The Panthers were only involved in three nail-biters last season – and
came up short in two of them, basically costing the team a shot at the
Region 14 playoffs in Division IV. The bad taste lingers.
* Players To Watch – DB Justin Riley (5-9, 155, Sr.), DE Derek Schlatter (6-1, 220, Sr.), DT Travis McPherson (6-2, 260, Sr.), OG Cameron Aldrich (5-10, 200, Jr.), OT/DE Dylan Welch (6-2, 260, Jr.), OT Corey Miller (6-4, 250, Jr.).
* Outlook – The Panthers were only involved in three nail-biters last season – and came up short in two of them, basically costing the team a shot at the Region 14 playoffs in Division IV.
They enjoyed blowout victories over Haviland Wayne Trace (56-14), Delta (41-21), Harrod Allen East (41-14) and, of course, lowly Convoy Crestview (63-13). But along the way, Paulding was nipped in a pair of painful home losses to Spencerville (13-8) and Columbus Grove (21-14).
Maybe even more telling were the other two defeats in 2008. The Panthers weren’t highly regarded heading into last season and, sure enough, they struggled against elite competition with lopsided losses against Delphos Jefferson (31-7) and Ada (55-15).
However, coach Chris Etzler – an up-and-coming Division IV mentor entering his third season with his school – likes what he has brewing.
“We were literally a play or two away from being 8-2 last season,” Etzler said. “I think more than anything what last year proved to our kids is they can have success and win. For a while that wasn’t the case. Basically all of our kids were in either kindergarten, first or second grade when Paulding last had a winning season.
“So I think more than anything last season was big for that reason. Our goal is to not have a lapse in between winning seasons – let alone 11 – and we are looking forward to this season.”
Just about all of Etzler’s proven talent that returns will be along the offensive or defensive line, including Welch, who rejoins both of those units.
A clear example of a player who needs to rise to the occasion this season is senior quarterback Jordan Monnier.
“He served as our backup QB the last two years,” Etzler said. “He has a chance now to step in and be the man back there. And he’s had a good summer. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he leads our offense.
“And obviously there are other openings we need to solve. We have to replace some very good players that were lost to graduation, but we feel we have pieces in place to be successful again.”
Paulding certainly has risen from the ashes. The program was just 1-9 in 2007 but made huge strides last year and now is in position to make the postseason with a little more success.
The biggest reason for the optimism is well, size. The defensive line especially could be among the best in the area with McPherson in side, the similarly built Welch on the outside and Schlatter at the opposite end. Welch already is being courted by Division I colleges as is Miller, who is a road-grader along the offensive line.
“We will be inexperienced in our skilled positions on both sides of the ball, so how they progress may determine what kind of season we have. Our offensive and defensive lines are where we have people back and they will have to be consistent for us while the younger players settle in.”
One player who won’t need any time to find comfort is Riley, who covers the field sideline to sideline. He had 64 tackles and a pick last season.
Paulding resides in the ever-competitive Northwest Conference and the schedule provides an intense battle right off the bat in the form of country rival Wayne Trace.
That game “always produces a great atmosphere,” Etzler said.
The top rivals in league play are Lima Central Catholic, Ada and Columbus Grove, and two of those contests are on the road this season.
However, Ada, Columbus Grove and Convory Crestview are Division VI programs. Every other school on the schedule resides in D-V. Therefore, opportunity could knock once again this fall as the Panthers try to topple the wall of disrespect and vault the program into heights not reached in more than a decade.
However, Paulding cannot squander chances in close games once again.
The Panthers finished tied for 13th in the final Region 14 standings at the end of the 2008 regular season and finished behind six teams with four or more losses because of what the computers deemed a weak schedule.
Therefore, it stands to reason that Paulding likely cannot afford a fourth loss again this fall if it wants to extend its season to an 11th game.
“We are a very small Division IV school and we are on the verge of maybe going down next time that stuff is calculated,” Etzler said. “Because of that there is no room for error for us when it comes to the postseason. But our goal even before that is to be the conference champion.
“Yes it’s also a goal to make playoffs, but we kind of worry about ourselves first and we’ll look at all that stuff if and when it applies. We talk all the time about just working hard and trying to improve every day. I’m a firm believe that if you take care of that everything else takes care of itself.”
Aug. 28 – Haviland Wayne Trace
Sept. 4 – Delphos Jefferson
Sept. 11 – at Lima Central Catholic
Sept. 18 – at Spencerville
Sept. 25 – Delta
Oct. 2 – Ada
Oct. 9 – at Harrod Allen East
Oct. 16 – at Columbus Grove
Oct. 23 – Bluffton
Oct. 30 – at Convoy Crestview