Story by Kris Mills/kmills@greenfieldreporter.com

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In two seasons at Eastern Hancock, head football coach Jim O’Hara has lost just two games during the regular season. One of them — a 34-6 defeat at the hands of Northeastern — was the veteran coach’s first game at the school in 2014.

Since then, the Royals have compiled a 16-1 regular season record.

With the return of two of its top offensive threats, O’Hara and Eastern Hancock, which spent time ranked No. 2 in Class 2A last season, appear to be trending towards another successful season.

Junior quarterback Jarett Lewis is back to lead the Royals, which finished 10-1 last season, after a successful summer. Already the program’s single-season passing leader, Lewis threw for 1,750 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2015. He also scored eight rushing touchdowns and finished with six interceptions and a quarterback rating of 127.

“He has such a quick release,” O’Hara said of Lewis, who completed 63 percent of his passes last season. “He has quick feet, can run the ball and knows the offense better.

“He’s a competitor, and the kids really like him.”

Also returning on offense is hard-nosed senior running back Devin Denny. He added 1,321 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground last season and also finished with over 300 yards through the air (six scores).

Denny was often seen shedding tacklers with ease, averaging 120 yards per contest and 7.1 yards per carry. He had a season-high 204 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Shenandoah and totaled over 100 yards in all but three games for the Royals, who averaged 35 points per game.

Denny said playing with Lewis, who threw for a season-high 275 yards and five touchdowns against rival Knightstown last season, makes the game easier for the whole team.

“Our coaches put us in positions to succeed, and Jarett took full advantage of it,” he said. “I’m expecting bigger things from him this year.”

Lewis feels the same about his trusty backfield mate.

“I’m very confident with Denny in the backfield,” Lewis said. “He wants the ball and makes the most out of every run. He’s our go-to.”

Eastern Hancock was solid in conference play last season, as well, finishing atop (5-0) the Mid-Indiana Football Conference standings.

However, maybe the biggest hit to the roster came on defense.

Despite losing key offensive weapons Matt Bowman (16 touchdowns) and Austin Smith (eight touchdowns), Eastern Hancock’s defense (13.5 points allowed per game) said farewell to five of its top-six tacklers from a season ago.

Linebacker Owen Hunt (117 tackles) and defensive backs Caleb Beyers (93 tackles) and Clayton Brumfield (six interceptions) are gone, but the Royals return senior linebackers Craig Rifner and Reece Burkhart.

Rifner finished with 68 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2015, while Burkhart, also a successful thrower in track and field, added 44 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Senior Jacob Toth (35 tackles) also returns to bolster the line on both sides of the ball while receivers Payton Wilkinson (junior), A.J. Muegge (junior) and tight end Clayton Cochard (junior) return with experience and will haul in passes from Lewis.

All of which, according to O’Hara, can run around a 4.8 in the 40-yard dash.

Eastern Hancock also made a few changes to its schedule for the upcoming season. It added Indianapolis Broad Ripple for a Week 4 showdown and Monroe Central in Week 7. The Royals have no meetings with Broad Ripple in recent memory and last played Monroe Central in tournament play in 2014, a 35-18 win.

Eastern Hancock couldn’t be more excited about its Week 1 match up, too, as county rival Greenfield-Central visits Charlottesville. The teams have no meetings in the last 30 years.

The Cougars finished 4-6 last season but have a new coach and quarterback looking to right the ship.

“It’s going to be hype,” Denny said.


2016 SCHEDULE

Week 1

Greenfield-Central

Friday, 7 p.m.

No meetings in last 30 years

Week 2

@South Decatur

Friday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m.

Five straight wins over Cougars

Week 3

Northeastern

Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.

Looking for consecutive wins over Northeastern

Week 4

Indianapolis Broad Ripple

Friday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m.

New to schedule

Week 5

@Knightstown

Friday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m.

Rivalry game, EH dominated last season

Week 6

North Decatur

Friday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.

Three straight wins over ND

Week 7

@Monroe Central

Friday, Sept. 30 , 7 p.m.

Last meeting in 2014, 35-18 sectional win

Week 8

Shenandoah*

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2 p.m.

Old rival on a big stage

Week 9

@Lapel

Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

Held them scoreless last season

*At Lucas Oil Stadium

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.