THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo
The Maumee football team has started the season with four straight wins for the first time since 2004. But that number doesn t mean anything to the Panthers.
Maumee has beaten its first four opponents by a combined score of 170-40, and the offense has averaged almost 50 points per game in its last three contests. But those numbers don t motivate the Panthers, either.
The number that is on the mind of every Maumee football player is seven.
Why? That s the position the league s coaches predicted the Panthers would finish in the eight-team Northern Lakes League.
That was hard to take, coach John Boles said of the preseason pick. I understand that our league is very good, and there were a lot of good teams with kids coming back.
But we had kids coming back too.
We think we re better than that.
Before the season began, the number seven was plastered all over the lockerroom, and anywhere else the Panthers might look, as a visual reminder of what the league s coaches thought of their chances this season.
We had very high expectations for this season, senior Justin Rippke said. When we were ranked seventh, everybody was down at first. But then we ve used that as motivation to get better.
It s always in the back of our minds. We have to do better: nobody wants to be seventh.
Senior Brendan Karchner added, Whenever we re lifting or doing something, [that ranking] is in the back of our heads. It motivates us to work harder and to do a little extra. It reminds us of how we re seen around the league.
Boles realized the ranking was as much a function of what the team has done in previous seasons as it was a reflection of how it could do this fall.
We ve had three losing seasons, but we were in the playoffs four years in a row [before that], Boles said. We found out that you can go downhill a lot quicker than you can go up.
That s why we re trying to create a winning culture. We want to do things the right way do the hard, dirty, little things the right way day after day. If we do those things, a lot of things on Friday nights take care of themselves.
After struggling with six turnovers in the season opener, the offense has gelled under junior quarterback Matt Goatley, who has completed 38 of 53 passes for 635 yards and eight TDs. His primary target has been junior Damon Contat, who has caught 12 passes for 201 yards.
Running backs Kyle Bowell, a senior who has 38 carries for 284 yards, and sophomore Eric Long, who has added 219 yards on 35 rushes, provide balance.
We had a number of returnees at a number of positions on offense, Boles said. Our quarterback was unproven, and good quarterback play is important when you run the spread [offense]. I expected that if we got good quarterback play, we would be pretty good on offense.
Those numbers have come against four teams that have combined for just one win this season, which hasn t exactly silenced the naysayers.
We try not to listen to that, senior Tim Wilhelm said. We know what we ve done, and we know what we re capable of. A 4-0 [record] is still 4-0 no matter who you play.
We know we re better than seventh in the league. [Proving that] motivates us to beat every team that we play.
In fact, this slight just adds fuel to Maumee s motivational fire.
We ve been successful, but I don t think we should let that go to our heads, senior Xavier Ramirez said. We ve still got to prove we can beat teams who are equal or better.
We re just worrying about what we re doing. We try not to worry about what others say about us. We re just working to get better every day.
The Panthers will get a chance to prove they belong among the NLL s best teams on Friday, when they travel to Perrysburg s Steinecker Stadium. Maumee s seniors have never experienced a win over the Yellow Jackets or claimed the Ding-Dong Bell, which goes to the winner of this rivalry game.
It s huge motivation [to beat them], Rippke said. It would mean the world to beat them and finally get the Bell back. I ve never seen the Bell.
Boles knows that wanting to beat Perrysburg alone won t be enough to knock off the Yellow Jackets.
[Perrysburg] was picked second [in the NLL], and there s good reason, he said. They were in the playoffs last year, and they have a lot of kids back. They re a good football team that s been in a lot of tough situations, and that s to their advantage.
But to move up in the league, you have to beat the people that are ahead of you.
Contact John Wagner at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.