Armstrong hopes to improve depth throughout lineup

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020 | 10:55 PM


Armstrong went to battle with a rather young and inexperienced team last year, and coach Frank Fabian said that, compounded with a rash of injuries to key players, led to a record he and his returning players hope to improve on this fall.

“We found out that our depth was just not good enough,” said Fabian, who saw his River Hawks go 1-8 overall and 0-7 in conference play. “We were playing kids out of position. Our last game against Kiski, three-fifths of our offensive line weren’t linemen at the start of the season. We were moving kids out of necessity. One of the main areas of focus coming into this year has been our depth. We have to be ready because it’s not a matter of if injuries are going to happen but when they will happen.

“We’re cross-training some kids, teaching them two positions. We’re trying to avoid situations last year where we weren’t deep enough at certain positions.”

Fabian did say a silver lining to last year was that a number of younger kids got varsity experience and reps which will help them coming back.

“We hope that pays dividends moving forward,” Fabian said.

Fabian hopes a move down to Class 4A will pay dividends as well. Armstrong is in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference with Indiana, Hampton, Knoch, Mars, Greensburg Salem, Highlands and Plum.

The conference has a similar makeup to the one Armstrong was in for the final two years of the old Class AAA in 2014 and 2015.

“I’m a big fan of geographical rivals, and we’re in a conference with teams and players we’re more familiar with,” Fabian said. “I was happy with the way the WPIAL realigned the conferences. It should make for some pretty special games.”

When the WPIAL made changes to the coronavirus-shortened season, Armstrong lost nonconference games with Freeport and Deer Lakes. The River Hawks will scrimmage the Lancers on Friday. A conference game against Indiana now is the Sept. 11 season opener.

Armstrong defeated Indiana, 42-13, in Week Zero last year for its lone win of the season.

“It’s kind of been a yo-yo for these kids,” Fabian said. “At first, we thought we weren’t going to play, and then it was we might play, then no, and now we know we’re playing. The seniors are the most excited. Some football is better than no football. That’s what we’re holding on to as we get ready.”

Senior Cole Brown, a dual-threat quarterback last year, is expected to line up at a number of positions, from running back to quarterback in the wildcat to receiver.

“Cole definitely is a player we want to get the ball to a number of ways,” Fabian said.

Brown accounted for 1,274 total yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

“We have a lot of good, young players who are excited and determined,” Brown said. “We all want to turn it around so we can get back to winning. This team is full of team players who are not wasting any opportunities to get better. You never know what could (still) happen with the season, but we want to be as ready as we can be.”

Sophomore Cadin Olson, at 6-foot-3, has emerged at the quarterback spot for the River Hawks. Olson has enjoyed success in 7-on-7 circles with PA Nike Elite and is a past and present invitee to national passing camps and competitions.

In limited action last year, Olsen threw for 107 yards and a score.

“We are still carving out where we will be with those two,” Fabian said. “We want to make sure we get the best 11 on offense and in the right spots to produce points.”

Brown also earned second-team all-conference honors at linebacker in 2019.

Senior safety Aaron Robb, the younger brother of 2016 PIAA wrestling champion Jacob Robb, set a school record last year with 103 tackles. Robb, a second-team all-conference defensive selection, also is expected to factor in the offense as a slot receiver.

“He’s a tough, gutsy kid,” Fabian said. “He’s not afraid to step up and make a hit. He’s a pretty physical kid for his size.”

Fabian also expects senior wideouts Jesse Hepler and Noah Cooper to help the offense this season.

“As a team, we have to keep focused on the season and take advantage of each workout we have,” Fabian said.

Schedule

Coach: Frank Fabian

2019 record: 1-8, 0-7 in Class 5A Northern Conference

All-time record: 27-24

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Indiana*, 7

9.18, Hampton*, 7

9.25, at Knoch*, 7

10.2, Mars*, 7

10.9, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

10.16, Highlands*, 7

10.23, at Plum*, 7

*Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Cole Brown

55-131, 717 yards, 6 TDs

Receiving: Nick Russo*

19-227 yards, 2 TDs

Rushing: Isaac Ridinger*

117-589 yards, 6 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Armstrong has made the playoffs three times (2015, 2016 and 2018) in five seasons since the merger of Ford City and Kittanning.

• Of Aaron Robb’s 103 tackles last season, 79 were solo stops.

• The River Hawks averaged 228 yards of total offense (136.4 rushing and 91.6 passing) last year.

• Armstrong gave up 38.2 points a game in 2019. Only Plum surrendered more in Class 5A (38.8).

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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