By Rob Kiser
With the completion of youth and junior high football camps this week, there is plenty of optimism with the Piqua high school program as the Indians look for a second straight trip to the postseason.
And with it will be plenty of new faces on the schedule as the Indians approach the Aug. 1 opening practice with the season to start in late August.
A year ago, the Indians had a roller-coaster ride of emotions from start to finish, going 6-5 and making the D-III playoffs.
The season started with Piqua opening a big lead against Toledo St. Johns and holding on to win a 34-30 thriller.
The Indians followed that up with a 63-7 win over Urbana that went late into the night due to weather delays.
Looking for a 3-0 start for the first time in a number of years, the Indians were denied in heartbreaking double overtime loss to Lima Senior.
Piqua had trailed 20-13, but Darien Tipps-Clemons 31-yard TD run in the fourth quarter was the only score in the second half, forcing overtime.
Both teams scored and made the two-point PAT in the first overtime, with tight end Nate Monnin making an amazing catch to keep the game going.
But, Piqua could not score in the second OT and lost 36-28.
After a tough loss to Northmont by a 21-13 score, Piqua closed non-conference play with a 37-17 win over Fairborn.
Piqua opened GWC North play with another tough loss.
On a night when the wind gusted beyond 30 miles and hour, the Indians and Vandalia were tied 21-21 at halftime at Alexnder Stadium/Purk Field.
Vandalia returned the second half kickoff inside the Piqua five and scored the only TD in the final two quarters to win 28-21.
Needing a big finish to make the postseason, the Indians romped over Greenville 48-14 with Tipps-Clemons rushing for 200 yards and three TDs and quarterback Rupert Delacruz completing 11 of 15 passes for 114 yards.
Then the Indians went on the road and stunned Trotwood-Madison 28-7.
Tipps-Clemons rushed for 185 yards and four touchdowns, while the defense shut down the Rams, forcing four turnovers.
Alex Nees and Andrew Lee intercepted passes, while Tristen Cox and Allen Scheer-Schrubb recovered fumbles.
But, just when the 5-3 Indians seemed to have everything going their way — they were stunned by 17-14 home loss to Sidney in the “Battered Helmet” game.
Danny Dean kicked a 34-yard field goal in the final minute to give the Jackets the win.
That left the “Battle on the Miami” with Troy to close the season.
Piqua needed a win over its rivals and a lot of help to get into the postseason.
The Indians got exactly that.
First, Tipps-Clemons rumbled for 242 yards and three TDs in a 26-7 win to pick up the “Player of the Game” award and shortly afterward, the Indians learned they were on their way to the playoffs which led to a celebration on McCulloch Square.
And while the season ended with a disappointing loss to Tippecanoe in the playoffs, there is a lot to be excited about heading into this season.
Tipps-Clemons, who has committed to play at Michigan State next year, rushed for 15,65 yards and 24 touchdowns, while also playing a big role from his linebacker position with 50 tackles. Scheer-Schrubb will join him in the backfield.
The defensive line returns intact with Derek Hite, Monnin, Cox and Josh Potter, while linebacker Ben Schmiesing had more than 50 tackles as a sophomore last year.
Dylan Cole gives Piqua a three-year started in the secondary.
Austin Davis is ready to take over the quarterback position after being injured last year and made steady progress in the 7-on-7s, while Hayden Schrubb looked strong on both sides of the ball in 7-on-7s. Schmiesing will also be a threat in the receiving game, while Monnin and Hite give Piqua two big, athletic targets at tight end.
Hunter Hawk would be a valuable assett if he can come back from a summer injury as well, after showing flashes last season.
Now, it is a matter of putting it all together with full contact.
Piqua will host Lima Senior in its opening scrimmage Aug. 12, before traveling to Springboro Aug. 19.
The regular season will have a different look with re-alignment in the GWOC.
And for those wondering, the new GWOC alignment looks like this:
American North — Piqua, Greenville, Sidney, Tippecanoe, Troy, Vandalia-Butler.
American South — Fairborn, Stebbins, Trotwood-Madison, West Carrollton, Xenia.
National East — Beacercreek, Centerville, Fairmont, Springfield, Wayne.
National West — Lebanon, Miamisburg, Northmont, Springboro.
The Indians will be road warriors early on once the season starts.
After hosting Meadowdale Aug. 26 to kick things off, four of the next five games will be on the road.
After games at Trotwood-Madison and Franklin, the Indians will host West Carrollton.
They then travel to Xenia, before a big Thursday night game at Sidney to open GWOC American North play.
That game will be broadcast live on Fox 45.2 (995 on Time Warner).
Piqua will then host Greenville and travel to Vandalia-Butler, before entertaining Tippecanoe and Troy to close the regular season.
With high hopes of another postseason berth to follow.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.