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The struggles were evident, yet self-explanatory in nearly every game this season for the Rantoul Township High School football team.
The Eagles’ defense had a hard time stopping opposing offenses.
The Eagles’ offense had an even harder time scoring points.
In the end, a 1-8 season ensued for the second straight season, even with first-year head coach Joe Bendoraitis at the helm.
“I don’t know exactly what I thought it was going to be like,” Bendoraitis said of his first season, “but I thought we’d be further along than we are at this point.”
The numbers in the program were up compared to the 2011 season, but even the scoring disparity grew between the two seasons. While the 2011 team gave up 433 points, the offense managed 221 points for a 212-point discrepancy. The 2012 team gave up 388 points, but only scored 69 points for a 319-point separation.
“I don’t think our kids get where they fit in a certain defense or a certain play,” Bendoraitis said. “Our football knowledge is very low right now. We need to increase that. A lot of that had to do with these kids didn’t play last year. That’ll come with time.”
Aside from senior fullback Larry Crayton’s 8-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the regular season finale at St. Thomas More on Oct. 19, the Eagles did not produce any other points during their final four games.
“Offensively we need to get the quarterback and pitch back phase of the option game going,” Bendoraitis said of the Eagles’ option-based style of play. “We never really got that going this year. Our (fullback) dive was good, but we need to tweak that. Our fullback had a great year, but we didn’t get anything else going, and we need to improve our passing game.”
While official statistics were not available before press time this week, Crayton was about the lone bright spot offensively for the Eagles, finishing with 1,038 yards and rushing for seven of the Eagles’ 11 total touchdowns this year.
His efforts were enough to earn him a spot on the Corn Belt Conference first team.
“Larry just worked at it, and it was important to him,” Bendoraitis said. “He put a lot into it, and he got a lot out of it.”
Senior wide receiver/linebacker Chris Deaville was an honorable mention all-conference linebacker. He had two interceptions that helped key the Eagles’ only win, a 19-14 home triumph against Stanford Olympia in week four, while he also hauled in the game-winning touchdown catch in the final four minutes of that game.
“Chris had a good season all around on offense, defense and special teams,” Bendoraitis said. “Our defense wasn’t very good as a group, but he seemed to be the playmaker. He had the two picks against Olympia which helped win the game for us. He had a solid senior season.”
RTHS junior offensive lineman Treysean Moore also wound up with a second team all-conference selection for his play at right guard.
“We’ve got a young (offensive line), and we had multiple people start for us,” Bendoraitis said. “We’ve got a lot of youth and experience there that’s coming back. Treysean is definitely the dominant lineman we have in that group. He could win one-on-one matchups for us.”
Six playoff teams filled the Eagles’ schedule this season, but none of the six are still playing as the state playoffs reach the quarterfinal stage this weekend.
RTHS opened its season with a 49-6 loss at Charleston on Aug. 24, which was followed by a 32-6 loss against Eureka at Eureka College in a Saturday game that was marred by a second-half downpour.
The Eagles started out 0-3 after a 47-12 loss to Pontiac in its home opener at Bill Walsh Field, but provided the lone victory of their season in week four against Olympia. RTHS followed that up with a 56-20 loss at rival Mahomet-Seymour on Sept. 21 to fall to 1-4.
“We played hard in two games this year the whole time,” Bendoraitis said. “That was Olympia and Mahomet-Seymour. That’s because our guys hate Mahomet-Seymour, and it’s personal. We played hard against Olympia because we knew we could beat them, and we expected to beat them. We need to get past that mental block where we have a defeatist attitude.”
After the loss to the Bulldogs, the string of three straight shutout losses — a 40-0 home defeat to Bloomington Central Catholic on the Eagles’ homecoming game that knocked them officially out of the playoffs on Sept. 28, a 56-0 loss against Corn Belt champion Normal U-High at Illinois Wesleyan’s Tucci Field on Oct. 5 and a 46-0 home loss to Prairie Central on Oct. 12, the Eagles’ senior night — ensued.
The Eagles will only lose eight seniors off this year’s team (wide receiver/defensive back Cord Church, Crayton, Deaville, offensive lineman Aaron McDaniel, linebacker Robert Reinagle, defensive back Riley Stewart, defensive lineman Dalton Williams and defensive lineman Mitch Williams), so a large number of starters should return.
“Going into next year, we’re going to have a lot of returning starters,” Bendoraitis said. “We’re going to have a lot of guys who only started a game or two, but still got some varsity playing experience. We’ve got a large junior class, and it’s going to be reflective in next year’s team. We’ll have a lot of guys with playing experience, which will be different than this year.”
The Eagles are already getting started on the 2013 season. About 60 students showed up to a meeting last week to explain the Eagles’ offseason strength and conditioning program, which began on Monday after school. The program will continue four days a week until mid-January, and then another session will begin shortly after that.
“Obviously we want to get bigger, faster and stronger, but more importantly, we want an emotional and mental commitment,” Bendoraitis said. “We want these kids to commit towards athletics in general, but also football, so when things don’t go well on Friday night, they don’t just hang it up and quit. They’ve got something invested into it, and they’re not going to give it up easily.”