United looks to bounce its way back into playoffs
ARMAGH--United has become accustomed to football success, but had to live with disappointment last season when a five-year string of playoff appearances ended with a 5-4 record.
United Coach Chris Matava, whose four year record stands at 28-14, knows there's nothing to do but get back to work and rebuild, even if his 29-man roster is the Lions' smallest and least experienced in memory.
"We came up a little short," Matava said, "and you can look at the Blairsville game for that." The Lions lost 21-18, but the game could have gone either way.
"We were disappointed with 5-4, we could have been 6-3 or a little better. Overall I was happy with the season but disappointed that we broke the playoff run."
But he is delighted to have a familiar face coaching with him--Frank Krevetski, who had two stints as United's head coach (1969-1988 and 1996-97) is back as an assistant.
Krevetski spent the last four years as coach at Somerset; he also served as Bishop McCort's head coach.
Matava, now Krevetski's boss after many years as his player and assistant coach, said he will use Krevetski's offensive savvy to help get his attack on track.
Matava is happy that 16 sophomores turned out, and "they're going to be playing a lot, on both sides of the ball. This is a good group of sophomores, both athletically and unity-wise."
He noted that the line is the strength of the team, with as many as eight players who could play on either side without a dropoff in production.
Tackles Chuck Rainey and Adam Hall, and ends Nathan Marcus and Adam Jones return from last year's defense, which was very good, allowing just 219 yards per game to rank second in the district.
With size one of the Lions' strengths and experienced skill players a weakness, Matava was asked whether fans can expect a more conservative offensive philosophy.
He scoffed at that idea, then admitted, "We will definitely run the ball first. The linemen are doing a terrific job, and the backs are getting better every day.
"Last year we said the backs would have to carry the team while the linemen gained experience. This year it's the linemen who have to carry the team early."
Hall is a two-year starter at center, so his steadying influence should make the Lions' treasured trapping runs easier to execute.
Guards Rainey and Jones are also veterans of the offensive line, and tight ends Ryan Bailey and Nathan Marcus are also experienced.
Other linemen who should help out on both sides of the ball include lettermen senior Donnie Hill and junior Zack Buzzinotti.
On the other hand, the Lions could start an all-sophomore backfield at Saltsburg tonight; Kurt McGinnis is the top quarterback candidate, Adam Capitosti is the choice at tailback and Greg Hastings at fullback.
Joe McElwee, a senior, is the only returning player who carried the ball for the Lions last year, and Matava wasn't sure if he would be available. Due to some personal matters, he wasn't with the team for the first week of camp.
Robert Penrose, formerly the head junior high coach, has joined the varsity coaches; Greg Mytrysak, an assistant for a number of years, retired.
Other coaches aren't mentioning United as one of the top schools in the conference this year, but Matava is conceding nothing.
"Our goal is to win every game, and see whether we can make the playoffs again. That's where I stop the goals. That's what we talked about (on the first day of camp.)"
With new coaches in the Heritage Conference at schools such as Penns Manor and Northern Cambria, Matava noted that game preparation takes longer.
"With Laurel Valley, you know what they're going to do, and you've got to stop em. With a new coach, you've got to throw out what you know about that team and start over."
Eddie Rosporski showed some promise as a kicker last year, but as for a punter "I've got no clue. If I'm inside the (other guy's) 50 I'll probably go for it on fourth down."