Hempfield, Greensburg Salem aim for fast start in Week Zero rivalry clash
There have been some interesting stories and games that have occurred when the Greensburg Salem and Hempfield football teams faced off.
Friday at Bill Abraham Field at Spartan Stadium, the 53rd meeting will take place between the rivals.
Hempfield defeated Greensburg Salem, 28-21, in the 2016 season opener as the teams renewed their rivalry after a four-year hiatus. Hempfield leads the series 36-15-1, mainly because of its dominance in the past 13 meetings, going 11-2.
Greensburg Salem did have a 16-13 victory taken away in 2002 when it was discovered it used an ineligible player and was forced to forfeit the game.
Still, the Class 6A Spartans have held the upper hand against the smaller Class 4A Golden Lions.
“It's what high school is all about, an opening game against your arch rival,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “It was a great atmosphere at Offutt Field last year, and we expect the same on Friday. We're excited about the game.”
The series has seen coaches from Greensburg Salem (Bob Williams and Jim Jones) coach against their sons (Bobby Williams and Adam Jones), and cousins square off against one another.
Current Greensburg Salem assistant coach Casey Cavanaugh is the only man to be the head coach at both schools. He was the Golden Lions' coach in 2010 and '11, when they beat Hempfield. Cavanaugh, a Greensburg Salem graduate, also played in the series.
While this game carries importance in the communities and for the players, the coaches realistically would rather have another week of practice to prepare for conference games that begin Sept. 1. The PIAA has given teams the option of playing a game during Week Zero or competing in a scrimmage.
The opposing school districts opted to play a game for their players and fans.
Players from both teams who took part in 2016 agreed the atmosphere was special. The winner gets bragging rights for a year at Westmoreland Mall or around the communities.
“This is a tremendous game for both communities,” Greensburg Salem coach Dave Keefer said. “The Greensburg fans rally in favor of it. The kids are excited, and it's a nice opportunity. I'm looking forward to the Golden Lions finding success.”
The game features two outstanding quarterbacks.
Hempfield senior Justin Sliwoski is coming off a solid season where he completed 149 of 269 passes for 1,954 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also returns two of his top targets in senior receiver Nick DiAndreth (49 catches, 720 yards, 8 TDs) and senior tight end Braden Brose (21, 306, 4). Sliwoski also is dangerous with his feet, rushing for 578 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.
Greensburg senior Jake Hoyle was more of a threat with his legs than his arm in 2016, rushing for 776 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is expected to display his strong right arm in 2017 after throwing for 731 yards and six touchdowns.
“Jake is going to be more of a threat with his arm,” Keefer said. “We utilized his running last season.”
Greensburg Salem ended the season with four consecutive victories and averaged 39.5 points.
The Golden Lions must find players to run the ball after the graduation of Teegan Hahn, Alex Phillips and Tom McChesney. Keefer expects to use Joe Williams, Kenny Shea, Aaron Putt, Tyler Williams and Dejauhn Hertzog in the backfield.
Keefer wasn't pleased with how his team handled the football in the scrimmage at Latrobe last Saturday. The Golden Lions lost four fumbles.
“We want to see an enthusiasm about playing the game of football,” Keefer said. “We need to take better care of the ball and going out and competing. Those are the three big things we're looking for.
“This is essentially the second scrimmage in a sense, magnified. We want to see them playing physical and hard.”
Bowen said he was pleased with how his team performed against Penn-Trafford during a scrimmage Saturday, but he knows there is still a lot of room for improvement. The Spartans are young and inexperienced along the line of scrimmage.
“We should be trying to fix the mistakes we made in the first scrimmage this week,” Bowen said. “Instead, we're preparing for a game against a rival.
“Greensburg Salem didn't run Hoyle much in the scrimmage, and I can understand why. But we expect him to have a bigger role against us.”
As the coaches prepare their teams for a battle, their biggest thoughts are on improvement and keeping the players focused.
“Yes it's a competitive game, but this is about us getting better as a football team,” Keefer said. “It's hard to block it out because the players want to compete. When you're playing a rival, which we've done for years, you can't look past it. We're trying to keep it in perspective.”
And yes, it will be another game for the history books.
Game notes: Greensburg Salem was formed in 1959. … Hempfield was formed in 1956, but students from Hempfield had the option to still attend Greensburg for the first couple of years. … The largest crowd was recorded at more than 14,000 for a game in 1962 at Offutt Field to see future Michigan teammates battle — Hempfield QB Dick Vidmer and Greensburg Salem G Don Bailey. … In the first game in 1956, Greensburg won 49-0.