By Nate Thompson
RAVENNA — The fans were vocally upset in the stands, players hung their heads on the sidelines, and a cloud of uncertainty hung over the Ravenna football team after a pair of ugly losses in September.
But head coach Dave Smith said his squad wasn’t necessarily a bad football team, despite losing to Montague and Oakridge and only while scoring a two-game total of 14 points.
“It took some time to find ourselves,” Smith said. “We moved basically the whole offense around. There is not one player in the same spot now as they were at the beginning of the year.”
The mass movement worked. The Bulldogs are currently on a five-game winning streak and a victory away from claiming a Division 6 district championship. The Bulldogs (8-2) play host to Kent City (8-2) on Saturday in the district title game at Citizens Field, with kickoff slated for 1 p.m.
The Bulldogs came full circle on Oct. 7 against Whitehall, when senior standout David Thompson was moved from quarterback to his more natural position of tailback, and senior offensive lineman Shane Goebel was inserted as a fullback to create some extra blocking for the ball carriers.
That Bulldog attack was on full throttle during Ravenna’s pre-district contest against Lakeview last week, when Thompson rushed for 323 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-21 victory. He scored the first two times he touched the ball in the first quarter — touchdown runs covering 80 and 91 yards.
“It was crazy,” Thompson said. “I didn’t expect that to happen.”
It helps that Thompson was running through monster holes on the line, keyed by 300-pound senior tackle Jordan Poffinbarger, junior center Dane Denhof, junior tackle Caleb McCullough, and junior speed guard Zach McCleary. Ravenna played without senior tackle Tanner McFarren, who was held out with a hip issue and may be able to return for Saturday’s game.
“We started the year with basically all seniors on the line, but now we’ve got four underclassmen,” Smith said. “And they’re really gelling together.
“We had a lot of young kids and even our veteran guys were in new spots at the beginning of the season,” Smith added. “It takes some time to learn and adjust. And in our conference, as tough as it is, you don’t have time to develop. Teams like Oakridge and Montague don’t wait for you.”
Goebel, at 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, started on the offensive line, but suffered a broken hand against Oakridge. He returned to the field against Whitehall with a cast on his hand, and has not only cleared space for Thompson to burn through, but provided pass protection for junior quarterback Camron Passenier, who replaced Thompson under center.
Passenier never played the position in varsity prior to stepping in against Whitehall. He’s turned in a solid performance by avoiding turnovers and completing the occasional big throw, according to Smith.
The unquestioned face of the Bulldogs is Thompson, who has been on varsity since his freshman year. Smith said he’s grown by leaps and bounds, both on and off the field, and now leads by example with his work ethic in practice — an area that wasn’t always his strength.
“David’s always had that charisma and has been fun to be around, but now that he’s a senior, I think he’s taken that next step in maturing as a player,” Smith said. “He’s leading more by example in practice, which our younger kids really take notice of.
“That wasn’t always the case. That’s one of the reasons why we started him off at quarterback this year. He didn’t always hit the hole as hard as he should have in the past. Now, he’s hitting it full force.”
Thompson agrees with his coach, saying he’s not only a different player, but a better student.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I was only focused on Fridays,” he said. “I’m a better student now. I’m still not as good as I want to be, but I’m better than where I was.”
Thompson also has a fresh outlook as a ball carrier.
“Now, I realize that not every run has to go for a touchdown,” said Thompson, who has received some recruiting interest from Division 2 Ferris State University. “It’s OK to chip away each run and get first downs. Before, I’d just dance around instead of hitting the hole.”
Thompson has also taken a liking to the defensive side of the ball, developing into all-conference defensive back.
“I used to hate defense with a passion,” he said. “But our coaches asked me if I could play ‘D’ because we didn’t have a lot of guys who could play back there. I tried it, and now I really like it.”
Per tradition at the school, any Ravenna football team that wins a district championship gets its photo hung in the weight room.
The Bulldogs would love to earn a spot on the wall, and keep erasing memories of the not-so-good 2015 season, when they finished 3-6 and missed the playoffs.
“We want to be up there,” Thompson said. “When I look back, I’m going to remember having the chance to play with all my friends. We want to go out with a big bang. Put Ravenna back on the map.”