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Susquehanna will try to translate positive numbers on the roster to improved numbers on the scoreboard when the high school football season gets underway Labor Day Weekend.
The Sabers opened practice last week with a large and enthusiastic turnout. Depending on whether freshmen end up participating with seventh and eighth graders in a junior high program, Susquehanna could have more than 40 players on the varsity roster when the season opens.
“It hasn’t been like this in a long time,” Sabers coach Dick Bagnall said. “We haven’t had this number of players since the early 80s.”
Bagnall is pleased not only with the number of players out, but the amount of work they performed in getting ready for the start of the season.
“They’re getting in shape,” Bagnall said before the first official practice. “We’re so far ahead of where we were last year, mainly because of the quarterback.”
Dan Kempa turned around a slow start last season to rush for 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore, helping the Sabers to three wins and some hope of reversing a long down cycle in the program.
“He’s the perfect fit for our offense,” Bagnall said. “He knows the offense and knows the plays.”
At this time a year ago, Kempa was an unproven player trying to win the starting spot and learn the offense. He started in the opener but had trouble with fumbles and the Sabers got off to a tough start.
After falling to Montrose and then being on the wrong end of Western Wayne ending a four-year losing streak, the Sabers averaged 31.9 points per game over the final eight games while going 2-3 in the division and finishing 3-7 overall.
Defensive struggles kept the high-scoring offense from producing more victories.
“The defense is coming around,” Bagnall said. “It’s looking very positive.
“The offense scored points, but our pass defense was lousy and we couldn’t stop teams like Old Forge that run right at you.
“We’ll try to so some things different and we’ll use some of the size we have.”
While Bagnall is not sure the positives can translate to more wins, he does have the advantage of dealing with an uncommon amount of depth.
Seniors Nick Felter and John Salinskas, who generally shared one running back spot last year, could be the two starters this time.
John Herbert, another senior, could fit into the mix, particularly as the fullback when the Sabers work from the I-formation.
“He’s a first-year player, but he’s a really impressive athlete,” Bagnall said. “He’s about 195 pounds and he has speed. He may step in at fullback.”
Junior Nick Marco is another player with good speed, who could see time at running back.
Seniors are back at all three receiver spots. Brad Weaver and Jordan Aldrich are the wide receivers and Chris Kimble is the tight end.
Sophomores Sean Stanley, Austin Cowperthwait and Cooper Quick provide depth at receiver. Stanley is also the back-up quarterback.
Steven Skurski is likely to be the second tight end when needed although Eric Onyon may also see time there. Both are juniors.
Rob Hubal returns to start at center.
Jarrett Coleman, a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder, and Mark WIllchock, a 6-foot-3, 240-pounder, give the Sabers size at guard. Both juniors have more experience on defense, but Coleman did start at times offensively.
“We’re going to try to use Jarrett two ways as much as we can,” Bagnall said.
Sophomores Brandon Saddlemire and Gage Piechocki could be the tackles, but juniors Ryan Lee and Sean MacDonald and 230-pound senior Justin Johnson also figure into the mix.
Senior Dave Szili could play at either center or tackle.
Coleman is a returning starter on defense where Willchock also started late in the year and Johnson also picked up experience. The three interior defensive line spots in the 5-2 defense are likely to be filled by some combination of those three and/or Saddlemire.
Kimble returns at one end spot and Skurski is likely to be at the other. Onyon and sophomore George Wilkes could also see significant time.
The center of the defense will feature two newcomers in the linebacker spots with Herbert and Marco.
Szili and Garrett Cuevas, a senior who has returned to the program, could also play.
The return of all four defensive backs gives the Sabers a chance to improve the pass defense.
Kempa, Salinkas, Felter and Weaver all return with the teams young receivers available to fill in as needed.
“What we lack there is size,” Bagnall said. “We’ll have to see how well we cover when we go against tall kids.”
AROUND THE DIVISION
While the Sabers figure to be improved, how it reflects in their record is uncertain.
Lackawanna Trail and Holy Cross, the two teams Susquehanna beat, as well as Carbondale and Mid Valley, the two immediately above the Sabers in the Lackawanna Football Conference Division 3 standings, all figure to be improved.
Defending champion Old Forge was the hardest hit by graduation, but even a slip from last year’s level of play could keep the Blue Devils in title contention.
Three-year starting linemen Kyle Holland and Mark Zambetti along with 1,000-yard rusher Brian Morris lead the way for Old Forge, which lost much of its passing game.
