schedule and one that can’t be taken lightly even with the presence of five Division V teams. Trips to Loudonville and Fredericktown could be tricky and the first three games are at Grandview Heights and at home against Granville and Heath. Granville is a Division III squad and Heath, a 7-3 outfit last season, is loaded with talent and speed.
But the biggee, no doubt, is the Oct. 9 rematch with Johnstown-Monroe, an 8-3 team last year that made the postseason.
Aug. 28 – at Grandview Heights
Sept. 4 – Granville
Sept. 11 – Heath
Sept. 18 – Howard East Knox
Sept. 25 – at Johnstown Northridge
Oct. 2 – at Loudonville
Oct. 9 – Johnstown-Monroe
Oct. 16 – at Fredericktown
Oct. 23 – Danville
Oct. 30 – at Centerburg