Hempfield football team craves bigger impact
The Hempfield football team has made major strides this season.
Making its first trip to the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs since 2008 was one of the team's rewards.
Hempfield (4-5) opens the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Seneca Valley (7-2).
The WPIAL announced first-round pairings for the tournament Monday at the Green Tree DoubleTree Hotel. The playoffs are scheduled to begin this weekend.
The remnants of Hurricane Sandy might cause the schedule to be altered. WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley gave school officials from the 12 teams that play on grass the option to move their game to a field with artificial turf if their field is not playable. Sites must be changed before 9 a.m. Thursday.
“If they don't move it and we feel the field is not playable, we will move it to a neutral site,” O'Malley said.
Hempfield coach Rich Bowen doesn't have to worry about field conditions; all the Class AAAA and Class AAA games will be played on turf.
Hempfield won three of its first four games, but injuries to running backs Joey DeFloria and Skylar Carkuff during a Week 4 victory over Kiski Area hampered the Spartans.
“We've come a long ways this year, a long way, but we still have a lot to play for,” Bowen said. “I'm proud of what we accomplished, but we're not satisfied yet.”
Hempfield ended the regular season with a 16-0 loss to Penn-Trafford. The Spartans played without starting quarterback Tyler George and lost a third running back, D.J. Gearhart, in the first half with an injury. Gearhart was coming off a 100-yard game in Week 8 against Norwin.
“We've had a lot adversity this year,” Bowen said. “How do we respond to it? We know how to respond to it.”
Franklin Regional (7-2), the third-place team from the Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference, earned a home game in the opening round. The Panthers will host Elizabeth Forward (5-3).
Franklin Regional also has been plagued by injuries.
“We have nine players out for the season, and at times we've had 22 different players hurt,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said.
The Panthers are seeded eighth.
“I still feel we can be a dangerous team in the playoffs. We play well at home, and a lot depends what team shows up on Friday,” Botta said.
Elizabeth Forward is making its first playoff appearance since 2005.
Jeannette (8-1) was seeded fifth in Class AA, and the Jayhawks are scheduled to host South Allegheny (7-2) at McKee Stadium. That game could be moved if the field is deemed unplayable.
“I'm not going to worry about the field,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “We have to study South Allegheny. They're in the playoffs for the first time since 1986. I'm sure they'll be pumped up and ready to play us, and Pat (Monroe) is an excellent coach.”
If Jeannette doesn't play at McKee Stadium, the game may be moved to a site close to Jeannette with turf.
“There is a lot of water on the field already,” Jeannette athletic director Matt Lebe said. “We'll see how it is by Thursday morning.”
Burrell is another team that plays on a natural surface. It hosts Mt. Pleasant, and that game may get moved.
Mt. Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner said he's not concerned about where they play. His concern is Burrell running back Cole Bush.
“We had a feeling we'd be No. 9 (seed),” Ruffner said. “I know Bush has rushed for a lot of yards. We'll break down so film and get to work.”
Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-836-5095.