BY RICK REED
News-Gazette Sports Editor
Let’s be honest. Winchester football has not been what most expect over the past two seasons. Last year the team finished 3-7 after a one-and-done in the sectional. Two years ago the Falcons were a dismal 1-9.
That’s not good. Not good at all. And not at all what Mike Jones expects.
But at the risk of making excuses, let’s look closer at 2018, because last year’s record could have been quite different.
Out of the their seven losses, the Falcons lost six games by six points or less. That’s one score. If Winchester could have won half of those games, that 3-7 mark turns into a 6-4 mark, and a 6-3 mark in the regular season.
Consider that the Falcons lost twice to Tri-Eastern Conference champ Northeastern – by four points in the regular season and by six points in the sectional. That’s a clear indication the Falcons were knocking on the door.
Strangely, the worst game Winchester played last season was probably in a victory. A 42-40 double overtime win over Cambridge City Lincoln last season was the most points that a pretty solid defensive surrendered.
Winchester scored 194 points last season and surrendered 206. The bottom line to last year’s 3-7 record was the result of not being able to find a win to win close games.
With the overall parity in the TEC expected again in 2019, Winchester should be able to compete with anybody in the league. But can the Falcons come out on top when the final gun blows.
Most teams have big shoes to fill, and Winchester is not exception.
The Falcons have more shoes to fill than most with 16 seniors departed due to graduation. Jones said virtually all of them were important contributors.
Among those, the Falcons lose their top runner Marshall Melton, who totaled 771 yards and scored a team-high six touchdowns. A few other key losses on offense are Gavin Thompson, Austin England and Kaden White.
England is an even biggest loss on the defensive side as a linebacker who led the team with 62 tackles. Another departed linebacker, Tanner Steveson, had 60 tackles. Justin Willis, Melton and White were also big contributors on defense.
Austin Cline, Brayton McKnight and Corbin Harris played big roles in the trenches for the Falcons.
This year’s offense will likely start with a pair of top returnees. Athletic 6-foot-1 Cole Campbell could be a big weapon in both the offensive and defensive backfield in 2019. Look for Joe Anderson to be a key weapon as well at the tight end spot.
Quarterback Brayden Tippett had a solid year behind center as a freshman last season. As a passer, Tippett took over in the Northeastern game and throw for 446 yards on 26 of 70 completions and nine touchdowns with just three interceptions. That year of experience could pay big dividends for the “Black Attack.”
Keep an eye on wide receiver Brooks Burelison, a real playmaker who could make a big difference.
A couple of other names to watch are 5’10” junior Kollin Orr, wide receiver Parker Sheets and lineman James Horn.
Seniors on this years opening roster are Campbell, Braxton Bosworth, Ross Barker, Anderson, Carson Batt, Mark Hampshire, Brenden Thompson, Gabe Keister, Jace Albertson, TJ Lovell and Braedon Baker.
“I think we might be the most athletic team we’ve had in the past few years and we should be able to run the ball. Offensively, we have a place to start,” Jones says. “But overall, we’re so inexperienced that it’s going take some time. There’s going to be growing pains.”
“We’ve talked about things though. We’ve got to figure out a way to finish games.”
The Falcons would love to be in a position to finish the game Friday night in their home opener against South Adams. The Starfires finished 2018 as the No. 3 team in the IFCA Class A coaches poll. They defeated the Falcons 18-0 last season against Winchester and have many of the same players returning.
COACH – Mike Jones (45-33 in 8th year)
KEY LOSSES – Marshall Melton (RB, OLB), Austin England (LB), Justin Willis (DL), Tanner Steveson (LB), Kaden White.
KEY RETURNEES – Cole Campbell, Joe Anderson, Brendon Thompson, Brayden Tippett.
GAME TO WATCH – Lots of possibilities here, but one that intriguing is Week 2 at home against Knightstown. It’s not a TEC game, not Homecoming or not for the Milk Can, but after a tough opening game against South Adams, this might be the game that is the best indicator of what type of season it will be for this year’s Winchester boys. The Panthers are a solid bunch, probably as good or better than any team in the Tri-Eastern Conference.
SEASON OUTLOOK – With 16 seniors lost due to graduation, the sledding could be rough for the Falcons in the early going, which features some of the some of the toughest opponents on the schedule. If Winchester can win a few games early or at least stay competitive, it would be a positive sign of good things to come. If not, this could be a long season. But either way, the Falcons have some good players coming up through the ranks and should be getting better either late this season or by next season.
Date Opp Time
8/23 South Adams 7:00
8/30 Knightstown 7:00
9/6 at Northeastern 7:00
9/13 Centerville 7:00
9/20 at Union County 7:00
9/27 at Tri 7:00
10/4 Hagerstown 7:00
10/11 Lincoln 7:00
10/18 at Union City 7:00
10/25 at Sectional (TBA)