ANNA — Aidan Endsley and Anna’s other seniors have been longing for this start. After a 5-5 mark in 2014 and a 3-7 record in 2015, Endsley said the team thought it was bound for a breakout year after a 2-0 mark to start the 2016 season.
Chances of a breakout year were derailed in Week 3 with a 20-12 loss to Versailles. The Rockets won their next two games but lost four of their final five once they got into the meat of their Midwest Athletic Conference schedule.
Endsley said the team is determined to contend for a MAC title this year. Anna (3-0) got off to a good start and avoided another letdown against Versailles with a 52-20 win last Friday. The Rockets will try to keep their good conference start up on Friday against New Bremen.
“I think last year we kind of overlooked Versailles,” Endsley said after a practice on Thursday. “We had big heads last year going into that game, and this year we’ve matured more. We knew what we needed to do and we did it.”
What the Rockets have done is power past every opponent so far. Endsley has rushed for 345 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore Riley Huelskamp has rushed for 316 yards and five touchdowns. They rank third and fourth, respectively, in the MAC in rushing yards.
Anna has been just as effective through the air. Quarterback Travis Meyer has thrown for 608 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. He ranks first in the conference in passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage (72 percent).
“It comes pretty easy for us, starting with the lineman,” Meyer said. “They’ve been doing a really good job this year. They’re doing everything well. Our lineman don’t get the spotlight they deserve. They’ve been blocking really well. Last week was the first time I had been sacked all season, and really the first hit I’ve taken. I’m not much of a scrambler, so being able to stay in the pocket is great.”
Meyer, a senior, gives credit to his receiving corps, including Austin Fogt, Caleb Kauffman, Griffin Doseck and Wyatt Bensman. Fogt is first in the MAC with 260 receiving yards while Kauffman is second with 48. Both are tied for first with three receiving touchdowns.
“It’s nice having depth at the receiver position,” Meyer said. “I have trust with all these guys.”
Anna also ranks in the top of the conference defensively. The Rockets have allowed an average of 175 yards and 10.67 points per game. Linebacker Ethan Burd leads the team with 26 tackles.
Endsley said one of the biggest differences this year has been the pressure the coaching staff puts on the players, which he said has made everyone on the team practice harder.
“This year, we’ve been working a lot harder,” Endsley said. “The culture’s been changing, I can definitely see that. They make us focus on every little point, make us work on every detail. I’m really not surprised that we’ve come out and done what we’ve done. It’s honestly felt great with all the work we’ve put in.”
A lot of work remains for Anna to compete for a conference title. The conference looks as strong as ever, with four undefeated teams and three teams at 2-1 heading into Week 4.
“With it being our senior season, we want to end it as well as we can,” Meyer said. “We’re going to go in thinking that we can compete with everyone and do as well as we can.”
Anna beat New Bremen 35-12 last year. The Cardinals started this season with lopsided wins over Bradford and Mississinawa Valley but lost 35-0 to St. Henry last Friday.
Lehman Catholic at Ridgemont
The Cavaliers (2-1) open Northwest Central Conference play at Ridgemont after impressive offensive performances in their opening three games. Lehman is averaging 418 yards per game and had a season-high 486 yards in last Saturday’s win over Graham.
Lehman coach Dick Roll is hoping the defense improves in conference play. The Cavaliers are giving up about 300 yards per game and have allowed several big passing plays through the first three weeks.
“We just need to be more consistent,” Roll said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we can execute at our best all the time, we’ll be really tough. But we’ve had some mistakes that I really just think are mental lapses.”
Quarterback Elliott Gilardi has thrown for 334 yards and rushed for 349 in the first three weeks. Owen Smith has run for 426 yards, while Brandon Barhorst has run for 145. Kameron Lee leads the team in receiving with 152 yards. Lehman was ranked No. 18 in Division VII in the first Associated Press state poll.
Ridgemont is 0-3 and has been outscored each game by an average of 42-9. The Golden Gophers average 130 yards of offense per game.
Minster at Marion Local
Minster will try to knock off the Flyers for the first time since 2010 in a key early-season MAC game. Both Marion Local and Minster are 3-0 and have rolled over their first three opponents by identical 89-14 margins.
The Wildcats posted their largest margin of victory on Friday in a 41-14 win over Delphos St. John’s. Senior quarterback Jared Huelsman has thrown for 403 yards (third overall in the MAC) and rushed for 410 yards (second overall). Minster’s defense has allowed an average of 203 yards per game.
Marion Local has averaged 347.5 yards per game in the first three weeks while giving up an average of 146 to opponents. Quarterback Nathan Bruns has thrown for 293 yards and five touchdowns, while Nolan Habodasz has rushed for 230 yards and three scores.
The Flyers are coming off a 13-7 win over Coldwater.
Riverside at Elgin
The Pirates (1-2) will try to stop a two-game losing streak in an NWCC opener on Friday at Elgin.
Riverside averaged 151 yards per game and didn’t score a point in losses to Mechanicsburg and Indian Lake, which were both playoff teams a year ago.
Freshman Kale Long took over for senior Caleb Stevens at quarterback last Friday against the Lakers. Long threw for 87 yards and rushed for 28.
Elgin is 3-0 and has outscored its opponents 178-71.
Versailles at Delphos St. John’s
Versailles will try to recuperate from the lopsided loss to Anna on the road on Saturday against the Blue Jays, who are looking to improve after a blowout loss to Minster.
Though the Tigers (2-1) gave up 472 yards of offense to Anna, they didn’t allow more than 175 yards in either of their first two games. Versailles has averaged 252 yards of offense and 21 points per game. Noah Waymire has thrown for 312 yards and five touchdowns.
The Blue Jays (2-1) gave up nearly 400 yards to Minster but allowed only 342 in their first two games. They average 266 yards per game.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter.