By Chris Chaney
Despite dropping their season opener to Fayetteville-Perry on Friday, Aug. 30, Clermont Northeastern head coach Jason Conley was encouraged by what he saw, albeit disappointed in the mental mistakes that could have flipped their record from 0-1 to 1-0.
“We just made way too many mistakes, way too many penalties and a couple of turnovers that hurt us,” he said. “After the first quarter, I thought we played pretty well. A rough start set us back and made it hard for us to catch up.”
The Rockets dug themselves into an early hole in large part because of the laundry the referees were throwing on the field. Over all, CNE were whistled for 13 violations that cost them 105 yards.
On the bright side of the things, Conley believes that the mistakes that eventually cost them the game are very reversible and can be used as teachable moments to propel the Rockets to better performances in the future.
“We just have to be more disciplined,” Conley explained. “A lot of the time we just weren’t watching the ball. We got too excited and jumped into their zone; jumping offsides on defense. On offense, it wasn’t too bad.”
While the offense wasn’t as prone to committing penalties, they did have some trouble punching the ball into the end zone. But again, Conley believes the shortcomings are nothing to be overly worried about.
“Once we got close to the end zone, we had a couple interceptions and a fumble down there towards the end of the game,” he explained. “It was just mistakes that I really believe we can cure or fix.”
Even in the losing effort, there were bright spots for CNE. Dalton Miracle led the way for the Rockets on the ground, racking up 80 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Quarterback Trey Amann added 32 yards on the ground on 10 carries.
Dylan Gentry gave the Rockets a balanced attack by catching four passes for 54 yards and a score.
Amann threw it 21 times, completing nine passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Fayetteville defenders picked three of those incompletions off.
For Clermont on defense, Conley was quick to point to Josh Forkner as a standout for the Rockets.
“(He’s a) senior linebacker,” Conley said of Forkner. “He had 13 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. He really helped keep us in the game towards the end.”
The Rockets have a chance to even up their record on Sept. 6 when they host Madeira in week two. The Mustangs are coming off of a 41-34 win over Norwood.
“Madeira’s going to be a very tough game for us,” Conley said. “All the things that went wrong last week are fixable. Again, they’re a tough team, but we could definitely play well against them.
“We did well against Madeira last year, but we just wore down. Hopefully, we can keep away from injuries. We had a couple Friday night, so if we keep away from injuries and work hard, we should be able to be right there with them.”
Forkner and his defensive teammates will have a tall order to fill in stopping the Mustangs offensive unit led by quarterback Matthew Ballweg. Ballweg went 19-30 for 382 yards and three touchdowns in their season opener.
“Madeira throws the ball really well and that’s something we haven’t seen a lot of yet,” Conley said. “Until Western Brown, we’re not going to see anyone throw it as much as Madeira will, so containing them will be the key. They like to throw deep passes, so keeping everything in front of us and making tackles in the open field is going to be really important this week.”
Looking at the big picture, Conley likes what he’s seeing from his squad. New faces getting more playing time might lead to the occasion sloppy game the opener against Fayetteville, but with more game experience, the better the team can be.
“For the most part, our team is made up of guys who either didn’t play last year or didn’t play varsity last year,” Conley said. “Again, I think those mistakes are very fixable. Going forward, those kids who are now starting are only going to continue to get better because they’re going to get more experience.
“The main thing for us as coaches is to keep their minds in it and to believe that they can get better each week. If we do that, I think by the time we get to our league games, we’re going to be as good as anyone in our league.”
After Madeira, the Rockets have two more weeks of non-conference games against Amelia and Goshen before starting their Southern Buckeye Conference schedule hosting Batavia on Sept. 27.