Canon City looks to finish close games in 2017

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The 2016 Cañon City Tigers won their first two games and their last two games. In between, they fell in six straight contests.

Three of those six defeats came by three points or fewer.

"We have to focus on playing the whole game and finishing well," coach Tom O'Rourke said ahead of the 2017 campaign. "We're starting to understand how close those games were and how close we were to really doing something."

This season brings a new offensive coordinator to the Tigers. The plays will change, but the blocking scheme will not, leading to a strength O'Rourke sees as critical to setting the tone: The offensive line.

Full of returners, the big guys up front will have another year of experience, another summer in the weight room, and the same scheme to hone to perfection.

"Getting the ball and moving it down the field with the big guys sets the tone and puts the other team on their heels," O'Rourke said.

On the flip side, O'Rourke said his defensive line needs to do a better job of stopping opponents from running the ball than last season. Another year of experience should help. Last season, the Tigers pursued a more spread offense - they scored a lot, but they scored quickly, leading to a lot of time on the field for their defense.

The ability to run the ball with tailback Kadin Porter and possess the ball for solid chunks of time is a bonus O'Rourke is excited about.

Quarterback Zac Hanenberg became the starter halfway through last season. Finding a rhythm in the middle of the year was difficult.

"I had to learn as I went," Hanenberg said. "This year, I feel more comfortable with the guys, and I know how they're going to play."

Substitutes last year are now returning varsity players, and Hanenberg, with a full summer as the starter under his belt, sees in his team more energy and a high experience level that should come in handy in close games.

All that's left is to get going, at home against Pueblo Central at 7 p.m. on Sept. 1.

"We haven't played together yet in a real game," Hanenberg said. "I'm excited to see where we're at."