“We return four or five guys up front and our tailback, but the big thing for us is our receiving corps,” Old Forge coach Mike Schuback said. “We took a big shot there.”
Carbondale is led by Dominic DeAntonio, with more than 3,000 career passing yards, and Dylan Cerra, with more than 3,000 career rushing yards.
“If the kids have the right attitude and everyone is working to the same cause, I think we’re going to be able to accomplish a lot of our initial goals,” Chargers coach John Lasavage said.
Seniors Frank Wormuth, a 6-2, 215-pound tight end/linebacker, and Dennis O’Hara, a flanker/defensive back, return as two-way starters for Mid Valley.
“I think overall, we will have pretty good team speed,” said Mid Valley’s Frank Pazzaglia, the county’s all-time winningest coach. “We haven’t been a real strong team.
“We’ve worked real hard on getting stronger.”
Steve Jervis, the head coach at Tunkhannock from 2002 to 2007, takes over at Lackawanna Trail where he hopes some talented skill position players will help the team recover from a one-win season.
“For a small number of kids that we have, the quality is fantastic,” Jervis said. “It will be one of the most athletic teams I’ve ever coached.”
Senior running back Sean Fricke leads the way, along with 220-pound sophomore fullback Eric Laytos.
Holy Cross went winless in the division and managed just one win last season, Ben Tolerico’s first as head coach.
“Last year, I came in at the end of June and was really trying to put things together last minute,” Tolerico said.
Susquehanna will again play Holy Cross twice, starting with a non-league game at Susquehanna then following with the league contest in Dunmore.
The Sabers will open the season at home under the temporary lights against Montrose September 4.
Susquehanna is at Western Wayne September 11, then home for the non-league Holy Cross game September 19.
The Sabers finish the non-league portion of their schedule with games against the top two teams from Division 2 of the Wyoming Valley Conference - September 26 at defending champion GAR in Wilkes-Barre and October 3 at home against Lake-Lehman.
Division 3 play starts with games at Mid Valley October 9 and home against Lackawanna Trail October 17.
The Sabers are at Holy Cross in a Saturday afternoon game October 24. The game was originally scheduled for Friday night but Holy Cross started moving its games last week when it learned of trouble obtaining the portable lights it has used in the past.
The regular-season concludes with games at home against Carbondale October 31 and at Old Forge November 6.
The girls’ tennis season gets underway Monday with Montrose playing at Holy Cross and Valley View playing at Elk Lake in Lackawanna League Class AA Division matches.
Girls’ volleyball opens Lackawanna League play Tuesday, September 1 with Mountain View at Susquehanna, Lackawanna Trail at Elk Lake and Blue Ridge at Forest City.
Defending champion Honesdale is at Montrose, last year’s second-place finisher, in a Lackawanna League Northern Division golf match Tuesday.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
Kyle Busch Outruns Martin At Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn. - Kyle Busch outdueled Mark Martin in a dramatic two-car battle at Bristol Motor Speedway after the final restart of the 500-lap race with four laps left. In doing so, Busch gained his fourth victory of the season.
“Mark Martin - what a class act,” said Busch. “He deserved to win this race. I’m sorry he came home in second. I know how he feels. I drove as hard as I could.”
Kyle Busch, winner at Bristol.
Busch showed he is not out of the Chase picture, and Martin strengthened his hold for a Chase spot. Busch moved up two positions to 13th, 34 points behind 12th-place Matt Kenseth.
“He gave me plenty of room, and I got sideways,” said Martin, who led a race-high 240 laps. “We finally got a decent finish in a great race car. ... But anybody that thinks I was soft out there on the race track wasn't watching. I raced my guts out.”
Martin also gained two spots to 10th in the standings. The top-12 drivers after the Sept. 12 race at Richmond qualify for the Chase.
Martin was honored before the race for making his 1,000th NASCAR start. It marked his 746th Sprint Cup race, 231st Nationwide Series and 23rd Camping World Truck Series event. He is the third driver to achieve this mark, behind only Richard Petty and Michael Waltrip. In all three series, Martin has won 93 points-paying events.
“I wanted to win the race so bad,” said Marcus Ambrose, the third-place finisher. “850 horsepower, hot tires, a concrete track. I just got greedy on the right foot and spun the tires. Last restart I just tried to baby it to make sure I just solidified my position. I managed to get past Greg (Biffle) on the inside there. He was pinched down. That's all I needed to do.
