Hastings' defense kept the Raiders in the game the entire way, but the offense was unable to get anything going against the Simley Spartans.
Hastings fell to Simley 10-7 at home on Friday, Sept. 23, and has now lost three games in a row since beating Henry Sibley in the season opener. The Raiders are now 1-3 overall and 1-1 in the Suburban Maroon subdistrict halfway through the season.
Neither team's offense was impressive during Friday's game, though Simley was able to move the ball enough to collect two scores.
"The defense played really well," head coach Dana Strain said. "They gave up some points early there and got behind, but for the most part they absolutely kept us in the football game."
Senior co-captain Trey Rogers said that he credits defensive coordinator Tom Fritz with getting the defense ready to play each week.
"First and foremost, Coach Fritz does an unbelievable job preparing the defense for the teams we play each week," Rogers said. "He excites the team to go out and make plays for him. But also, we have a high tempo during practice, so the guys are flying around making plays, and that transfers very well to the games."
The Raiders went three-and-out on their opening drive and had a botched punt attempt blocked deep in their own territory. While the defense was able to hold and force a turnover-on-downs, the result was they were pinned deep on their own end. The Spartans took advantage of the short field after another punt and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to lead 7-0 with 3:46 left in the first quarter.
Hastings responded by hitting on a long pass play to sophomore wide receiver Jackson Kirchoff. However, a botched snap on a fourth-down attempt stalled the drive in Simley territory and the Raiders turned the ball over on downs. The Spartans then started the second quarter at their own 46-yard line and drove down to the goal line where Hastings' defense stood firm once again. Simley converted a 21-yard field goal to take a 10-0 lead with 5:41 left in the half.
The Raiders got the ball with 2:11 left in the first half at their own 15. The offense clicked using several short passes and they were able to advance it to midfield before quarterback Trey Rogers was stripped-sacked dropping back to pass. Simley recovered with 50 seconds left in the half but then missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
"Our strength has been running the football, and it's not that we can't throw, we just know how we're constructed and we're better off running it when we can," Strain said. "It was nice to see that we are certainly capable of throwing it, we know we are, if we protect it well our kids can get open and we can throw the ball well enough. That's something we will need to continue to grow during the second half of the season and it was exciting to see us do that well."
A key part to that passing game was the play of sophomore wide receiver Jackson Kirchoff.
"He would be described as your prototypical possession-type receiver," Strain explained. "He has good hands, is a good route runner and is always where he's supposed to be. He is new to our community and new to our program. He's been a fantastic addition, an outstanding young ma, high-character kid. He works extremely hard, never missed a day in the weight room during the summer and it has shown. Through the summer we started to recognize that he might be able to help us on the varsity level and here he is a sophomore and our leading receiver."
Simley missed another field goal to start the second half. After punting to Simley, the Raiders forced a fumble that was recovered by senior T. J. Pottinger at the Simley 23-yard line at the end of the third quarter. Hastings took advantage of the situation and Rogers scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to cut Simley's lead to 10-7 with 9:38 left in the game.
Neither team was then able to do anything the rest of the game and Hastings lost 10-7.
Need to improve
The Raiders managed just 139 yards of total offense for the game. They ran 42 times for 77 yards and averaged less than two yards a carry. Pottinger was the leading rusher with 18 carries for 46 yards while Rogers had the lone touchdown.
Strain explained the difficult the Raiders had running the ball as a combination of the scheme Simley runs on defense and Hastings' own lack of execution.
"Simley has been a tough matchup for us offensively against their defense," he said. "They're an aggressive, 3-4 type front that really pinches down hard from the outside linebacker position, even a little bit more so than most teams will. We've always had a little bit of fits in terms of busting loose on them. They do a nice job of it, we just have to find a way to crease them better than we have. Basically, the way they play their 3-4, it really just tightens things up and for an offense like ours that's already trying to run between the tight ends, and when they're really pinching down hard on the edge, you really have to find a way to hurt them out on the perimeter or they never get out of that and we haven't been able to do that to them."
Rogers also completed five passes on 11 attempts for 62 yards. Kirchoff was the leading receiver for the second week in a row with four receptions for 55 yards.
With the Raiders in the middle of a three-game losing streak and a tough game at St. Thomas Academy coming up, Rogers said the key is to try and keep the team positive.
"We are in a tough little spot here with losing the past few games, but luckily we have a resilient group of guys who are continually working to improve, despite the roadblocks we've ran into," he said. "It's critical to stay positive so that negativity doesn't spread throughout the team. I've pushed for the team to let go of the things we can't control, and focus on the things we can control."
Hastings travels to St. Thomas Academy on Friday, Sept. 29.