By DAVID HARPSTER
Independent sports writer
JACKSON TWP. The warning signs were there early in the 2013 football season for the Jackson Polar Bears.
While the Polar Bears opened the campaign in impressive fashion by scoring 61 points in a win over Akron East, it was the other number that was cause for concern. The Dragons, who finished 2-8 and averaged just a little more than 14 points in their other nine games, scored 38 against the Polar Bears.
Sure, 18 of those points came in the fourth quarter, when the game was long since decided. But, it was nonetheless an ominous harbinger of things to come for Jackson coach Beau Balderson.
The Bears’ defensive issues came full circle when Hoover hung a 51-42 loss on Jackson in the season finale.
Not only was it the Vikings’ most prolific scoring game of the season, it kept Jackson, at 6-4, on the outside looking in when it came to the Division I playoffs.
So, when Balderson looks back on the recently completed season, it comes as no shock where he feels his team has to improve entering next fall.
“It’s a no-brainer really. We probably had one of the best offenses in the area this season and we were the top offense in the Federal League,” Balderson said. “But we coupled that with a defense that was on the other end of the spectrum.
“We have to be more consistent on the defensive side of the ball. To do that we have to make some adjustments, identify the problems and get those fixed for next season.”
The numbers back up Balderson on both accounts. The Polar Bears averaged an impressive 35.9 points a game and gained 6.8 yards on every snap. Those figures, however, were tempered by Jackson’s opponents scoring 33.3 points a game and picking up the same 6.8 yards per play.
Balderson said the fixes on defense will involve both adjustments in scheme and personnel.
“It’s about fundamentals and going back to square one early instead of waiting until the middle of the season to try to do that,” he said. “We’ve already identified a lot of the issues that are going to get fixed very, very quickly.
“The other part of it is going to the physical part of it where we get our best players on the defensive side of the ball. We’re also going to correct some of our schematic things that we didn’t do well.”
Given the kind of offense Balderson has usually fielded at Jackson, it’s easy to see why even the slightest of strides on defense would greatly enhances the Bears’ Federal League title and playoff aspirations.
“The last three seasons we’ve pretty much set every offensive record in Jackson history,” Balderson said. “So that’s definitely a positive and something to build around.”
While there’s some significant losses from this year’s team — quarterback Tyler Langenfeld and four offensive linemen foremost among them — running back Ricky Spradling and receiver Shane Ridgway will return. Spradling rushed for 1,528 yards and 24 scores this season, while Ridgway caught 35 passes for 583 yards and nine touchdowns.
Balderson feels that falling short of their goals this season will only give the Bears more resolve when they being preparations for next season.
“Our expectations are up there now after seeing how close we were this year to making to playoffs,” Balderson said. “If we could’ve made a couple more stops here or there ... things might’ve been different.
“One of the things I think is a good sign for our program is the end was such a disappointing result because we expected more. The kids were disappointed with how close we were this year, so the expectations around the program have definitely been raised.”
Reach David at 330-775-1129 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @dharpsterINDE