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Football coaches like to see a steady progression through three weeks of preseason practice and the two scrimmages that they use to prepare their teams.
The 2005 season provided many signs that Susquehanna's football program is headed back in the right direction.
After a tough time in the first scrimmage with Athens and a tougher time with Wyalusing in the second scrimmage, however, Sabers coach Dick Bagnall is not sure how to interpret the 2006 preseason.
"We didn't improve from the first scrimmage," Bagnall said. "I'm hoping we (scrimmaged) two real good teams, which I think we did."
Just in case, Bagnall is moving players around in the final week of preparation before Saturday's non-league opener at Wilkes-Barre against GAR.
"We have a lot of work to do, moving things around," he said. "We can't sit where we are."
The Sabers have several players back from the group that ended a 34-game losing streak and went on to finish 4-6 in 2005.
Leading the way is quarterback Anthony Dorunda, who ran for 856 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while passing for 745 yards and six more scores.
The top two rushers and top two receivers are back, but one probably won't be adding to his offensive statistics.
With the team lacking size up front, receiving leader Nick Ott has been moved from tight end to tackle.
Cody Norris, the second-leading receiver, returns at flanker.
C.J. Felter, the second-leading rusher, is back at one running back position.
Julian Andujar, freshman Nick Felter and Ryan Hawk have a shot at the other running back spot.
Norris will be joined at wide receiver by Travis Finley and returning starter Dustin Shaw.
Senior Cameron Arthur and sophomore Cody Scepaniak, who gained some experience last season as the back-up quarterback, will see time at tight end.
Brian Brady and Jason Jenkins return to make the Sabers solid at guard.
The second tackle spot and the center position are among those being shuffled around this week. Francis Lake, Cody Kuiper and Robert Dorunda are all candidates for playing time.
Jenkins returns at nose guard to lead a reshaped defensive front. Ott again makes the move from end to tackle. Brady moves from linebacker to end.
Lake, Kuiper and Robert Dorunda all have a chance to see time at tackle.
Part-time 2005 starter Tony Neu, Andujar or Arthur could be the other end.
Kuiper, who came on strong late last season, is likely to be at linebacker along with Hubal. Robert Dorunda could see some time there eventually.
C.J. Felter returns at another linebacker spot.
Shaw and Anthony Dorunda return in the secondary where they will be joined by Finley and possibly Scepaniak.
Anthony Dorunda finished second on the team in tackles last season and also intercepted four passes.
"We'll just have to regroup from the scrimmages and go from there," Bagnall said.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Forest City's team and Montrose junior Devlin Conrad stood out during the Irving Jackman Memorial Tournament to start the high school golf season.
Forest City finished third, best among Lackawanna League Northern Division teams, and behind only Southern Division powers Abington Heights and Scranton Prep.
The Foresters edged fourth-place Montrose, which was led by Conrad's 1-over-par, 73 at Scranton Municipal Golf Course.
Conrad finished tied for second overall and won a playoff with Scranton Prep's Ricky Gross for the low junior trophy.
Drew Sparks shot 75 and Wade Malicky shot 76 to lead Forest City and add suspense to the Northern Division showdown, which was scheduled for Tuesday at Montrose Country Club.
"Forest City seems like the team to beat in our division," said Mike Zuba, who coaches the defending champion Meteors. "They have everybody back."
The Meteors may not be as deep as usual, but they still looked strong in the Jackman.
Junior Chris Maxey shot an 82, while two freshmen figured into the four-man score. Peter Maxey shot 80 and Nick Newell had 82.
"I was very pleased with the scores we turned in," Zuba said.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The rest of the fall high school sports join the action Friday, highlighted by the opening of football season.
Jack Keihl makes his debut as Montrose coach Friday night at home against defending District 2 Class AA champion Hanover Area.
Susquehanna is the last Lackawanna Football Conference team to open its season. The Sabers play Saturday against GAR on the artificial turf at Meyers High School's Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
Once again this season, we will be predicting the outcome of all games involving LFC teams. Our record last season was 89-28 (76.1 percent).
This week's predictions with the home team in CAPS: Hanover Area 21, MONTROSE 6; GAR 26, Susquehanna 20; DUNMORE 27, Old Forge 20; Valley View 14, LAKELAND 13; WYOMING VALLEY WEST 35, Scranton 14; NORTH POCONO 23, Riverside 14; WEST SCRANTON 17, Scranton Prep 7; Abington Heights 21, HAZLETON AREA 20; LACKAWANNA TRAIL 20, Mid Valley 6; READING HOLY NAME 34, Bishop O'Hara 28; POCONO MOUNTAIN WEST 41, Wallenpaupack 13; Honesdale 48, WESTERN WAYNE 0; Delaware Valley 32, EAST STROUDSBURG NORTH 18; Athens 20, CARBONDALE 18.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
The Racing Reporter
KENSETH Sweeps Bristol, Bristol, TN – Former NASCAR Winston Cup champion Matt Kenseth is back in championship form as he took over the lead late in Saturday night’s 500-lap, Sharpie 500, at Bristol Motor Speedway to win his second race in as many nights at the half-mile track.
Matt Kenseth Celebrates his Saturday night Cup win at Bristol.
Kenseth, who also won Friday night's Busch Series race, held off a hard-charging Kyle Busch to capture his fourth Nextel Cup event this season. The win clinched him a spot in the Chase, the 10-race dash to the championship that begins September 17 at New Hampshire.
“These guys are running good,” said Kenseth. “They are operating at a championship level. I was worried about going into the Chase and not running good, but this is what it’s all about, bringing your best piece and go there and try to win some races.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was third while Scott Riggs put a dramatic inside move on four-time champion Jeff Gordon with two laps remaining to finish fourth, with Gordon finishing fifth. Rookie Denny Hamlin was sixth and Carl Edwards was seventh. Ryan Newman, pole-sitter Jeff Burton, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-10.
