Gorman: No quit in Hamilton, Blackhawk this season
Joe Hamilton was touched when Cole Chiappialle interrupted Blackhawk's postgame celebration Friday night to thank the coaches for not giving up on the Cougars.
Not that it was necessary.
“That's your job,” Hamilton said. “You don't give up on kids.”
Hamilton would have been justified after Blackhawk (3-6) lost four games by five points or less this season, including three in the final minute: to West Allegheny with 1.9 seconds left, to Montour with nine seconds left and Beaver with 23 seconds left.
“If we'd played the last minute, we'd have won more games,” Hamilton said. “Really, I wrote the season off. We had two games left and everything had to fall into place for us in the last game.”
That Blackhawk enters the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs as the “most dangerous” opponent for a top-eight seed, which Mars coach Scott Heinauer called the Cougars, is a remarkable story of resiliency.
“The rumor coming back to us was, ‘Teams do not want to play Blackhawk,' ” Hamilton said. “I'm not sure we deserve that.”
Heinauer, for one, vehemently disagrees.
“Blackhawk's good, let me tell ya,” Heinauer said. “They've got Chandler Kincade, a good receiver and a good back. And they have Coach Hamilton...”
Hamilton's 336 career victories in 47 seasons rank second all-time among WPIAL coaches, making him both one of the game's giants and its gentlemen.
Yet Blackhawk hadn't qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 2008. After a 1-6 start, the Cougars needed the stars to align to reach the postseason this fall. In Week 9, they had to beat Ambridge by at least six points and for Hopewell to defeat New Castle.
Fortunately, the Cougars have an abundance of stars. Kincade is one of the nation's top junior quarterbacks, Alex Caratelli is the WPIAL's leading receiver and Chiappialle rushed for 404 yards in a Week 8 win over Chartiers Valley.
After Hopewell beat New Castle, the Blackhawk trio helped the Cougars rally from a three-point halftime deficit for a 34-20 victory over Ambridge.
That created a three-way tie for fifth place in the Parkway Conference between Ambridge, Blackhawk and New Castle, and all three had the same amount of Gardner points. Blackhawk clinched on point differential.
That set off a wild locker-room celebration.
“I've had WPIAL championships and gone to the state final,” said Hamilton, who has won four WPIAL titles in 10 finals appearances, “and I've never had a group of kids get so excited for a victory.”
So was the 70-year-old coach who didn't quit on them, despite continuously hearing questions about when he will retire.
“I don't feel that old,” Hamilton said. “I don't feel like quitting. Going through a year like this, you wonder what you're doing. But after that game, my wife, Barb, said, ‘You're not allowed to quit.' ”
After all, that's his job. Hamilton is a coach, one who doesn't give up on kids. And the Blackhawk Cougars have learned not to give up on their coach.