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Dan Kempa is back along with much of the offensive line that opened holes for his 1,000-yard rushing season from the quarterback position.
That is reason enough for the Susquehanna Sabers to be in position to continue on a positive note after returning to winning ways with a 6-4 record in 2009.
If the Sabers can continue to show progress in other areas, another improvement on their record and contention for the Lackawanna Football Conference Division 3 title are distinct possibilities.
Susquehanna is deep in the line, making it possible the team may be able to control play up front, something the Sabers were not able to do against the division’s best opponents a year ago.
After two years developing the running part of Susquehanna’s option offense, Sabers coach Dick Bagnall is hopeful that everything is in place for Kempa to become more of a passing threat.
The return of most of the defense means the team could cut down on the 22.6 points per game it allowed last year. The Sabers gave up 131 points in their four losses.
“The offensive line is our strength,” Bagnall said. “We have most of the offensive line intact.”
The Sabers have enough back for Bagnall to consider the possibility of a rare luxury for a small school program.
“I’d like to get into playing one way with the linemen,” he said. “We do have depth there.
“We do have some linemen that can compete.”
Rob Hubal returns at center, but after he suffered a shoulder injury last year, Bagnall is considering using Hubal only on defense if Ryan Lee is ready to take over.
Mark Willchock, who started until suffering a knee injury, and Gage Piechocki are back as guards.
Brandon Saddlemire and George Wilkes are back as the tackles.
Jarrett Coleman, Hubal and Willchock all have experience in the interior defensive line spots.
Steve Skurski returns at one end spot. Wilkes was a part-time starter at the other, but he may concentrate more on offense.
If the line develops as hoped, it can only add to the versatility of the offense.
“Kempa is throwing the ball real well,” Bagnall said. “He’s got some wide receivers this year that can catch the football and have some speed.
“We’re looking to throw when we want to, not when we have to. I’m very confident we’ll be able to do a lot more of that.”
Cole Mallery, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore who got some varsity experience as a freshman, is the likely flanker despite being slowed by an injury in the preseason.
“He’s a gifted athlete who can do anything,” Bagnall said.
Sean Stanley and returning starter Austin Cowperthwait are also available at wide receiver, along with Cooper Quick.
Nick Marco gained some experience last year at fullback.
Jesse Pruitt has spent much of the preseason at tailback while Greg Price tries to get ready for the start of the season after suffering an offseason ankle injury.
Behind a veteran line, the Sabers can put a returning starter in just about every spot, depending on the alignment and combinations they choose.
Marco and Price are both returning starters at linebacker where Pruitt is also back. Kempa, Mallery, Stanley and Cowperthwait all have starting experience in the defensive backfield.
“I feel pretty good about the secondary,” Bagnall said. “At linebacker, we’re a little thin and not real big.”
LFC DIVISION 3
The Sabers are likely to join Mid Valley in challenging defending champion Old Forge for the title.
Montrose has moved down from Division 2 and along with Holy Cross and Lackawanna Trail returns many of last year’s starters. All three teams were just 1-9 overall last season when the only division victory they produced was Lackawanna Trail’s win over Holy Cross. The large group of returnees should allow all three to close the gap on the upper half of the division, reducing the number of blowouts, but they have to make great strides to turn that improvement into significantly better records.
Susquehanna opens at home September 4 against Hanover Area. The Sabers will once again play one Friday night home game, October 1 against Carbondale.
The complete schedule is: Sept. 4, HANOVER AREA; Sept. 11, at Holy Redeemer; Sept. 17, at Nanticoke; Sept. 24, at Lakeland; Oct. 1, CARBONDALE; Oct. 9, HOLY CROSS; Oct. 15, at Montrose; Oct. 23, LACKAWANNA TRAIL; Oct. 29, at Mid Valley; Nov. 6, OLD FORGE.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
Kyle Busch Sweeps Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn. - Kyle Busch held off David Reutimann and Jamie McMurray to win Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway and complete his unprecedented sweep of three NASCAR national touring events at the same track in the same week.
“The pit stops tonight were flawless,” said Busch. “Jimmie (Johnson) beat us out one time just because of pit selection. But unfortunately he had his troubles, but we were able to just get out there and kind of set sail. We had a really fast race car. Coming through the field was fun. Passing in front of those guys and working traffic the way you had to work traffic and just kind of pick and choose your way; do you go high, do you go low. You had to have a car that would really work anywhere.”
Kyle Busch swept all three Bristol races.
On Lap 429 of 500, Busch nosed past Reutimann after an intense 15-lap battle and pulled away to a Sprint Cup victory that fit well with his Wednesday win in the Camping World Truck Series and his Friday triumph in the Nationwide Series.
The victory was Busch’s fourth at the .533-mile track, his third of the season and the 19th of his career.
“I mean, we had a good race car, and you know, we battled being loose at times through the center and loose on exit, and then we made the exit better but hurt the center, and that's kind of what ultimately got us at the end,” said runner-up, David Reutimann, who battled a stomach virus all week.
