York Suburban football bounces back, winners of three straight
Finding things to motivate a team has always been something that coaches try to do, and York Suburban's Andy Loucks used a perfect motivator early this season.
After close losses to Red Land and Northeastern in their first two games of the season, the Trojans knocked off Spring Grove in Week 3, a win which became a rallying cry for the program.
"To face those teams in weeks one and two was tough. Those were two playoff-type teams," said Loucks, who is in his first season as a head coach at Suburban. "We kept plugging away and good things started to happen.
"I don't think Suburban had beaten Spring Grove in 30 years. When was the last time Suburban defeated a Division I team? (Assistant coach Craig) Zortman has been on staff for 16 years and doesn't remember it. You use that as motivation as a coach. That's a positive for us."
And the positives keep rolling in for the Trojans, who followed a 29-22 win against the Rockets with victories against Kennard-Dale, in Loucks' return to his former coaching gig, and Ephrata.
While everyone knew Suburban's offense would be good, the defense has made the biggest strides from a season ago, allowing less than 18 points per game.
Loucks credits preparation for the vast improvement.
"We got the kids in the right positions from a scheme standpoint. They've kind of taken some of my mentality. I am a more emotional person, I am rubbing off on them," he said. "We are more of an aggressive-type defense, that's the tempo we have at practice.
"We started that from day one. There's very little standing around, we don't spend more than 10 minutes doing something before moving on to the next thing."
Suburban's offense is doing its part as well, racking up 338 yards per game, led by three-year starting quarterback Thomas Merkle.
Merkle reached the halfway point of the regular season with nearly 1,000 yards passing and nine touchdowns. He's completed more than 60 percent of his passes (88 of 132) and is once again among the YAIAA leaders in those categories.
The senior has found favorite target Collin Mailman 26 times for 437 yards with four touchdowns. But Merkle has also connected with Brad Smith 27 times for 306 yards and two scores. Six other Trojans have caught passes this season.
An improved running game, led by senior Dajour Henderson (200 yards, four touchdowns), plus juniors Jadon Haynes (174 yards) and Teague Hoffman (171 yards, three touchdowns), have provided the Trojans with balance.
"Brad has really played well. On the other side, if people are going to try to take Collin away, he is ready to step up," Loucks said. "We have a couple of other receivers too. We have four tailbacks who are ready to play. They all bring skill sets to the position. I think that has helped a lot, too."
Now it's on to the second half of the season, where a string of five straight Division II games awaits Suburban, starting with a much-improved Susquehannock team Friday.
Loucks said he is glad that the distraction of homecoming is behind the team after the Ephrata game.
"Homecoming week for teenagers is crazy, no matter where I have been as a coach, it's a chaotic week," he said. "To have that past, and not a division game, was good for us. Every division game, it's all we have left to focus on. Do what you need to do in school and come in ready to practice.
Just don't christen the Trojans as the team to beat in the division just yet.
As Loucks said: "I don't know that there is a real clear-cut favorite. I believe the last few weeks of the season are going to be crazy."