CINCINNATI -- Danny Nieman trotted out onto the field at Nippert Stadium Saturday night for his first snaps as Elder’s No. 1 quarterback, with his Panthers’ backs against their own end zone during the first quarter and a fast Pickerington Central defense staring him down.
There were nerves, but it’s just a game.
“Everyone is going to be nervous, but by the time that first drive passes, it’s just football,” Nieman said. “We’ve all been playing since second grade. It’s great to come out here on Saturday in prime time and get to do what we all love. It just didn’t turn out on the right side of the scoreboard.”
Pickerington Central eventually held on for a 20-14 win over Elder. But Nieman and his teammates gave themselves a chance to win, and the junior quarterback had a successful debut.
Nieman completed 26 of 43 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions and was named the Most Valuable Player for Elder after the game. His first career touchdown pass was a 10-yard strike to senior Adam Schwallie in the corner of the end zone on a third-and-7 play with 8:31 remaining in the first half, giving Elder its only lead of the game at 7-6.
“He showed a lot of toughness tonight,” Elder coach Doug Ramsey said.
“He did a good job, especially with the pressure. There are some things. They kept changing zone to man, and there were a few times he missed where to go with the ball, but I thought overall he did a really nice job. You think about coming out your first week, and you have all your linemen going down hurt in front of you and he just kept on battling. I’m pleased with what he did tonight.”
Nieman will be faced this season with replacing one of Elder’s all-time great quarterbacks -- Ramsey’s son Peyton, who graduated and is now a member of the Indiana University football team. Ramsey was a two-time co-GCL player of the year and threw for 2,689 yards as a senior with 26 touchdowns. He added 1,232 yards on the ground with 16 more touchdowns.
Again, it’s just football. Nieman may not put up those numbers, but his coach expects success.
“He is very level-headed,” Doug Ramsey said. “He never gets too high. He never gets too down. That’s a very positive thing for a quarterback. He’s willing to stand in the pocket with pressure. He’s throws an accurate ball. When you can do those kinds of things, you can be pretty effective.”
Nieman isn’t going to put up the rushing numbers his predecessor did, however. The junior gained nothing on the ground Saturday.
“I’m not the most athletic of guys out there, so we throw the sophomore quarterback who is the good runner back there, and we kind of switch that up,” Nieman said.
Sophomore Michael Bittner took some snaps under center Saturday as well and gained 30 yards. Junior running back Jack Mazza gained 70 yards on 23 carries in his first game as the featured running back, taking over for Ja'Vahri Portis. Although, he lost two fumbles.
“We’ve got to limit (Mazza’s carries) some because of his size,” Ramsey said. “And that’s the thing because Danny is not a great runner. We have to try to do some different things.”
Central led 20-7 at halftime with 208 yards of offense, but only gained 96 yards in the second half and did not reach the end zone again.
“We fought as hard as we could,” Mazza said. “My fault with fumbling the ball twice, but we bounced back. I’m proud of the effort. We had lots of guys going down. We got right back up and fought hard. I’m proud of the effort.
“We’re going to be pummeling dudes. We might not be the fastest, strongest, tallest, but we’re going to be physical.”
Elder closed to within six points when senior Nick Niehaus recovered a muffed punt in the end zone with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter. They had a shot to tie the game late before turning the ball over on downs at the Central 11 with 2:54 remaining.
“We’ve got some tough guys,” Nieman said. “I don’t know how many linemen we had go down. We had guys jumping in there. Two of our starting receivers are out, and we had guys stepping up. It’s just good to see these guys step up.”
Ramsey told his team after the game that they were going to be tough on foes in the weeks ahead.
“Toughness,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s a will to win. They didn’t give up. We’ve got so many inexperienced players that they’ve got to get better. We’re going to get better with our play. If we just keep playing with that mentality, we’ll be fine.”
PC-Coker 4 run (kick blocked)
E-Schwallie 10 pass from Nieman (Harmeyer kick)
PC-Graham 4 run (Vollmer kick)
PC-Ellison 2 run (Vollmer kick)
E-Niehaus fumble recovery in end zone (Harmeyer kick).
Records: Pickerington Central 1-0, Elder 0-1.