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Screaming Eagles look for next step in 2010

Screaming Eagles' linebacker Dave Olson registers a sack during a home regular season game in Frazee this season.1 / 2
Eagles' QB Jason McCloskey scrambles during a regular season home game this past season.2 / 2

The Lakes Area Screaming Eagles went from losing the close games in the 2008 season, to becoming a force and legit contender in the Northern Power Football League in 2009.

Now the next step, which is climbing to the top.

Of the Eagles' final 5-4 record, all four losses came against the two teams who played for the League championship, Rochester and South Metro.

Of those two defeats, one was by two points and the other by one.

So after taking the step of winning the games they should -- as the 5-1 start to the season indicated -- the next step will be to start beating the top teams.

To accomplish that goal, it will not necessarily be about adding more talent, but more improvement of the intangibles, like organization and finding more committed players.

"Our next step is to get more organized, secure more funding, find some more committed players and coaches to help us out," said Screaming Eagles head coach/owner and quarterback, Jason McCloskey. "I will take committed players over talent any day, and I still believe if we can get some more local talent, we'll be better."

One of the main reasons the Screaming Eagles lost their final three games of the season came due to the fact they were not playing with the same players as in their 5-1 start.

Defensive end Casey Gibson was asked to try out for the Detroit Lions midway through the season, while injuries ended the season for starting linebacker and Bemidji State standout Dave Olson and leading tackler Josh Lasser.

It wasn't the same dominating defense which swarmed opposing offenses in the team's 5-1 start.

"We were still able to compete, but chemistry was a factor," McCloskey said. "We had only about a core of 20 guys showing up for practices, and that hurt us. Our team has the disadvantage of having players from all over the region, living pretty far from (the Eagles' home base).

"Teams like Rochester and South Metro have the advantage of having their players close."

By the playoff game in Rochester, Lakes Area had 27 players showing up, compared to Rochester's 70.

That was an ever present factor in the Giants' big second half comeback, which ultimately ended the Eagles' season.

"We were just worn out by the second half," McCloskey said of the playoff game.

Lakes Area still had good balance, leading the league in passing and finishing second in rushing.

McCloskey had a QB passer rating of 81.404 (stats do not include the playoff game) on the season, with 1,591 yards through the air and a 20-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The Screaming Eagles' passing game gained a huge boost by the additions of the league's top receiving duo, Bert Smith and James Singer.

Each had five touchdowns, while Singer led the team in receptions with 29 and 478 yards, and Smith had 22 grabs for 442 yards.

"They are two veterans and seasoned receivers," McCloskey said. "They really helped the passing game, and another key was I was able to deliver the ball.

"The offensive line kept me clean all season."

That unit was solid, with Mark Racine at left tackle, DJ Stone playing guard and Anthony Ritterman handling the center position.

Joe Hass was "phenomenal" at the right guard position, despite being undersized, McCloskey said.

The lack of chemistry due to under-attended practices was one of the causes of the Screaming Eagles' inefficiency in the red zone.

Even when Lakes Area was posting wins, they would stall too many times within the opponent's 20-yard line, taking points off the board.

"A lack of practicing hurt us in the red zone," McCloskey said. "We moved the ball well down the field, but had trouble there (in the red zone).

"That is one thing which will change next year. We had guys not show up to practice and expect to play in the games. Next year, I want to find guys who are committed to playing and practicing."

Dave Moll once again had a stellar year rushing the ball for Lakes Area, posting a team-high 620 yards on 91 carries for an exceptional average per attempt of 6.8 yards.

Linebacker Billy Quistorf and Jake Lindsey -- who came back to play after serving a tour in Iraq -- had breakout seasons, McCloskey said.

"Billy was a leader on defense and Lindsey played both ways and immediately made an impact," he said.

To improve in the Screaming Eagles' third year, McCloskey is also hoping to find some coaches who will put in the time to help with the game plan and call plays on the sideline during games.

"I'm going to reach out and hopefully find some coaches who have experience," McCloskey said. "I would like two coordinators (offensive and defensive) and an active head coach who will help break down film and do some scouting."

Adding local players is another goal of McCloskey's, and he knows there are plenty out there.

"Ideally, we'll get more local players," McCloskey said.

With two seasons in the books for the Screaming Eagles, that climb to the top will continue for 2010.