ANNA — Anna entered last season with a lot of questions after struggling in preseason scrimmages and having many newcomers in key positions.
The only thing the squad has a lot of heading into this year is expectations.
The Rockets have eight starters back on offense and defense after finishing 8-3 last year and earning a share of their first Midwest Athletic Conference title in program history.
They capped off preseason on Friday with a 34-0 victory over Covington in a scrimmage.
“We performed pretty well but still have some things we’ve got to clean up, “ Anna coach Nick Marino said. “We’re still looking to clean up and have some sharper execution.”
Anna will try for a better start than 2018 when it hosts Middletown Fenwick on Friday. Fenwick beat the Rockets 42-27 last year and amassed nearly 400 yards of offense in the process.
The Falcons finished 9-3 last year. They’re without seven starters on offense and six on defense from that squad, but Marino said they’ve looked just as good on film. They beat Cincinnati Purcell Marian 27-0 in a Jamboree scrimmage on Friday.
“They’ve got a lot of guys back on the defensive side, and they’re definitely playing good,” Marino said. “They’ve got a good running game and throw it well and especially throw the fade ball well, so we’re going to have to make sure we defend those.”
The Rockets are looking for improved defense this year after allowing an average of 336 yards and 26.1 points per game last year. Marino said he’s optimistic after Friday’s performance.
“We’re making some strides on defense,” Marino said. “We’ve definitely put a lot more emphasis into it. We’re doing a few things differently and are blitzing a little more and being a little more aggressive. We like what we’ve seen so far, but we’ve got to clean it up.”
There’s likely not much the Rockets need to clean up on offense. They averaged 354 yards and 35.2 points per game last season. Among their eight returning starters on that side of the ball are running back Riley Huelskamp and quarterback Bart Bixler, who earned first team all-MAC recognition.
Anna scored on five of its eight drives against the Buccaneers.
“We’re doing good, but we’ve still got to clean up a few small things that are costing us some yards,” Marino said.
Fort Loramie at Minster
The Redskins steadily progressed last season after starting the year with a 34-14 loss to Minster, eventually advancing to a Division VII state semifinal. The squad advanced to the game by knocking off Convoy Crestview, which had beaten Minster the previous week.
Fort Loramie will try to show how far it has come by opening this season with a win over the rival Wildcats, which it hasn’t done since 2013.
The Redskins return five starters on both offense and defense. Among the returnees is junior quarterback Collin Moore, who threw for 1,801 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.
Minster returns six starters on both side of the ball. Among the returnees are senior quarterback Jacob Niemeyer and running back Alex Schmitmeyer. Niemeyer threw for 1,832 yards and 15 touchdowns last year while Schmitmeyer ran for 1,094 yards and 20 TDs.
Lehman Catholic at Fort Recovery
The Cavaliers will look a bit different this year as they transition to a run-first offense after relying on a more balanced attack in recent years with quarterback Elliott Gilardi, who graduated after being named the Northwest Central Conference player of the year last year.
Lehman will start the season with 23 players on the roster. The Cavs struggled in scrimmages, including last Friday against Parkway.
The Indians return 13 letterwinners from last season’s 4-6 squad. Among the returnees is junior quarterback Clay Schmitz, who was second in the MAC last season with 1,642 passing yards and 15 passing TDs.
The Cavaliers haven’t won a Week 1 game since coach Dick Roll has led the program. Roll is entering his 13th season.
New Bremen at Ada
Benjamin Logan is gone as New Bremen’s opponent to open the season and has been replaced by Ada. The Cardinals, which had their best record since 2004 last year at 6-4, will look to keep up their success in nonconference games. They haven’t lost a nonconference game since 2015.
Ada returns 10 offensive starters and seven defensive starters from last year. The Bulldogs finished 2-8 a year ago in Shawn Christopher’s first season at the helm.
New Bremen returns 10 letterwinners from last year, including senior quarterback Nolan Bornhorst, who is entering his third year as the team’s starter. He threw for 994 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and ran for 508 yards and six TDs.
Riverside at Ansonia
Friday’s nonconference matchup will be the debut for new Riverside coach Bryce Hodge and new Ansonia coach Matt Macy, both of which have worked as assistants at their respective schools the last several years.
The Tigers finished 6-5 last season and made the playoffs for the second consecutive year. They have six seniors on this year’s 27-man roster, including senior quarterback Hunter Buckingham. They return two of their top four rushers from last season in junior Reece Stammen (884 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Brock Shellhaas (586, 4).
The Pirates lost all but two starters on offense and three on defense from last season’s 6-5 squad, which made the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
One welcome addition to the team this year will be junior quarterback Kale Long, who missed all of last season with a back injury. He threw for 526 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 179 yards and three TDs in seven games as a freshman.
Celina at Versailles
The Tigers will look to win their first game under the leadership of new coach Ryan Jones — or at least have a better Week 1 showing than last year.
Versailles lost 41-12 at Celina last year on its way to a 2-8 record. The squad has seen improvement in preseason, including last Friday when the Tigers earned a 27-21 victory over Greenville in a scrimmage. Senior quarterback Ryan Martin ran for two TDs while Landon Henry and Jack Osborne each ran for one.
The Bulldogs have 10 letterwinners returning from last year’s 5-5 squad.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.