Dale, Jr., starting 40th, used patience as he reached the top-25 by lap 65, then climbing further into the top-15 before opting not to pit on lap 118, which gave him the lead for the first time. He led the race until lap 400, when he slid wide and Matt Kenseth took the lead for good.
“We weren't very good Friday and these guys buckled down and worked hard when it was hot as hell and gave me a great car with a good motor,” said Dale, Jr. “We started so far back we needed to be fast, but we also needed to make good pit calls, so I give credit to (crew chief) Tony (Eury) Jr.
“And my pit crew was awesome all night – every stop was great and we gained each time we made a stop. They had a helluva night all night. That's a career night for those boys. When you start at the back, you have to make decisions early to gain the track position, so we stayed out when a lot of other guys stopped. This is good for my confidence heading toward the Chase.”
Mark Martin had a terrible night. His 28th place finish dropped him from fourth to tenth in the Chase. Roush Racing president, Geoff Smith said if Martin returns to the Nextel Cup Series full time in 2007 it won't be for Roush.
“You won't see Mark Martin in a Roush Racing owned [Cup] program,” Smith said. “All our programs are sold out with the drivers we currently have. It was great of Mark to run this year.
“We're expecting Mark to be the lead guy in the Truck Series. That sponsorship is in place. We've got a couple of details to work out with Ford Motor Company, but that's where we expect to be. If he does more than that, it'll be supplemental.”
Points leader Jimmie Johnson, who wound up 10th after a so-so run, also clinched a spot in the Chase.
Current Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship: 1. Johnson-3499, 2. Kenseth-3492, 3. Harvick-3178, 4. Kyle Busch-3097, 5. J. Gordon-3091, 6. Hamlin-3070, 7. Burton-3064, 8. Stewart-3056, 9. Earnhardt-3051, 10. Martin-3049, 11. Kahne-2959, 12. Biffle-2798. 13. Edwards-2788.
These are the only drivers eligible for this year’s Chase. All others have been mathematically eliminated.
Will WARD BURTON Return To Cup Racing? There have been many reports that Ward Burton would return to Nextel Cup as a driver for Toyota next season.
Another rumor had him running the last race of the season at Homestead.
“Not so,” said Burton. “We have talked with several teams and a lot of stuff has been put on the table, but we have no contracts or commitments from anyone.”
But he added that he was still confident he could do a terrific job for any team and sponsor.
Burton hasn’t competed in NASCAR since he drove the No. 22 Caterpillar for Bill Davis Racing in 2004. But this year, with the many Nextel Cup driver-team changes that have taken place and the coming of new Toyota teams, his name has been brought up several times.
Burton is a seasoned, winning driver who has a following of loyal fans. He’s also eager to return. So logically, he would be a good choice.
But it isn’t all that easy.
There’s the sponsorship thing, which can cost up to $20-million.
Robert Yates Racing said it would put Burton in one of its two cars – provided he brought along a sponsor. Yates currently runs two Cup cars, but will only have sponsorship for the No. 38, which is now being driven by 28 year-old David Gilliland.
Yates’ No. 88, driven by Dale Jarrett will lose UPS as the major sponsor when Jarrett moves to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2007.
If, somehow, Burton could come up with a high-dollar sponsor, he most definitely would be able to find a ride. Lacking a sponsor, there are two things working against him.
First, at his age (44) and the current trend of hiring young – sometimes very young – drivers, he’s not going to be a high priority on many team lists.
But also, he’s been absent from Nextel Cup competition for over two years. The longer you’re away, the quicker you are forgotten.
Burton probably still has the desire and skills to get the job done. But as time passes, less attention is going to be paid to him as more new drivers enter the Cup ranks.
Toyota now has filled five of its seven driver spots with the addition of Jeremy Mayfield to Bill Davis racing. Mayfield will join Dave Blaney at Davis.
Dale Jarrett will join Michael Waltrip at MWR. That team needs one more driver for their third team.
Team Red Bull needs one more driver to go along with Brian Vickers.
Les Unger of Toyota said the Toyota Camry has been approved by NASCAR for the 2007 season, and the bulk of its 2007 engine has been turned in.
“We’re moving along and looking forward to next year,” said Unger.
HARVICK Is Runaway Busch Leader – Top-10 Busch Series leaders: 1. Harvick-4095, 2. Edwards-3576, 3. Hamlin-3533, 4. Boyer-3429, 5. Yeley-3391, 6. Menard-3032, 7. Kyle Busch-2975, 8. Biffle-2921, 9. Sauter-2815, 10. K. Wallace-2760.
BODINE Continues As Truck Leader – Top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders: 1. Bodine-2624, 2. Benson-2470, 3. Reutimann-2394, 4. Musgrave-2380, 5. Crawford-2323, 6. Starr-2295, 7. Cook-2248, 8. Sprague-2246, 9. Hornaday-2221, 10. Bliss-2201.
The Nextel Cup and Busch Series cars race at the 2-mile California Speedway. The Craftsman Trucks have the weekend off.
Saturday, September 2, Busch Series Ameriquest 300, race 27 of 35, 150 laps, 10 p.m. TV: TNT.
Sunday, September 3, Nextel Cup Sony HD 500, race 25 of 36, 250 laps, 7 p.m. TV: NBC.
Racing Trivia Question: Which Cup team is Ken Schrader driving for this year?
Last Week’s Question: What year did Alan Kulwicki win the Winston Cup championship? Answer. It was 1992.
Last Week’s Question: You may read additional racing stories at www.race500.com.
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