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Norwin football team looks to get rid of 'cloud'

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Norwin Star
Norwin junior Zeke Kljucaric looks to corral an Altoona ball carrier during the team's meeting on Aug. 30, 2013, at Norwin Stadium.

Norwin football coach Art Tragesser believes his team is capable of achieving its goal of making the postseason.

For the Knights to overcome that, however, they'll need to overcome a familiar problem: beating themselves.

In a 21-0 loss to Altoona last week in the season opener, Norwin acted as its own worst enemy, committing four turnovers — including three deep in its own territory. Altoona converted on its short-field opportunities, scoring all three of its touchdowns on drives that began near the Norwin red zone.

“We just seem to have a cloud over our head,” Tragesser said. “I don't know. I think we have enough quality football players to win. It's just we can't sustain something. It's always like we're looking around for something bad to happen, rather than for something good to happen. I firmly believe if we can get that spark or that one big play, who knows?

“I still think that we have a chance for a very good season, but we've just got to buckle down and look for good things rather than bad things.”

Norwin will look for that spark Friday night, when the Knights travel to play rival Penn-Trafford at 7:30 p.m. The Warriors lost, 21-14, to nonconference opponent North Hills last week, but they beat Norwin in their last two meetings by a combined 62-7 score.

“We've got to step up our game because they're better than Altoona,” Tragesser said. “They're going to be a playoff team in our section for sure. I'm going to see how our kids are going to respond. They've got to respond, they've got to meet the challenge and we've got to play as a team, hustle (and) keep our heads up. Maybe we'll get that big play.”

While the Knights struggled against Altoona, Tragesser said the defense performed well. Last year, the unit allowed 33.2 points and about 350 yards per game.

Friday night, the defense held Altoona to just over 200 yards and zero extended scoring drives.

Tragesser said junior defensive tackle Corey Chrisman, making his first career start, and senior linebacker Zack Tinsley stood out defensively, as did the entire secondary. Junior Zach Hall intercepted a pass, and the Knights held the Mountain Lions to 36 yards through the air.

“That might have been the best we've played as a team in a long time,” Tragesser said. “I forget how many three-and-outs (Altoona) had, but they had a lot. Third-down conversions, we were good — we held them. That's only half the game, though.”

Offensively, sophomore quarterback Nick Amendola struggled with cramps and was replaced by junior Sean Bowen in the second half. The two combined to go 18 for 38 for 131 yards, with three interceptions.

“The quarterback's the leader on the field. He's the general,” Tragesser said. “(But) it's not just them. It's the whole team. To throw a touchdown pass, it takes the line blocking, the kids catching it (and) the guy throwing it. It has to be a team thing. If we made a mistake, the team did it. If we make a good play, it's, ‘The team did it.' We can't focus on just one or two plays from this position or that position.”

Junior Logan Deri caught eight passes for 65 yards for Norwin, while senior Kyle Baum contributed five receptions.

As the Knights prepare to travel to Penn-Trafford, Tragesser is looking for improvement in several areas, with turnovers atop the list.

“Obviously, we can't turn the ball over,” Tragesser said. “That's one thing. It just killed us Friday night. We've got to improve on that. We've just got to improve our focus, (and) we've just got to improve our team aspect — everyone doing their part, everyone contributing. Then the team will be successful.”

The coach wouldn't mind a big play or two, either.

“It'll be like a fire if we can get that spark somehow,” he said. “And not maybe even necessarily against Penn-Trafford, but for our whole season. We need something to get us going, (for) someone to come up with that big play. Maybe it will be a big goal-line stand, a big interception, a big run, a touchdown pass. Whatever it may be, we've just got to get away from this feeling of doom's going to strike at any time.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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