Throughout the summer, the focus for the Polytech High School football team was offense, and then offense, and then a little more offense after that.
The Panthers participated in the seven-on-seven, all-passing summer league and really spent the offseason trying to improve on the offensive side of the ball, head coach Dave Eilers said.
So it was a little bit of a surprise when Polytech opened its season on Sept. 7 at home vs. Sussex Tech High School that the offense had the struggles it did. On the flip side of the coin, the team's defense stole the show.
A number of costly interceptions and fumbles cost the Panthers their opening game, 21-14, but it was the defensive unit that kept the score as close as it did. And that performance, Eilers said, was an eye-opener for what teams can expect to see from that squad this year.
"Tonight our defense showed, hey we can go out on the field and play with anybody," he said. "I'm very proud of the way all those kids played tonight. We have a young squad out there, but they just played their hearts out and left it all on the field tonight, and I can't be more proud of them."
The Panthers and Ravens both held strong in the first half with neither giving up a point by halftime. But poorly timed interceptions and fumbles in the second half had the Polytech defense in bad field position and giving up points eventually.
The scoring opened with Polytech taking advantage of a Sussex Tech turnover, as senior quarterback Avery Chandler lobbed a 24-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Darnell Jones, with the team failing to convert the extra point.
After Sussex Tech immediately came back to go up 7-6, two Chandler interceptions led to scoring drives for the Ravens, a deficit the Panthers chipped at but couldn't overcome.
Eilers said the evidence of what needs to improve was on display right in front of his players this past weekend, so they'll know what needs to be worked on in practice this week as the players prepare to host Delcastle High School at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14.
"Mistake-free football is what our goal is and what we're going to try to do from here on out," he said. "We have the capability."
The disappointment of the loss didn't overshadow the positives of the defense, Eilers said. And even with its struggles, he said he saw things from the offense and Chandler that have him very excited for the rest of the season.
"Even though we lost, it's very exciting to see that we can do more than run the football," he said. "Something we haven't been able to do in the past five years is pass the ball, and we passed all over the field tonight. So I'm very proud of the way those kids played."