The Miami Trace Panthers finished in a three-way tie for second place last season in the South Central Ohio League and along the way earned a spot in the state playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Can this be the season the Panthers gain a third straight trip to the Division IV playoffs? To do so, the Panthers will have another tough road ahead with their stout schedule of non-league games and games within the SCOL.

Last season, the Panthers finished 7-4 overall with a 5-2 mark in league play. Their playoff game was a tough one as they had to face Archbishop Alter in a 49-7 loss, but in all Miami Trace had a solid season, as Alter finished as the state runners-up.

MT was the No. 8 ranked team last season in the Division IV computer rankings for Region 14. This season, MT will be in Division III, but head coach Steve Bartlett says it won't make a difference for the Panthers.

"Changing divisions won't make a huge difference as far as playoffs," he said. "We don't have Clinton-Massie or Kettering Alter in our region anymore, but we now have other quality teams."

The returning lettermen for the 2015 Miami Trace Panthers are: Blake Pittser, Garrett Speakman, Nick Manns, Kody Scott, Austin Lovett, Baley Allen, Larry Jackson, Seth Leach, Jared Fenner, Drake Litteral, Bull Mossbarger, Matthew Hottinger, Gavin Harper and Cole Karnes.

For MT this preseason, they've scrimmaged teams including Waverly and Franklin.

"We had a good summer," Bartlett said. "The kids are working hard, and I'm pleased with how hard they are working."

MT will have a total of 13 seniors on their roster this season, and with some being the aforementioned 14 returning lettermen, the expectations are once again, as always, high for the Panther program.

"We always want our expectations to be high," the MT head coach said. "When you start lowering expectations, that's not good. You want the kids to strive for the playoffs and a league title every year."
In '14, they opened the season with two straight non-league wins over Circleville and at Carlisle by scores of 41-14 and 45-20. That was followed up with two consecutive losses, including a SCOL loss to Chillicothe by a 28-14 score.

MT responded after those losses with four consecutive wins against McClain (62-7), East Clinton (38-14), Wilmington (20-13) and Hillsboro (41-0). That winning streak was broken up with a 42-20 loss to Clinton-Massie, but MT ended the regular season with a 42-10 victory over Washington.

In all last season, the Panthers scored 35 or more points in six of 10 games, and in 11 games total, they scored 351 points, while the defense allowed 237 points.

For the '15 season, MT will have a different look on offense with a new quarterback in Austin Lovett, who is a senior and played in some games for the Panthers in '14.

"Austin played some last year, actually quite a bit at times," Bartlett said. "We are OK with him. He's a pocket passer, but he has excellent running skills."

 

At the running back position, MT lost their top two leading rushers from a year ago in Russell Miller (the Division IV SE District Offensive Player of the Year) and Jerimiah Jones, but this season they will have five to six players who could carry the football. Those players include senior Devin Bainter, junior Drake Litteral, senior Baley Allen, senior Larry Jackson, junior Trevor Moore and senior Garrett Speakman.

"We feel good about our running back situation," Bartlett said. "It is no secret we want to line up and run the football, and we feel those guys are capable of doing that."

The Panthers will be young at wide receiver, but Bartlett said they have players capable of taking over at the position. Two of those players are senior Kody Scott and junior Keondric Bryant.

"It is fun having a new generation of players to take over on offense,"Bartlett said. "What I do like having is most of our offensive line returning."

Most of the offensive line this season will consist of senior Matthew Hottinger, junior Gavin Harper, junior Cole Karnes and junior Jared Fenner. Tight ends are juniors Lance Mick and Tiante Connell.

"We are OK with running the football," Bartlett said. "Our offensive line will get off the ball, and we will run the football at people."

The defense has more of a rebuild as they lost 10 starters from a year ago. The only player returning with much game experience is Litteral at cornerback.

"We expect a lot of people to step up," Bartlett said. "That's called having a football program … having players take over and step up. When one group graduates, it is time for the next group to take over.

"John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inauguration speech, 'The torch has been passed to a new generation.' That's what we've been talking to our guys about … it is their turn to do the job."

This season, the Panthers will play the same non-league schedule, opening the season at Circleville, followed by home games at Carlisle and Logan Elm.

One change in the schedule is MT will open their SCOL schedule at Clinton-Massie this season, a change from last year when they faced Chillicothe to begin league play.

Besides the two non-league games, other home games for MT this season will include Chillicothe (Sept. 25), Wilmington (Oct. 16) and Washington (Oct. 30).

Away games for MT this season include: Circleville (Aug. 28), Clinton-Massie (Sept. 18), McClain (Oct. 2), East Clinton (Oct. 9) and Hillsboro (Oct. 23).

"We just have to continue to work to get better," Bartlett said. "If we do that, we'll win. We just worry about us and improving in every facet of the game. We are just going to play Panther football."