“You know, it was a good race. I enjoyed racing the guys up front, Jamie and Kyle and those guys. You know, it's just a - I feel really, really good about the finish, but I'm not feeling so hot right now, so I'm ready to go to sleep at some point.”
McMurray came home third.
“I mean, it's pretty remarkable what he's (Busch) been able to do this weekend, especially with owning his own truck team,” said McMurray. “I know that's been fairly stressful for him. And obviously the Nationwide, it's - I don't know, it's amazing how many races they can win in that car. But then to be able to come out tonight and win again, he obviously has a really good feel for this place, and he just had a really good weekend. He's been close to doing that before, so that's really impressive what Kyle has been able to do.”
Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Juan Montoya, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch, and Matt Kenseth were the remaining top-10 finishers.
After leading 175 laps, Jimmie Johnson was fighting for position on Lap 262 when contact from Juan Montoya’s Chevrolet sent Johnson’s Chevy spinning down the backstretch and into the Turn 3 wall. The polesitter lost 66 laps during repairs and finished 35th.
Denny Hamlin snapped a drive shaft near the midpoint of the race and lost 26 laps in the garage while his crew replaced it. He finished 34th. The only consolation for Johnson and Hamlin is that each has a series-best five victories, good for 50 bonus points to start the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran as high as seventh, but finished13th.
Top-15 Chase contenders with two races left before the Chase begins: 1. Harvick-3521, 2. J. Gordon-3242, 3. Kyle Busch-3170, 4. Edwards-3113, 5. Hamlin-3108, 6. Stewart-3107, 7. Burton-3101, 8. Kenseth-3095, 9. Johnson-3077, 10. Kurt Busch-3073, 11. Biffle-3055, 12. Bowyer-2920, 13. McMurray-2820, 14. Martin-2819, 15. Newman-2820. Note: Only the top-12 drivers will make the Chase.
Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in Friday night’s Nationwide Series, Food City 250 after bumping Brad Keselowski out of the way on lap 219 of the 250-lap race.
Busch and Keselowski were the class of the race, with Keselowski leading three times for 62 laps and Busch leading three times for a race-high 116 laps. Keselowski held the point from lap 162 to 218, but after doggedly pursuing the championship leader, Busch finally made his way past Keselowski in between turns one and two.
But as soon as Busch’s car got in front of Keselowski on the backstretch, the nose of Keselowski’s Dodge nudged the rear bumper of Busch’s Toyota, sending Busch scraping along the wall.
Busch never let off the throttle and quickly got in behind Keselowski as they entered turn three, and just before turn four, Busch reached Keselowski and nosed his Toyota into the back of Keselowski, sending him spinning, with the rear of Keselowski’s Dodge contacting the outside wall.
Busch motored on, and with the exception of two late-race restarts where he was briefly challenged by Elliott Sadler, Busch checked out to collect his second Nationwide Series win at Bristol.
“I raced and raced and raced him (Keselowski), I don’t know for 12, 15 laps,” said Busch, who is two for two this week at Bristol, as he won Wednesday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the .533-mile oval. “I thought I had him cleared on the back and I moved up in front of him, and instead of him doing an Earnhardt crossover move he decided that he would just run into the back of me and put me in the fence. So, that’s Brad Keselowski. So, you know, I went down into the next corner and dumped him. He does it to everybody else. Why can’t I do it to him?”
The victory was Busch’s 10th Nationwide Series win this season, tying him with the mark set by Sam Ard during his championship run in 1983 and tied by Busch in 2008. It was also Busch’s 40th career Nationwide Series victory, inching him ever closer to the all-time Nationwide Series win total of 48 set by Mark Martin.
Top-10 Nationwide points leaders after 24 of 35: 1. Keselowski-3830, 2. Edwards-3517, 3. Kyle Busch-3396, 4. Allgaier-3123, 5. Menard-3036, 6. Harvick-2908, 7. S. Wallace-2808, 8. Bayne-2721, 9. Leffler-2620, 10. Gaughan-2587.
Top-10 Camping World Truck leaders after 16 of 25: 1. Bodine-2533, 2. Almirola-2322, 3. Peters-2283, 4. Sauter-2245, 5. Hornaday-2210, 6. Crafton-2178, 7. Dillon-2172, 8. Skinner-2116, 9. Starr-1994, 10. Carmichael-1863.
Weekend Racing: The Cup teams have an off weekend. The Nationwide Series is at the Montreal, Canada road course, while the Camping world Trucks are at Chicagoland Speedway.
Fri., Aug. 27, Camping World Trucks, race 17 of 25; Starting time: 8:30 p.m. ET; TV: Speed.
Sun., Aug 29, Nationwide Series NAPA Auto Parts 200, race 25 of 35: Starting time: 2 p.m. ET; TV: ESPN2.
Racing Trivia Question: Who was the youngest driver to win a Cup race? Hint. It happened in 2005.
Last Week’s Question: Richard Petty leads all drivers with 200 career Cup wins. Who has the second most wins? David Pearson is second with 105 wins.
You may contact the Racing Reporter at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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