Bermudian Springs football coach Jon Defoe faced an unenviable task this season.
The Eagles lost to graduation Adam Berryman and Tyler Fitzkee, two running backs who had combined for 3,323 yards and 50 touchdowns last season. To replace them, the Eagles had Tristan Sponseller, who hadn't played the year before, and Zach Stroup, who rushed just twice the previous year.
"It was the most inexperienced, most unknown backfield I've returned," Defoe said. "You think some guys can step in and make plays and carry the load. Until they do it on a varsity field on Friday night, you never know."
The pair proved themselves capable with 38 touchdowns and 2,384 rushing yards. They performed well behind an offensive line that included juniors Heath McLaren and Austin Hartzell and alongside senior quarterback Mike Moore, whose accurate arm kept defenses from focusing upon the run.
"(Sponseller and Stroup) just got better with each passing week," Defoe said. "They made a real nice 1-2 punch. As they gained confidence and got more comfortable and started producing, you could see our offense take off."
Not that the defense needed much help.
The Eagles, who finished 12-1, allowed opponents an average of 10 points per game and gave up eight or fewer 10 times. Exclude Wyomissing's 44 points in the District 3 Class AA championship game, and the Eagles allowed just 86 points.
A key to their success, Fairfield coach Darwin Seiler said after his team's
"We spent a lot of time on recognizing formations and recognizing what threats there are," Defoe said. "We're a strong believer (in), if you don't start in the right position, it's tough to end up in the right position. Our kids did an extremely good job paying attention to those details."
One game stands out for the Eagles defense.
Eastern York running back Alex Cooley rushed this season for 2,845 yards and 37 touchdowns on 254 attempts, an average of 11.1 yards per carry. He posted eight games in which he accumulated more than 200 rushing yards, including a 500-yard game against Hanover.
Against the Eagles, he rushed for just 44 yards and no touchdowns on 12 carries.
"They were excited about the challenge," Defoe said. "They were excited we held him to 65 yards last year. We used that as a challenge."
Injuries were a challenge for the Eagles. Three players, including highly regarded sophomore Ryan Markle and Stroup, broke collarbones. Another tore an ACL, and yet another tore an MCL. Moore suffered a concussion and was limited to just offense in the season-ending loss to Wyomissing.
"I've never experienced a season with kids missing this much time," Defoe said. "I think that's what made the season so special, repeat back-to-back 10-0 seasons. We were always reshuffling the deck.
"It's extremely difficult to go 10-0. To do it back-to-back years, you have the bull's-eye on your back. That was pretty special. Coming into this season, there was talk two losses might keep you in the division race. To overcome the various obstacles you can face and go 10-0 is not easy to do."
The Eagles graduate 21 seniors, including offensive stars Stroup and Moore and defensive linemen Curtis Laughman, Jake Slonaker and Chris McManama. A group of 16 seniors finished the last three years 17-2 at home.
"You don't do that without some strong leadership," Defoe said. "We had a solid senior class that was a huge part of the success we had."
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