Blackhawk reloads, sets sights on joining Class 4A elite

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Monday, August 31, 2020 | 11:17 PM


Blackhawk coach Zach Hayward has a motto that his players hear most every time they step on the practice field or in the weight room.

“We want Heinz Field effort,” Hayward said. “That’s been the motto since Day 1, that I want Heinz Field effort. If we don’t make it to Heinz Field, it’s not because we didn’t put the work in.”

Now that the coronavirus has prevented the WPIAL from playing its championship games at the Steelers’ stadium, perhaps players will start to hear about “Robert Morris effort” or “Norwin effort” from the coaching staff.

Either way, making an appearance in the Class 4A final, wherever it’s played, is not an unreasonable goal for the Cougars, who are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances.

Both of those seasons saw Blackhawk finish second to South Fayette in the Northwest Eight before running into a brick wall called Thomas Jefferson in the playoffs.

“I look at it like we’re on the right track, but there’s still room to improve,” Hayward said. “We’re getting back to where we want to be, but how do we take it to the next level and be considered one of the best?”

Blackhawk will face different competition in its quest to be the best. WPIAL realignment has placed Blackhawk in the Parkway Conference, removing South Fayette, Ambridge, Highlands and Knoch from its conference schedule and adding Aliquippa and Chartiers Valley.

“It’s really your old school Parkway, I would say, from years past,” Hayward said.

Navigating a new schedule won’t be Blackhawk’s toughest challenge this season, though. That will be replacing a talented crop of 24 seniors from last year’s team, including 1,200-yard rusher Marques Trent-Watson, who is now at Division I Georgia Southern.

“He was an awesome player and an even better person,” Hayward said. “He was the leader of our team, so not only do we have to replace a top-tier talent, but we also have to replace our field general, offensively and defensively.”

The Cougars have plenty of skill players returning, however, including junior quarterback Carson Davidson and 6-foot-4 receiver Carson Heckathorn. Top seniors include running back Josh Hathaway, fullback Vince Gratteri and Logan Cailor, a playmaker who can line up at multiple positions.

Hathaway, Zach Ours and Dante Campagna give the Cougars depth in the backfield.

“The guys that are seniors now, they understand the implications they’re stepping into,” Hayward said. “They’re going to have a little more pressure because they don’t have Marques to bail them out with a couple of big plays. We’re going to have to do different things and have different schemes to make that happen.”

Senior Max Martin, a returning second-team all-conference guard, will anchor the offensive and defensive lines.

“We’re inexperienced there, but that’s pretty much our whole team,” Hayward said. “We have a bunch of linemen. I’m not upset about that. We have some big boys up front.”

The strength of the defense could be the secondary with Heckathorn, Cailor and seniors Jabari Baldwin and Mason Dufala leading the way.

“These are guys that have been around the program, a couple juniors, a couple seniors,” Hayward said. “I’m excited about those guys, just from the way that they lead the team.”

Schedule

Coach: Zack Hayward

2019 record: 10-2, 6-1 in Class 4A Northwest Eight

All-time record: 321-178-8

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Beaver*, 7

9.18, at Central Valley, 7

9.25, Ambridge, 7

10.2, at Chartiers Valley*, 7

10.9, Montour*, 7

10.16, at New Castle*, 7

10.23, at Aliquippa*, 7

*Class 4A Parkway Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Carson Davidson

50-85, 684 yards, 5 TDs

Receiving: James Darno*

30-312, TD

Rushing: Marques Watson-Trent*

163-1,225 yards, 17 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Facing a tough schedule, Blackhawk bookended last season with a pair of losses to WPIAL champs. The Cougars lost to 3A champ Central Valley in their opener and fell to 4A champ Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

• Senior running backs Marques Watson-Trent and Josh Butcher combined for 2,048 yards from scrimmage last season.

• Blackhawk went 7-5 last season and 10-2 the year before that. That’s the most wins for the program in back-to-back seasons since the Cougars won a total of 18 in 2007-08.

• Blackhawk is closing in on the 25th anniversary of its most recent WPIAL title. The Cougars won championships in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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