The Jennings County football team believes in the philosophy of carpe diem.
Coach Scott Buening and his captains know that each practice represents an opportunity to improve before the postseason begins.
“Our motto this season is, ‘Opportunity for all,’” Buening said. “It’s kind of the same thing as our motto last year of, ‘Pay the price.’”
Before Friday’s contest with Madison, the Panthers were anxious to achieve their first win of the season, having lost their first four contests. And they did — beating Madison 21-20 in overtime to improve to 1-4 overall and 1-2 in the Hoosier Hills Conference.
“We’ve had a rough start,” tackle Darren Lovegrove said. “But, hopefully we can come together as a team. We’re focusing on one team at a time. You have to stay aggressive because, in football, it’s either you hit or you are hit.”
So far this season, the Panthers have played with the sixth-toughest schedule in the state, according to Buening.
“Our first opponents now have a combined record of 13-3,” he said. “Our next four opponents currently have a record of 3-13, so it’s flipped. They could be easier games for us, but that doesn’t mean that they will be. It’s been frustrating because we haven’t been able to put it all together. We need to play more consistently in all areas. We haven’t played well enough to win yet.”
The desire to win always has been present, but execution has been a problem.
“We want to win,” safety Jordan Diss said. “But, we’re not doing the little things like wrapping up an opponent after a tackle or making sure we have the ball after we force a fumble.”
The team’s positive attitude has never wavered despite a recent blowout loss to No. 1-ranked Columbus East.
“It’s hard to use the East game as a measuring stick,” Buening said. “They were too big and strong up front, maybe the strongest I’ve ever seen.”
East exploited the Panthers’ inexperience on defense by employing a zone-read offense, where the offensive options are determined by the defender’s reactions.
Diss has been leading a secondary that includes two-first year cornerbacks and a first-year safety. He has learned how to encourage his younger teammates.
“I’ve got to be right there when they make a mistake,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure they don’t hang their heads, or the opponents will see it and go right at them.”
Quarterback Ryan Cowan has become more of a vocal leader this season. The three-year quarterback has been working with younger receivers, like sophomore Keegan Benieke.
“He’s been playing a different role this season,” Buening said. “We’ve been asking him to throw the ball more and to run the ball more. Iyan Bass was 85 percent of our offense last year, but we’re a more diverse team offensively this season.”
Cowan knew he was ready to step up and become more of a leader when he began to grasp the game of football better.
“The game has slowed down for me this season,” he said. “I’m able to read defenses better so I can make audibles at the line of scrimmage.”
Buening will continue to tweak the game plan each week and he hopes his team will continue to improve.
“We believe in ourselves,” he said. “We’re practicing hard. This team really needs a win to get some confidence. That would really propel us into the second half of the season.”
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