The last person to claim the Comets had a great varsity football season is head coach Bill Fishleigh.
Amherst closed out at 0-10, marking 12 straight losses for the second-year coach. Since taking the job, Fishleigh has gone 2-20 with the varsity team.
The last Comets win came in week eight of 2014, when running back Chad Perkins scored the winning touchdown in a 28-10 Senior Night showing over the Westlake Demons.
Amherst finished this year at the bottom of the Southwestern Conference with a last-second heart-breaker to the Lakewood Rangers, who put up a field goal to best the Comets 13-10.
After some time to let the sting wear off, we sat down with Fishleigh to talk about what positives he saw in the season, what needs changed, and what talent is moving up through the ranks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
“I think we definitely took a step forward in the defensive and special teams games,” Fishleigh said Monday.
The Comets line made big stops throughout the year in the red zone and made key picks, he said, praising seniors Todd Hastings and Cooper Cotterill for their work in the middle.
A strong defensive line also pleased coaches, especially juniors Hunter Gibson and Camden Haslage, and sophomore Matt Lee.
“The defense staff and myself think there’s some room for improvement, but they took a step forward,” Fishleigh said.
On offense, senior Nick DeJesus won the quarterback spot over the summer because of his positive attitude: “He took more of a leadership role. We challenged him with that, with being the quarterback, being the leader of the offense, and I think he definitely took that challenge,” Fishleigh said.
This season, DeJesus threw for 796 yards, completing 85 of 174 pass attempts and three touchdowns for a 60.4 QB rating. He also carried the ball for 206 yards.
Amherst turned over the ball less often this year than last, which Fishleigh also counted as a victory. The season saw just three interceptions and four offensive fumbles.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much on the offensive side of the ball as we did on defense,” Fishleigh said.
“I think it really fell on the shoulders of the offense. We didn’t make first downs. We didn’t score. Offense is unique in that you need 11 guys doing the right thing. If 10 of 11 are doing the right thing, you’ll fail.”
Going into the season, Fishleigh said he knew the Comets wouldn’t have an offense to light up the scoreboard but still thought there would be enough to complement the defense.
The balance was never quite there, and several losses came by bare deficits late in the fourth quarter.
“I’d almost rather be destroyed 40-0 because then you know that team beat you and why. When you look at those close games and how they could have gone the other way, it’s tougher. You beat yourself up as a coach,” Fishleigh said.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
“I’ve been telling the kids we’re 0-10 so everything we do, every single thing, is up for review. I don’t think we’re 0-10 talent-wise. There has to be something we did wrong,” Fishleigh told the News-Times.
He plans to have some serious talks with coaches to get them more involved on offense.
Right now, those coaches are highly specialized but Fishleigh said it might be time to make their roles “more generalized, more old school in that regard.”
“It’s been two years and it still isn’t working. So we need to change,” he said.
There are 22 letter-winners returning next fall. New blood is also rising through the ranks, which may give Amherst a boost.
The junior varsity Comets went 7-2-1 this season in what Fishleigh called “a real development time.”
He called out linebacker and running back Aaron Gonzalez as an outstanding player to watch who will likely get varsity play time next year, as well as DJ McDermot, who played on both the offensive and defensive lines.
And don’t discount the Comets freshmen, who had a 9-1 season. Coach Bill Walker called the squad the best he’s ever coached in his 24 years.
That success was partially based on talent but also on parental involvement in the program, Walker said.
“They cheer their kids on. They want the best for them and it showed,” he said. The parents expected their kids to be pushed, and that’s a key.”
A weights program led by Amherst police Lt. Dan Makruski was invaluable. Walker said kids trained three days a week and some were benching 300 pounds.
Freshmen to watch as they advance in the Amherst football program include running back Khennedy Scagliozzo — “He’s fast, he makes cuts that would break other kids’ ankles, and he’s strong,” Walker said — and Jacob Lezon, who as a freshman is 6-foot-one and 225 pounds at tackle and defensive end.
Also keep eyes on Matt Fairchild and Brian Hritsko, who took turns at QB this year for both the frosh and JV line-ups.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times Comets head football coach Bill Fishleigh surveys the final game of the season versus Lakewood, which the Rangers won with a last-second field goal. The loss put the Comets at 0-10 on the season.
Joe Colon | Amherst News-Times Khennedy Scagliozzo delivers the hit in Amherst’s junior varsity closer against Lakewood. Amherst won 44-27. Scagliozzo is among the younger Comets players that varsity head coach Bill Fishleigh believes will make a big contribution in 2016.
Joe Colon | Amherst News-Times Saul Hernandez eyes a touchdown in the junior varsity game against Lakewood.