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By Zach Miller and Brandon Stoneburg

With six weeks left to the start of the high school football season, The Evening Sun’s Countdown to Kickoff continues with a look at the South Western Mustangs. Brandon Stoneburg and Zach Miller will continue highlighting one team from the Hanover-Adams area every Friday leading up to the start of the season.

South Western Mustangs

Last year: 5-5, tied for second in Division I

Coach: Damian Poalucci (4th season)

Key players lost: WR/DB Brady Thayer (161 receiving yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs), LB Tyler Jachelski (86 tackles), DB Ryan Krebs (70 tackles, 6 INTs), DL Seth Janney (51 tackles, 7 sacks), K Andrew Slater (27-33 PATs)

Key players returning: QB/P Brock Geiman (1,489 passing yards, 14 TDs, 8 INTs, 4 rush TDs, 35.8 punt average), RB Robby Harbison (629 rushing yards, 4 TDs), RB/WR/KR Andrew Hartlaub (1,303 all-purpose yards, 29.3 kickoff return average, 14 total TDs), WR/DB Miles Francis (734 all-purpose yards, 7 total TDs, 1 INT), WR Noah Staub (432 receiving yards, 5 TDs), LB/DB Tyler Fulmore (50 tackles, 1 sack), LB Skylar Bowman (***returning from injury)

Key stretch: Oct. 2-16 (vs. Central York, at Red Lion, vs. Dallastown)

Yikes. Talk about a tough stretch of games. Other than South Western, those are the three teams projected to be at the top of Division I after they finished 1, 2 and 3 last season, and the Mustangs get them back-to-back-to-back.

Last year, the Mustangs used this stretch to build some confidence. They went 1-2, but the win was an impressive, 20-0 shutout over Red Lion and the two losses were both on the road - a 20-13 loss overtime loss to Central and a heartbreaking 28-27 loss to Dallastown. If the Mustangs expect to compete for a division title this season, they'll most likely need to win at least two of these three to separate themselves from the pack.

Circle this game on the schedule: Sept. 4 at Gettysburg

We skipped the obvious choice, which was the season finale against top rival Spring Grove, and went with the season opener at Gettysburg. Why? Well, last year's matchup was one of the best games we saw all season. There were fireworks (62 combined first-half points), big plays (five touchdowns of more than 30 yards) and a dramatic finish (South Western turned the ball over on downs at midfield, trailing by three with a minute left after the Warriors scored on their previous drive). Would it be too much to ask for an encore? Please?

Storyline to follow: Can the Mustangs live up to the hype and compete for a division title?

Maybe the media (that's us) has hyped the Mustangs squad up too much, too early. Yes, it's July and crowning a team the division favorite two months before the season even starts seems silly. But, us reporter-types love to speculate and there are plenty of reasons to believe this South Western team can make a title run:

1. Does any team in the division have more momentum entering the 2015 season than South Western?

The Mustangs won four of their last five games last season with the one loss being the one-point heartbreaker to Dallastown, and outscored opponents by 22 points on the season.

2. No other team in the division brings back as much talent as the Mustangs do.

Brock Geiman, who finished top five in the league last season in passing yards, touchdowns and QB rating, returns as the division's top signal-caller. Noah Staub, who recently committed to Towson University, will return as Geiman's top target and arguably the leagues' top wideout. The top four rushers are all back, led by junior Drew Hartlaub who did a little of everything last season, totaling 1,303 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns. Good luck to defensive coordinators trying to game plan a way to stop that offense.

3. The Corral and a favorable schedule.

Everyone knows it's a tough place to play. The Mustangs are 21-11 at home in the last six seasons and they'll get their toughest matchups (Cedar Cliff, Carlisle, Central, Dallastown) all at home.

However: If the Mustangs truly have a chance to compete for a division crown, the defense will have to improve. After finishing 18th out of 23 teams in yards allowed, South Western will have to replace their top three tacklers, including Seth Janney (51 tackles, 7 sacks), who is transferring to Malvern Prep, and Ryan Krebs, who hauled in six interceptions. Head Coach Damian Poalucci emphasizes a "next man up" mentality and junior Skylar Bowman is expected to return from injury and slide into Janney's vacant position.

2015 ScheduleSept. 4: at Gettysburg

Sept. 11: Cedar Cliff

Sept. 18: Carlisle

Sept. 25: at New Oxford

Oct. 2: Central York

Oct. 9: at Red Lion

Oct. 16: Dallastown

Oct. 23: at William Penn

Oct. 30: Northeastern

Nov. 6: at Spring Grove

Countdown to kickoff scheduleJune 12: New Oxford

June 19: Hanover

June 26: Littlestown

July 3: Spring Grove

July 10: Biglerville

July 17: Fairfield

July 24: South Western

July 31: Delone Catholic

Aug. 7: Gettysburg

Aug. 14: Bermudian Springs

Aug. 21: Over/Unders

Aug. 28: Top returning units

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