CURWENSVILLE – In 2009 the Curwensville Area High School football team seemed to subscribe to Head Coach Andy Evanko’s credo and finished 9-3 on the season which included the Allegheny Mountain League Championship.
“We want to be a better team tomorrow morning than we were today,” Evanko said in the middle of the second week of two-a-day practices. “We have to take each step up the ladder, and that progression will make us a better team.”
It’s not a new philosophy for Evanko, starting his eleventh year as head coach, but it has been a successful one for the Golden Tide.
After week-four of the 2009 campaign, the Black and Gold held a 2-2 mark and had just lost back-to-back games to AML-North rivals Coudersport (23-6) and Cameron County (19-18) respectively. However, they just kept putting the pieces together. The result was six straight wins, the AML-South title and a rematch with Cameron County for the AML Championship. Curwensville blanked the Red Raiders 6-0 in the title game.
The 2010 squad has many similarities with that championship team and has been working up the rungs of this year’s ladder to be just as successful. Like last season, the Tide offense will be focusing on a new quarterback; featuring a strong tested running game; filling key spots in both the defensive and offensive lines and finding the leadership to help the squad gel.
“We were blessed with a great group of athletes that will be hard to replace,” Evanko reminisced. “But they did leave behind a great work ethic to build on. We have 16 letter winners returning, and the seniors have done a great job of being leaders to help bring the younger guys along.”
Missing from this year’s squad due to graduation are names like Sam Gardner and Jed Greslick who powered the offense while the line strength came in the form of Jonathan Michaels, Brian Zemba, Richie Michael, Nick Hullihan and Billy White. Greslick was a workhorse a year ago mounting up 1956 total yards of rushing and receiving. Gardner in his first year as a starting quarterback threw for 569 yards and six touchdowns. Michaels was the team leader in sacks with five. While replacing talent is always a chore for high school sports, experience for the next class is vital.
“We have our work cut out for us to fill spots,” said Evanko, “but some of these kids were a vital part of last year’s success. They’ve played in big situations in big games, and that has to be the core of this team.”
The Golden Tide’s focus on the running game will surprise very few opponents, and the strength of the backfield does hold a source of comfort for the coaches in the early going. Junior Alex Holland will probably see most of the handoffs as he piled up 820 yards on the ground last year averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Clearing the way for Holland on the ground will be senior fullback Zach Dimmick.
The quarterback opening is the main source of conversation at any level, but this year’s search brought a pleasant surprise to the staff. Sophomore Hunter McCracken seemed to be the lone contender to move into the spot from the JV ranks at the end of last season. While McCracken is slated to see action at the position, the off-season emergence of senior Alec Starr has given the offense an added look.
“Alec has really done well over the summer at the quarterback position,” Evanko said. “Right now he and Hunter are running an even race. The team has nothing less to show with either one on the field. And, Kyle Johns as a freshman has shown himself well in camp. We are very comfortable with our backfield right now.”
That backfield could eventually be more productive than a year ago as a host of receivers for the Black and Gold could open up the offense and keep defenses guessing. Along with Holland, who had one receiving score last year, the quarterbacks should find comfort in able senior targets Shae Best, Kyle Barrett, Garrett LaBorde, Shelby McGarry and Shane Hoover. Best scored twice on pass plays in 2009 while Barrett scampered in for a 60-yard catch-and-run last season.
“We’re not going to lose our image as a running team – we like to control the clock,” Evanko assured. “But we are blessed with good receivers, and not using them would be wrong.”
Making the offense click by creating alleys and giving time to throw falls on the push of a young offensive-line. However, that line will be anchored by veterans, Jake Pentz, (senior), Todd Munchak (junior) and Spencer Smeal (sophomore).
“We live and die on the offensive line,” said Evanko. “There are six or seven guys fighting for the job, but our big concern is the depth right now. The boys are doing well, and staying healthy will keep us solid.”
This year’s kicking duties will be taken over by relative newcomers Smeal and Taylor Bumbarger. Bumbarger split the uprights from 30 yards in last year’s powder-puff game and was challenged to do the same for the football team in this, her senior year. Not backing down from that challenge. Bumbarger may see action on extra-points and field goals while Smeal will handle the kick-offs.
“Taylor has done a good job,” Evanko noted. “She has a strong and accurate leg. She and Spencer will both handle the kicking duties.”
The Golden Tide defense will be looked at to to keep opponents off the boards and has the returning talent to do the job. Inside linebackers, Holland, Dimmick and senior Jeremy Bloom are all seasoned at their position. Holland returns as the leading tackler on last year’s squad with 94 while Dimmick posted 60 knockdowns. Holding down the outside backer spots will be senior Kyle Kyler, sophomore Jesse Zorger, LaBorde and sophomore Brad Coudriet. The defensive line finds Barrett, Munchak and Starr putting on the pressure while safeties Best, McGarry, Hoover, McCracken and senior Lewis Rhine will patrol the secondary.
Specialty coverage will feature Best and Dimmick sharing in the punting role. Returning punts will be Hoover, and taking kickoffs will be Holland and Best.
“Offensively and defensively we seem pretty even at this point,” said Evanko. “We have to just keep improving every day. I have to give a lot of credit to my coaching staff. Most have been with me for years and have done all that I could ask of them and more. They are a big part of our success.”
The Golden Tide will kick off the regular season at home against Smethport on September 3. The Hubbers will invade Riverside Stadium for a 7:00 P.M. start.
3 – SMETHPORT
11 – @ Sheffield (1:30 P.M.)
17 – PORT ALLEGANY
24 – OTTO-ELDRED
1 -@ Kane*
8 – @ Brockway* (7:30 P.M.)
15 – RIDGWAY*
22 – ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC*
29 – @ Johnsonburg*
All games start at 7:00 P.M. unless otherwise noted.
*AML-South conference games
*Kyle Barrett TE-DT, *Shae Best SE-DB, *Jeremy Bloom RB-ILB, Taylor Bumbarger K, *Zach Dimmick RB-ILB, Shane Hoover SE-DB, Mark Ishler SE-DB, *Kyle Kyler WR-OLB, *Garrett LaBorde TE-ILB, *Shelby McGarry WR-DB, *Jake Pentz T-DT, *Lewis Rhine SE-DB,* Alec Starr QB-DE.
Jason Baker WR-OKB, Cody Bloom TE-ILB, *Chad Desmett T, DE, Francis Goodroe WR-OLB, *Alex Holland RB-ILB, Josh Ireland TE-OLB, Seth Michaels G-T, *Todd Munchak G-T, Tyler Passmore TE-OLB, Kyle Scribe G-DT, Jarrett Sheeder T-DE, *Jesse Zorger WR-OLB.
Adam Benamati SE-DB, Jason Bloom C-DT, Kyle Bloom G-DT, Brad Coudriet RB-OLB, Josh Greslick RB-DB, Hunter McCracken QB-DB, Austin Pollick WR-DB, Spencer Smeal C-DE, Brad Stubbs T-ILB, Nathan Wriglesworth SE-DB.
Kyle Johns QB-DB, Philip McCracken T-DT, Zack Tibbens RB-DB.
* Denotes Letterwinners
Head Coach – Andy Evanko; Assistants – Chris Folmar, Mickey Morgillo, J.T. Irwin, Brian Dimmick, Joe Bennett.