The Perry football team finished their season with an 0-9 record, and while it is often a cliche to bemoan “what could have been” in the particular case of the 2018 the old saw cuts true.
The Bluejays were a handful of plays, and one or two breaks, from easily finishing the season with a record as solid as 5-4.
“I look back at the season and can’t help but think of how easily things could have gone differently,” head coach Matt Hardy said. “You can’t say we would have won five games, but we were certainly in position to do so.”
“So much of this comes down to an expectation of winning,” he said. “I thought our kids fought hard in all our games except maybe week nine (a 45-0 loss at Humboldt) but once we had a few games where things went against us we might have started wondering when the next one was coming, and those things can feed off each other.”
Perry was never in serious contention in losses of 41-13 at Nevada and of 27-14 at Carroll and were simply outplayed in a 42-14 defeat at Webster City. However, the other five games on the schedule were decided by a total of 21 points.
The season began with losses of 14-6 to Greene County and of 13-10 at ADM while the Jays fell, 8-6, to North Polk.
“That tells you all you need to know,” Hardy said. “Three of four losses by 13 points. If we win two of those, or maybe all three, and I am convinced we would have beaten DC-G (14-13) and Boone (35-28).”
Perry was their own worse enemy in each of the five tight losses. They were only 1-of-11 on third down conversions against Greene County and twice allowed Ram scoring drives to continue after having their opponent facing third and more than 20 yards to go for a first down.
Two defensive miscues burned Perry at ADM, with a series of mistakes — including two botched field goal attempts in which the kick was not even tried — sent the hosts tumbling against North Polk.
Winless DC-G scored twice in the fourth quarter to rally past Perry in week five, with Boone winning in week eight after rallying from a 14-0 hole, and then from a 28-21 deficit with four minutes to play.
“A common theme in every game is that we just wore down, especially defensively,” Hardy said. “We played really good defense several times, but playing defense wears you down, and we had so many kids playing both sides of the ball it just caught up to us. We were very limited offensively and so we couldn’t keep drives going, and in the fourth quarter we just ran out of gas.”
Perry dressed less than 40 players for varsity games and regularly faced opponents with 20 or more additional players.
“To be honest, half of the guys dressed were simply not ready to compete, physically, at the varsity level, so we had to play guys both ways,” Hardy said. “It would not have been fair to those other kids to put them in a game and against competition they are not yet ready to face.”
The Bluejays lose 16 seniors to graduation. The offense will return two starters, will have no one who attempted a pass and will bring back two — two — yards of rushing experience.
“It is no secret that it will be a challenge going forward,” Hardy said, “but every year we have kids step up and fill roles you weren’t sure would be filled, and we will need that next year. The critical thing is that we must get in the weight room and get stronger. There is no other way around it — that has to happen.”
Kaleb Olejniczak took all but one snap at quarterback this season. He finished 55-of-152 passing with seven interceptions. Under duress on most tries, he managed to toss nine touchdowns and was third in district play with 649 yards.
Olejniczak rushed 162 times for 478 yards (fourth in the district) and thee TDs, with his 1,127 combined yards fourth-most in the district.
Kato Dougan caught 25 passes for 320 yards and three TDs and Connor Kenyon 12 aerials for 151 yards and three scores while Justin Stammer (6-104, 1 TD), Jacob Nelson (6-27), Ever Tobar (2-33, 2 TDs), Jared Narber (2-10), Byron Melendrez (1-6) and Xavier Craddock 1, minus-2) also recorded receptions.
Stammer carried 109 times for 357 yards and three TDs, with Craddock (21-30), Cori Alamina (2-6), Kenyon (11-3) and Dougan (6, minus-4) also running the ball.
Stammer and Craddock each recovered a pair of fumbles, with Kenyon and Wilber Ramirez falling on fumbles as well. Olejniczak, Melendrez and Ramirez had interceptions, with Stammer (2-12) and Tobar (3-41) having multiple thefts.
Olejniczak’s 101 tackles was far and away the most on the team and led the district. Rony Reyes had 45 total tackles, Cole Snyder 43 and Craddock 42 to lead the defense.
Defensive end Reyes and safety Olejncizak were both named to the All-District First Team, as were defensive end Snyder and punter Alamina. Senior linebackers Craddock, Kenyon and Stammer were Honorable Mention selections, as was senior defensive tackle Luke Holtorf.
Hardy was assisted by Ben Coy, Jason Olejniczak, Alan Brasch, Trayon Nash, Tony Oros, Mark Weber, Scott Seeley and Darek VanKirk.