The football season didn’t end the way the Camanche Indians wanted it to, but it certainly was a fun season.

The Indians ended the season 6-3, just short of the Class 2A football playoffs after suffering their second district loss in overtime to West Liberty.

Camanche is watching both Tipton (6-3) and West Liberty (6-3) head to the playoffs instead.

But the season ending a little shorter than wanted is still nothing to cut down. It’s the first winning season for a Camanche football team since 2010. That’s something the Indians, especially the seniors, take pride in.

“I’ve been through 0-9, 1-8, 4-5,” senior Payton Nicol said. “And to see everyone’s faces when we got the win to for sure secure a winning record, it’s surreal.”

Camanche was chock full of athletes this year, including the loaded senior class. They also added running back LJ Henderson in the middle of the season.

It wasn’t clear how the season would shake out in the beginning. After losing four-year starting quarterback Baylor Crigger, the Indians first turned to Jordan Lawrence. It’s his first full season back from an ACL tear.

Lawrence certainly did fine in the QB position. He had a game and a half where he rode the pines for a precautionary injury scare and that sent senior Caleb Delzell into the quarterback position. Again, another shakeup.

“I just wasn’t expecting it,” Delzell said. “I’ve been the back up for three years now, so I had confidence in myself. I just wasn’t expecting it. It worked out good for us.”

When Lawrence came back, he didn’t completely take over. Head coach Dustin Coit had them share the QB duties, really creating options for his athletic offense to make some plays.

And they ran with it.

“We’ve just gotten more dynamic throughout the season,” Lawrence said. “I love playing both positions and receiver is almost more natural for me. It takes pressure off me a lot.”

When Henderson came onto the field with the Indians in Week 7, things really got going. Henderson easily rushed for over 100 yards his first time on the field, adding some speed and talent in the backfield.

“He’s a huge difference-maker in our offense,” Delzell said. “Not only does he do a lot of things with the ball, but after he brought a lot of attention to himself it’s opening up the field for players we haven’t seen before.”

It seemed like the Indians could almost always find a way to score, whether it was from the strength behind Cade Everson’s runs up the gut, the hands of Ethan Buckley bringing down a ball, or the grace of a Henderson run.

“We have a lot of athletes and when we spread the field out and get guys in space then we can just let them do the work,” Lawrence said.

Plus, the defense looked solid all year. The Indians weren’t particularly big as a defensive line, but they too had athletes filling the roster to the brim.

“[Our threat is] definitely our athletes,” senior Ethan Buckley said. “We’re usually the smallest team out there and we’ve used our speed to just run past people. Flow to the ball. We want to have everyone on the ball every tackle.”

It shows in the stats. The team led the district in tackles and in fumble recoveries and in interceptions. They were also second in the district in tackles for a loss.

“I do think we surprise people,” Nicol said. “I think when people watch our films people think we’re small and they can run us over. We’re scrappers, though, and we can take on the big guys.”

Part of that, according to many of the Indians, is the way the team bonded together. It was clear to anyone in the bleachers on Friday nights that the ones dressed in blue and red weren’t just teammates but the best of friends.

“I think it’s probably that our grades really clicked with each other,” junior Logan Waltz said. “I believe that we have better connections and have grown more together. We’re pretty close. We’re like a family, and family is great to have support you.”

And Buckley: “Everyone’s really come together as a family. We all move in one motion, it’s a little like a dance with us all in rhythm.”

The connection on the field was part of what made them click. The roster was filled with returners from 2018, but the game they put together at the end of each week was nearly night and day.

“I consider myself one of the leaders on the defense,” junior Zayne Feller said. “It’s so important for me and the other members of the defense to stay together on the field no matter what happens, even after a bad play we have to get back at it.”

It’s also head coach Dustin Coit’s third year after taking over the program. He’s beginning to get the players he’s had from the beginning and they turnover in the program is starting to show.

“When Coit came in, he established what he wanted to do and told us how we were going to do it,” Nicol said. “We all really respect him and enjoy his presence and we got on board.”

Coit and the Indians won one game his first year, taking down Northeast. In 2018, they put together four wins.

This year, they had their first 2-0 start wince 2001. Then they recorded the biggest win in the program in over a decade. They capped it off with a solid winning record.

“We were more confident this year,” Delzell said. “We started off 2-0 to start, and we all started to realize we could be a playoff team. That’s when the intensity at practice picked up.”

“Our coaching is so important,” Nicol said. “They’re always by our side and helping us get better each day. They’re putting us in the right spot to make us look good, so all props to them.”

They’re losing quite a bit of senior leadership with graduation, but that doesn’t mean they’re starting over.

Along with Lawrence and Feller and Waltz, they’ll have players like Cade Everson and Kyle DeWeerdt on offense, plus the likes of Logan Shaw and Mike Delzell coming back on defense.

And now they have the taste of winning.

“We’ll have a lot of leaders next yet,” Lawrence said. “We want to carry on in the footsteps of the seniors we had this year and carry on the success into next year.”

“The group of seniors, they’re very good,” Waltz said. “They’ve taught us to be better leaders, they’ve taught us what we should do as a team and how we should grow together to become more of a team.”

Camanche has seen success across the board: volleyball was in the sub-state game last year, as was baseball, cross county and track made splashed at the state meet, the basketball team went to state in 2017 and is looking poised for another run this year.

But this year it was football’s turn to join those winning ways.

“We’re trying to leave behind the new culture,” senior Caleb Delzell said. “We didn’t win a lot before and that was the theme for a while and we’re trying to flip that. It’s finally happening for football. We’re trying to keep that going, keep winning, and keep making Camanche football one of those programs [you have to prepare for].”