Penalties main cause of difficult MHS season
McLouth High football coach Harry Hester pointed to several factors as to why the Bulldogs finished the season with a 1-8 record.
Better tackling. More depth at each position. Injuries. Shuffling players around to unfamiliar positions.
The chart-topper, though? Penalties. McLouth averaged 8.11 penalties per game for 61.88 yards.
"They were always at the most inopportune times," said Hester, who completed his fifth season at MHS. "It comes down to focus. Our penalties were a big problem."
Hester said he organized penalties into two categories: Mental penalties, such as jumping offsides on defense or moving early for a false start on offense; and aggressive penalties, such as holding or pass interference.
"The aggressive penalties, like a hold here or there, as long as they were trying to make a play, that's different than lining up offsides," Hester said. "Those things aggravate me to death."
It didn't help that senior quarterback/safety Mark Stewart went down in the first game with an ankle injury, either. Stewart missed two games.
On the plus side, it gave McLouth a chance to look to the future with junior tight end Derrick Crouse, who made the switch to quarterback after Stewart was injured.
The results were mixed. Crouse completed 13-of-27 passes for 135 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the 18-10 loss against Doniphan West on Sept. 7. He struggled the next week in the 56-0 loss against Wathena, completing only two passes for 17 yards and two interceptions.
Crouse played quarterback in the Oct. 25 finale against Oskaloosa because Stewart broke his hand when it was hit between two helmets the week before. Crouse completed 10-of-20 passes for 139 yards and two interceptions.
Hester liked the competitiveness that Crouse displayed and named him the front-runner for next year's starting quarterback.
"He has a nice arm, he's a tall kid and he can see," Hester said of the 6-foot-2 Crouse. "He's not quite as quick as Mark, but improved running the football. He stepped up every time with a limited amount of reps."
Stewart switched to wide receiver against Oskaloosa, which keyed on the senior, to say the very least.
"They triple-teamed him at wide receiver," Hester said. "I hadn't seen anything like that. They had a linebacker, a cornerback and a safety over there. When they tried to take him away with three guys, we threw to the other side, but just didn't make the catches we needed to over there."
Next season, Hester said the Bulldogs will return three juniors and 10 sophomores. MHS will bring in 18 freshmen in what Hester called a 'young' team for next year.
Hester said he would continue to stress better tackling like he did this season. McLouth focused extensively on tackling every Monday and Tuesday in practice.
"It just didn't show on Friday nights," Hester said. "It didn't translate into games. Kids were in position to make tackles, but they just didn't do it."
McLouth gave up an average of 44 points this year.
The Bulldogs finished 3-6 last year. They won the Delaware Valley League title with a 10-1 record in 2005. McLouth finished 4-5 in 2004 and 0-9 in 2003 in Hester's first year.
"If we get some depth and have two kids deep, we can keep kids at the same position," Hester said. "We weren't very deep this year and it was like we were playing musical chairs. That didn't build any confidence."