MUNCIE — The numbers for Delta stand as a statistical anomaly.
Across three games, the Eagles are scoring more than 20 points per game more than their opponents. Most teams would be pleased with that, and in all of Class 4A, only 12 teams rank better.
Yet the Eagles stare down Yorktown with the program’s first 1-2 start since 1996, two years before longtime coach Grant Zgunda took the helm.
“Losing by one point for two weeks, it’s just kind of hard,” Delta quarterback/safety Ryley Pease said. “You don’t want it to end that way.”
The losses came to Shenandoah and Shelbyville, the latter in overtime and both with missed 2-point conversion attempts providing the difference (Delta beat Jay County 63-0 in the opener). But Pease continued on to say there’s something to take from the close defeats.
“Almost sometimes it could be a good learning experience for your team,” he said. “We’re just doing the little things wrong, so it’s going to be an easy fix. I think once we get the right things clicking and everybody doing their job, going hard every play to the whistle, I think we’ll be pretty good.”
That seems to be the general sense. These Eagles are young in a lot of places, and they’re doing the kinds of things young teams do.
That includes tackling issues against Shenandoah and some offensive missteps — a fumble on a sneak and an interception from the 10-yard line — against Shelbyville. Even Zgunda, who has seen his share of football in more than two decades on the job, took a longer view.
“We could be 3-0, and it’s not like, oh yeah, coach-speak,” Zgunda said. “We should be 3-0 and we could be sitting here and feeling good about ourselves, probably end up being in the rankings somewhere, but it wouldn’t change the fact we have the same problems.”
Those problems come in a range of spots, but the defense has been more of a concern thus far. In the losses, both to 3-0 squads, the Eagles are allowing 7.1 yards per play.
Zgunda said the issues are spread equally across the three parts of the defense. Lineman Kaleb Slaven said the aggression isn’t quite all the way there, something one might expect with young players.
Pease pointed out the defense is smaller and quicker, which puts more emphasis on technique and position, and that comes with experience. The team lost seasoned, longtime stalwart linebackers in David Smekens and Brayton Conley, and Caleb Mills and Brady Pease (both younger brothers of established Delta stars) are both tough kids still gaining their feel on the varsity level.
The offense has been more stable, with Ryley Pease creating big plays with his host of wide receivers and Zach Mills running for nearly 500 yards in three games. But Zgunda said there’s still work to do there, and Slaven locked in on another area to fix.
“We’ve got to finish games,” the Ball State commit said. “The last two games, we’ve really had a bad first half and this year we just can’t really afford to have close starts. Last year, against Shelbyville, we came out 7-0 in the first half. Third quarter, we scored three touchdowns. I don’t think we’re that team this year where we can come out and be flat.”
Now the Eagles face the challenge of their biggest rivals if they want to reverse the trend and get back on the winning track and avoid 1-3.
In some ways, the squads are similar: young, geared toward the run, finding their way after losing large and accomplished senior classes. The rivalry game needs no hyping up on either side, and that’s especially true for the Eagles, who lost to the Tigers twice last year and once the year before.
There’s still faith Delta’s players can fix those little things, lock in and turn things around, and it starts with the game they circle on the calendar every year.
“Being 1-2 going into Yorktown week kind of motivates you,” Pease said. “We haven’t beat them in the past two years.
“I’ve never wanted to beat a team worse than these guys this year.”