After closing out the 2015 season last week with a 40-15 loss against the Fulton Hornets in the opening round of the Class 3 District 6 playoffs, Boonville Pirates football coach Barry Blank already had his thoughts looking ahead to the 2016 season.
With seven starters returning on both sides of the ball next year, Blank said he looks for the Pirates to be much improved.
“We are already talking about things we can do to get better,” Blank said. “This is the first year that the underclassmen have been in the weight room and that is going to really make a difference. Of course the No. 1 thing that we have to change is our culture. It didn’t show on the scoreboard but the idea of being around football and wanting to be around a winning football team is something I think the kids really want to be a part off in the future.”
To make sure that happens, Blank has already scheduled exit interviews with each player about their season and what they did individually. Then, in two weeks, Blank said he will meet with the juniors and start identifying the team motto and team cornerstone and what will allow the Pirates to be successful.
While the 2015 season was a mirror image of the 2014 season as the Pirates finished at 2-8, Blank said it was definitely a season of ups and downs.
Boonville also failed to win a game on the road this season while finishing sixth out of seven teams in the North Central Missouri Conference at 1-5.
“We felt like we had a lot of obstacles to overcome with injuries and other things out of our control,” Blank said. “But they are things we can definitely build on. We had seven underclassmen starting the last game on both sides of the ball so they are going to be a year more seasoned next year so that is something to be excited about. I also felt like there was a couple of games we left on the table this season-the game against Moberly and at Marshall. I think the big thing in the Moberly game is that we weren’t able to finish like we wanted to. Then, in the game at Marshall, I think it was the way we started.”
Needless to say, the season looked promising enough as the Pirates opened the 2015 season at home with a thrilling 9-6 win over the California Pintos. But after four straight losses against Higginsville 47-19, Hannibal 51-7, Grain Valley 44-4 and Mexico 47-0, Boonville was quickly looking at another .500 season or less with five games to go.
Although some felt the Pirates schedule was also top-loaded with games against state-ranked California, Higginsville, Hannibal and Mexico, the Pirates also had to face a Grain Valley team with over 90 players in grades 9-12.  However the second half of the season figured to be much more manageable for Boonville with games against Kirksville, Fulton, Moberly and Marshall.
In Week 6 against Kirksville, the Pirates held on to beat the Tigers in a thriller by a score of 17-15. Unfortunately for Boonville, they wouldn’t taste victory again while dropping their next-four games against Fulton 47-13, Moberly 34-25 and Marshall 35-14. Then, in the opening round of the district playoffs against the Hornets, Boonville led at one point by a score of 9-7 before giving up 33 points for the rest of the game to suffer the loss.
Blank said the way the kids came out focused in the first half against Fulton is the way they want to come out to start the season next year.
The conference was also loaded with seniors this season. Of the 32 players selected on both offense and defense, 23 were seniors.
“After going to the all-conference meetings last week I think our conference probably had as much depth as in recent years,” Blank said. “I thought there was a lot of parity in both the top-half and the bottom-half of the conference. Our conference was definitely senior driven this year. I think that’s why we had so many problems with consistency this season. However it’s like I tell our kids, you have to bring that mindset for every play and every down.”
While giving up 40 points or more in six games this season, the Pirates also failed to stop both the run and pass at times while giving up 2,415 yards on the ground and 1,373 yards in the air for a total of 3,788 yards for an average of 378 yards per game. Those struggles were also noticed on the offensive side of the ball for Boonville as the Pirates averaged only 12.3 ppg while finishing with 1,377 yards on the ground and 1,012 in the air for a total of 2,389 yards for an average of 238.9 yards per game.
Blank said some of it had to do with the youth. He also said that when the Pirates had a three and out or a turnover on offense, some of that transitioned over to the defense, which is not very good.
“Some of it is being held accountable and doing your job on that particular play,” Blank said. “We also had a lot of breakdowns whether it was gap assignment, making the tackle or on pass coverage. We did have seven interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries which I know is more than last year. Our sack total was also up. We just gave up way too many points and yards for our liking. Meanwhile, on offense, we had one rushing play for over 50 yards and that was for 62. I thought we got better but at the same time we had to put together 10-12 play drives.”
Despite the ups and downs throughout the season, Blank said the highlight was probably in the game where Jaylen Butner came out on the field and just the interacteion with the kids and how much they wanted to play for him. Another highlight, Blank said, was the win over California in the season opener. He said the kids came out in that game and wanted to win.
“I also felt like the first half last week against Fulton was probably our best half of football all season,” Blank said. “As for the low points of the season, it would have to be going 0-5 on the road. I think the kids just struggled on how they prepared on the road. Another low point was probably in Week 2 against Higginsville. We had so many kids out with skin rashes and injuries and then Jaylen and Adam getting hurt. If there is a silver lining there, it’s watching the kids unite. And then lastly, I would say the Moberly game and not being able to finish the game out.”
While scoring only 20 points or more in just one game this season, Blank said that is something that has to improve next year. He said one of the goals this season was to have 200 yards rushing and they were able to do that only four times this season. Another goal, he said, was to throw for over 150 yards and they were able to accomplish that twice.
“I think some of it was trying to find our identity and some of it was the kids getting used to the system and the scheme we were running,” Blank said. “We also didn’t have what I call big-play potential this season. Our longest passing play was a 40-yard pass and we averaged only 12.2 yards per catch. We will tweak our offense a little but a lot of it is looking at your personnel and what you have. As for the defense, we will be more multiple between a three-man front and a four-man front.”
As for individual leaders this season for the Pirates, senior Dalton Bealmer was the leading rusher with 81 carries for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Junior quarterback Nick Zeitlow, meanwhile, completed 83 of 194 passes for 1,012 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions. On the receiving end of those passes, junior Makiah Waibel led the team with 16 catches for 255 yards and one touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Jordan Weaver led the Pirates with a total of 109 tackles with 84 solo stops and 25 assisted tackles. Bealmer also led the team with 15 tackles for losses and four caused fumbles while  sophomore Adam Edler had the team-high in interceptions with four. Senior Adam Lixey had a team-high three sacks and tied for the lead with two other players (Brandon Ford and Remington Hammers) with two fumble recoveries each.
Note: In the semifinal round of the district playoffs, the Hannibal Pirates will host Helias on Friday while Mexico entertains Warrenton. Fulton will be at home against Southern Boone of Ashland.
The winners will advance to the championship in their respective districts on Friday, Nov. 6th.