“I'm learning as I go. When you get an opportunity to run at the front like that with six laps to go, you can't learn that anywhere else but when you're out there doing it. You're up against the best. When you make a mistake, you're exposed. But really proud to have finished third tonight and had a good last restart.
“I just tried always to keep my nose clean. I don't want to ruin anybody's race. I want to race as hard as I can. When my night is on, I'm going to race as hard as anyone and take those chances, try to do it clean. I did it at Watkins Glen on Kyle. I did it tonight.
“When I get my chance at the front, I try to do the right thing. I try to race 'em hard but fair.”
Greg Biffle ran fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Matt Kenseth.
Jimmie Johnson failed to win at Michigan last weekend due to fuel miscalculations, and endured more late problems at Bristol. Johnson pitted with the rest of the leaders, but his team had difficulty with the right-rear tire, and he was forced back down pit road.
Points leader Tony Stewart was plagued by early radio troubles, which forced him to pit. He lost two laps and was caught speeding on pit road. Later in the race, his car developed electrical problems, and he finished 33rd.
Top-15 Chase contenders with two to go: 1. Stewart-3564, 2. Johnson-3344, 3. J. Gordon-3310, 4. Hamlin-3141, 5. Edwards-3110, 6. Kurt Busch-3103, 7, Newman-2995, 8. Biffle-2986, 9. Montoya-2975, 10. Martin-2971, 11. Kahne-2963, 12. Kenseth-2945, 13. Kyle Busch-2911, 14. Vickers-2906, 15. Bowyer-2833.
RAGAN WINS, KYLE BUSCH WRECKS
David Ragan finished ahead of his teammate Carl Edwards in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race after Kyle Busch was involved in a wreck.
Ragan led the final 56 laps of the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at the .533-mile speedway, but Edwards was the big winner, as he trimmed Kyle Busch’s lead in the series standings from 339 to 248 points. Busch was the victim of an early accident and finished 28th, 59 laps down.
“It was a fun night to drive such a fast racecar,” said Ragan, who chose the outside line for the final restart, as the race went four laps beyond its scheduled distance. “The outside had been great all night. I really struggled passing cars on the bottom.
A hard wreck on Lap 52 forced Busch to give back much of the gains he made in the Nationwide standings last week when Edwards wrecked on Lap 3 of last Saturday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch had just passed Harvick for the lead and was barreling out of Turn 4 when Bristol rookie Chase Austin, with a tire down on his No. 07 Chevrolet, pulled down the track into Busch’s path. The resulting violent collision sent Busch’s Toyota hard into the frontstretch wall. Reed Sorenson’s Chevy also was collected in the wreck.
Busch climbed from his car and disappeared into his transporter, as NASCAR red-flagged the race for more than 15 minutes for track cleanup. It was a kinder, gentler Busch who emerged some 10 minutes later.
“I saw a slow car up high, and he came right across the nose, right in front of me,” Busch said. “I didn’t know where to go except where I was going. I had Harvick on my outside, and he was able to miss it. Pretty unfortunate there that we got caught up in that mess.
Top-10 points leaders after 24 of 35: 1. Kyle Busch-3900, 2. Edwards-3652, 3. Keselowski-3597, 4. Leffler-3353, 5. Allgaier-2843, 6. S. Wallace-2785, 7. Keller-2727, 8. Bliss-2713, 9. Gaughan-2649, 10. McDowell-2608.
KYLE BUSCH ENDS HORNADAY’S WIN STREAK
Kyle Busch ended Ron Hornaday’'s five-race winning streak, as he captured Wednesday night's O'Reilly 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Top-10 points leaders after 15 of 25: 1. Hornaday-2458, 2. Crafton-2247, 3. Skinner-2153, 4. Scott-2057, 5. Starr-2013, 6. Bodine-1994, 7. Braun-1931, 8. Setzer-1915, 9. Malsam-1991, 10. Crawford-1891.
Weekend Racing: The Cup teams have an off weekend. The Camping World Trucks are at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland track, while the Nationwide Series teams travel to Montreal, Canada.
Fri., Aug. 28, Camping World Series Chicagoland 250, race 16 of 25; Starting time: 8:30 pm (EDT); TV: Speed Channel.
Sun, Aug. 30, Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200, race 25 of 35; Starting time: 2 pm (EDT); TV: ESPN2.
Racing Trivia Question: How many NASCAR Truck championships has Ron Hornaday won?
Last Week’s Question: Which Cup team does Brian Vickers drive for? The No. 83 Red Bull Toyota.
You may contact the Racing Reporter at: email@example.com.
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