Drop to Class A could spell end to West Shamokin losing streak
As they accumulated more and more losses during the past couple seasons, members of West Shamokin's football team wondered: Would this have happened if they competed in Class A rather than Class AA?
Now the Wolves, in the midst of a WPIAL record 44-game losing streak, will learn what's possible when they play against Western Pennsylvania's smallest schools.
West Shamokin is a member of Class A for the first time since joining the WPIAL in football in 2004. The move brings optimism. But it cannot be construed as a cure-all for the Wolves' woes, according to coach Josh Gilliland.
“It's not like things will be any easier in A than they were in AA,” Gilliland said. “Everybody has to strap their pads on, no matter what level they're playing. It's just a matter of going out on Aug. 31 and seeing what we can do against Springdale.”
With a 30-player roster, West Shamokin might remain undermanned compared to some of its Eastern Conference opponents, so the Wolves want to control time of possession and dictate game tempo.
A productive run game helped West Shamokin accomplish those goals at times last season. The Wolves rushed for 1,321 yards. Fullback Zac Horner thrived as a freshman, leading the team with 721 yards on 147 carries.
Horner has two returning lineman to create running lanes for him. Seniors Kyle Schons and Andy Stover are the leaders on an offensive front that likely will also include juniors Brock Kennedy and Austin Bussard, both of whom have returned to football after not playing last season.
“Coming into single A, we're a lot more excited,” Schons said. “We're going to play teams we can actually compete with, unlike last year. … It's not going to be easy, but it'll be teams closer to our ability.”
The absence of a passing attack was problematic last season. West Shamokin did not plan to throw much in its run-first wing-T scheme, but the Wolves struggled to even convince opponents to worry about play-action threats.
A potential boost for the passing game, junior Brady Cornman, the starter at quarterback last year, has moved to wide receiver, the position he occupied during his youth football days.
“I'm loving it,” said the 6-foot-3 Cornman, who requested the position change. “I guess I miss quarterback every now and then, but I prefer being a wide receiver.”
“We think we'll get him some one-on-one matchups with his size,” Gilliland said.
Sophomore Alex Lasslo steps in at quarterback after making spot starts a season ago when Cornman went down with an injury. And sophomore Andrew Wingard should suffice as a replacement for Andrew Sabula, a speedy running back who graduated after rushing for 294 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries.
Wingard and the rest of West Shamokin's playmakers will hear frequent reminders about the importance of ball security — the Wolves lost nine fumbles last season.
Gilliland has emphasized that the team's new classification will not save the Wolves if they struggle to stop momentum-shifting plays.
“There are so many games that we look back at…we fight and claw our way back into the game, and then we give up a long touchdown play,” Gilliland said. “We're really trying to button down our secondary and our coverage so that we don't give up the big play, because it's been a killer for us. It's been a killer for four years.”