Connellsville football travels to rival Hempfield looking for 1st win
Players and coaches often hesitate to put the “must-win” tag on a game, especially this early in the season.
But for Hempfield and Connellsville, their matchup at Spartan Stadium on Friday night is shaping up to be just that.
After tough conference losses to Gateway and Kiski Area, the Falcons (0-2, 0-2 Quad East) are looking for their first win as they take on Hempfield (1-1, 1-1), which picked up its first win last week against Latrobe.
“The past two years, Hempfield's been a must-win for us,” Connellsville senior quarterback Jade Maher said. “We started out 0-2 last year and got a big win against them that sort of kept us in playoff contention and same thing this year. This is a must-win — try and go out and play how we know how to play and limit the turnovers and we can live with the end result then.”
“I think every game in this conference is a must-win,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “I think the conference this year is really good. I don't think there's a bad team in this league.”
Connellsville hasn't done itself any favors in its first two games, coughing up 10 fumbles, with some coming in costly situations.
In the Falcons' 41-22 loss to Gateway last week, Connellsville's first two series ended inside the Gators' 20 after fumbles changed the course of the game.
“We've just found multiple ways to fumble the ball in our first two contests, and it's just completely taken us out of having the ability to even compete because of those turnovers,” coach Dave McDonald said.
“It's something that our guys are now thinking about a little bit, and it's something we have to have mental toughness to overcome.”
In addition to limiting turnovers, Connellsville will also have to contend with Spartans senior Joey DeFloria, a versatile running back who enters the game with 251 rushing yards, including 132 and three total touchdowns last week.
“Their tailback makes them go,” McDonald said. “He's going to be one of the best we see all year no matter what conference. He's an outstanding kid. He's a hard-nosed runner. He's very shifty. He's got really good speed. He's a stud.”
Handing the ball off to DeFloria will be senior Ty George, a dual-threat quarterback with 197 passing yards and 100 rushing yards this season.
His counterpart will be Maher, a player Bowen and the Spartans will attempt to contain in an effort to end their two-game losing streak to the Falcons.
“Obviously we have to be able to contain the offense Connellsville runs with their quarterback, Maher,” Bowen said. “I think he's a really good quarterback, and he does a good job running that offense.”
Maher will be lining up with a physical offensive line as well as junior running back Dylan Knopsnider, who accounted for 91 yards and a touchdown on seven carries last week.
As is the case in every good rivalry, there will be mutual respect on both sidelines.
“Rich (Bowen) does a great job,” McDonald said. “He's a very good coach. They're very well prepared. Rich and his staff do a great job. ... I think Hempfield is just as good if not better than the two teams we've played up to this point.”
“I think Connellsville, they're 0-2, but they're not a bad football team,” Bowen said. “They've played two really good teams in Gateway and Kiski, and they've moved the ball well on them. They've just had some unfortunate things happen.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.