Ocean City football coach Kevin Smith had a whole plan set up for the final 10 minutes of this morning’s practice on the hot turf at the Sixth Street field behind the high school. If they team did it right and finished strong, they could go head to the beach or do whatever they had planned for the rest of the day. Coach Smith didn’t like the way his players ran the final few plays, and made them run it again.

He’s trying to harp on finishing, an Achilles heel of sorts for the Red Raiders a year ago. Last fall, Ocean City made the state playoffs, but lost in the first round and finished with a 4-6 record after starting the season 3-0. Coach Smith said he believes his squad could have had more wins if they were able to finish games in the fourth quarter.

“We’re harping on the little things. I didn’t like how we finished just then,” Smith said as practice was wrapping up ahead of Thursday’s scrimmage against Cherry Hill West. “I think we need to tighten up the screws. We lost some games in the fourth quarter last year and if we had been better at the end our season could have had a whole different feel to it. So, we’re trying to emphasize finishing, giving them hard things to do at the end of practices — that 48-minute mentality.”

The Red Raiders lost some very talented players, such as linebackers Billy Kroeger and Brandon Lin, receiver Brandon Lashley and quarterback Ian Aungst, among others, but there’s a lot to like about this year’s squad, including a ton of overall speed. The Red Raiders return eight starters on defense, and Smith said he’ll be relying on the defense to set the tone as the offense rounds into shape.

“I think we have an experienced group coming back. We lost a lot of guys on offense, but we have eight starters back on defense and I expect that to be a strength of this team. Hopefully we can play great defense while the offense grows up and matures,” Smith said. “We have a lot of potential, I just don’t know what we are yet. We kind of have a different look every year based on who we have. We’re not trying to fit our kids into a certain system, we’re trying to figure out what we can do best with our kids. Last year, we threw the ball a ton, and I’m hoping this year we can be a little more run oriented on offense. On defense, our strength will be our defensive line and linebackers. We have good, coachable kids year in and year out, and that’s the strength we try to play upon.”

Joe Repetti, a 5-foot-11 junior, gets the nod to replace Aungst at quarterback, and look for the Red Raiders to run a lot of RPO stuff and have Repetti rolling out to take advantage of Ocean City’s speed at wideout, especially with Jake Schneider. Smith also will have some options at running back, such as brothers Issac and Jacob Wilson, Jake Inserra and sophomore Sean Mazzitelli. The Raiders also have some beef on the offensive line with guys like Chris Armstrong, Brad Jamison and Mike Williscroft. Defensively, Ocean City is athletic with guys like Schneider and Brian Beckmann in the secondary and linebackers like Inserra and Teddy Grimley.

“The focus in summer camp is just to finish. I think we lost four games in the fourth quarter last year. We just have to finish in every game,” said Armstrong, a senior left guard. “I just can’t wait to run the ball. Last year we were struggling to run the ball, so we have to be more of a balanced team. We just have to get off the ball and hit somebody. We’re trying to win some playoff games this year and maybe make a run at the (South Jersey) Group 4 championship. I like the energy around here. Football is alive again around here, it’s awesome. The big thing is the weight room, we’ve been working hard and we just have to push each other to the limit.”

“Our goal is to just keep pushing and finish in the fourth quarter. We struggled (with that) last year, so we have finish this year and keep everyone together as a family,” Beckmann added. “We have to improve a little bit (on defense) but we’re all molding together as a group.”

The Red Raiders have plenty of confidence, and should have the opportunity to get off to a good start, although they’ll have to do some work on the road. Lower Cape May, Egg Harbor Township, Bridgeton and Absegami are the first four games on the schedule, and only EHT is a home game for Ocean City.

“There’s an expectation. We expect to be a playoff team,” Smith said. “And the other thing I like is we have so many multi-sport guys who have played in lacrosse championship games, they’ve played in the playoffs in basketball and baseball. These guys have played in big games, so they have that big-game mentality and I really like that.”

Added Armstrong, “I’m excited. I want this team to be known as one of the best teams ever at Ocean City High School. We want to be known. We can’t be 4-6 because nobody will remember us. We have to be dominant.”

“Four years ago it was kind of dead around here and it wasn’t the best program, but since then we’ve been up and coming and we’ve surprised a lot of people, so we want to keep that going,” Beckmann said. “Coming into our last season, we don’t want to go out there and not make the playoffs. We want to go out there, make the playoffs, and make a run at the championship.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

OCEAN CITY SCHEDULE

(all games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

Sept. 6 at Lower Cape May

Sept. 13 vs. Egg Harbor Township

Sept. 20 at Bridgeton (7 p.m.)

Sept. 27 at Absegami (7 p.m.

Oct. 4 at St. Augustine Prep

Oct. 11 BYE

Oct. 18 vs. Triton

Oct. 26 at Oakcrest (1 p.m.)

Nov. 1 at Mainland

Nov. 28 vs. Pleasantville (10 a.m.)