This summer saw conditioning and training for football done differently. The first and most obvious was the number of restrictions placed on the team due to COVID-19 and saw many zoom meetings before they could get out on the field in July. The other major difference was a new head coach, Michael Kelly. Kelly was the third coach for the program in four years. Despite the global pandemic, Kelly and his team were determined to make this an excellent season.
It greatly increased our challenges with day to day operations,” said Kelly. “We were limited in space and time. The new requirements made traveling, locker rooms, and practice a big challenge.”
John McCall under center for most of the games and a duo of Blaine Wertz and Jace Alexander were the standouts in a solid offense that was able to get the job done most games, scoring 22.89 points per game on average. The defense was led by Mikah Phillips, Gio Ragland, JT Mutchner and Louden Sundling made big plays on the defensive end, allowing 14 points or less in five games, including a shutout in the season opener against Lawrence Central.
“I felt that our players were able to build a foundation that we can grow from,” said Kelly. “There were several mistakes that were made but I think we are heading in the right direction.”
The season got off to a great start, beating Lawrence Central 24-0. The next game, their home opener against North Central, was lost in a 36-35 heartbreaker decided in overtime. They were able to bounce back against Avon 39-28 thriller to finish the first third of the season 2-1. McCall threw for four touchdowns and one interception, while Phillips and Ragland combined for four interceptions.
After winning the Mudsock game against Fishers 21-9, a game which saw Wertz break out for 144 yards and a spectacular rushing touchdown, the Royals went out to Westfield. That game was arguably the worst performance of the Royals this year, falling 14-3 to the Shamrocks in a defensive battle. They had a good comeback game against Zionsville at home, winning 14-13 in another defensive nailbiter, and wide receiver Martice Taylor scored two touchdowns off of 41 yards and five receptions in the game against the Eagles.
The last two games of the regular season were both road matchups against Noblesville and Franklin Central respectively. It was an injury-plagued group of games, but HSE won both games, and their record improved to 6-2. They were scheduled to play the 7-1 Brownsburg Bulldogs, but COVID-19 hit the team, and that game had to be canceled.
HSE drew Fishers in the IHSAA sectionals, and the team traveled to the other side of town in hopes of snapping a playoff losing streak that started in 2014. Unfortunately, the Royals will have to wait until next year to break the streak, after they were upset by Fishers in a 34-29 game that saw HSE go into halftime with a 21-7 lead. The game came down to a Fishers interception in the red zone as time was running out.
Coach Kelly is optimistic about the future but is more concerned with developing his players into great men off the field.
“I hope to build men that will grow to be great husbands, dads, employees, or employers,” said Kelly. “Success in life happens because you make it happen through proper preparation. Commitment, work ethic, and attitude or the key factors that will bring success.”
Kelly also had a message for the seniors, who will never put on an HSE uniform again.
“I hope the lessons that were learned during football can help guide them in their future,” Kelly said. “Their adaptability, determination, grit, and attitudes were great this year. They will always be part of the football Royal family!”