Northeastern, Suburban, Hanover out to prove 2015 was no fluke
For the three YAIAA football teams that wear orange and black, it's been a long time since so much optimism surrounded the start of football season.
For many years at Northeastern, York Suburban and Hanover, each fall started with wishful thinking masking the dread of struggling through another season only to miss the playoffs.
But 2015 saw all three teams reach heights they hadn't been to in decades — if at all. The success brought fans back into the bleachers and excitement back into the game atmosphere.
Now, 2016 offers the chance for all three to prove they aren't a one-hit wonder. It's an opportunity to build on last year's success and add new memories to the ones they'll never forget.
For Northeastern, 2015 brought an 8-2 regular season, followed by a 48-12 blasting of Northern Lebanon in the opening round of the District 3 Class AAA playoffs. It was the Bobcats' first playoff win in program history.
“We played our hearts out there and we all cramped up celebrating," senior running back Chris Whack recalls. "It was awesome.”
For York Suburban, 2015 brought an undefeated run through YAIAA Division II play for the program's first division title since 1989, when the Trojans were part of a five-way tie for first place the division. It was the program's first outright division title since winning Division I in 1982.
For Hanover, 2015 brought a 9-1 regular season, a playoff appearance and a share of the Division III title. The Nighthawks hadn't won nine games in a season or a division title since 1996. In the previous four seasons, for comparison, the Nighthawks had won a combined four games.
“So many people would come up to me before games and say, ‘I haven’t been to a game in forever,’" Hanover coach Bill Reichart said. "It was almost like we were forgotten about and people were saying, ‘You’re kind of worth watching now.’”
READ MORE: Hanover looks to follow up dream season
In each case, the orange-and-black-clad team exceeded the majority of expectations. The players reveled in winning games that few in the media picked them to win.
But 2016 will be different. Gone are the days of going into games as the underdog. With success comes expectations, and with expectations comes pressure to win.
“We definitely hear from a lot of the surrounding schools," Whack said. "There’s always gonna be a target on our back because we’re a good program and we have a lot of good athletes at our school. Everyone’s always gonna be coming at us.”
Northeastern will have one of the most experienced teams in the league this season, returning eight starters on offense and seven starters on defense from last year's team. The Bobcats led the league in total defense last season, but they do lose GameTimePA first-team all-stars Gary Gobernik and Fernando Flores to graduation. They've never won a Division I title.
“Our biggest thing right now is finding leadership," Northeastern coach Jon Scepanski said. "We have a good bit of guys coming back, but the guys we lost were very good leaders. That’s the spot we’re trying to fill right now. I think if we can figure that out, we should be OK.”
York Suburban loses county-record-setting quarterback Thomas Merkle and school-record-setting wide receiver Collin Mailman to graduation, but returns the majority of its starting lineup.
“Everyone thought we had, like, 20 seniors last year," Trojans coach Andy Loucks said. "We had around 15. This senior class is a pretty good size class too. This group and the past year’s group were pretty close together, and I feel like they fed off each other. Their mentality is very similar to the seniors that graduated. I think that will help the younger kids understand what’s expected of them quicker.”
Hanover, meanwhile, has the most talent to replace, returning just five starters. The Nighthawks lose quarterback Kyle Krout, who ranked second in the league in passing, and running back Jordan Laughman, who ranked fourth in the league in rushing.
“The work ethic is still the same," Reichart said. "The success we achieved last year told everyone in our current program, as well as the pipeline, that this is the expectation, this is the system, this is the program."
This season, all three teams will answer the big question: Was 2015 a fluke or a sign of things to come?