Hempfield hopes to regain buzz under 1st-year head coach

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Tuesday, August 8, 2023 | 12:01 AM


For the first time in years, there was a buzz surrounding the Hempfield football program in 2022.

The Spartans opened the season with five consecutive wins, including a 28-17 victory against defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 5A champion Penn-Trafford.

But the next week, that momentum came to a crashing halt.

Starting quarterback and emotional leader Jake Phillips went down with a season-ending shoulder injury against Gateway and so did the season.

The Spartans lost 60-7 to the Gators and dropped four straight games to finish 2-3 in the Big East Conference and 6-4 overall — their first non-losing regular season since 2015 when they finished 4-2 in the conference and 5-5 overall. Hempfield fell short of a playoff appearance for the sixth straight season.

Hempfield first-year coach Nick Keefer said losing Phillips in the first series against Gateway had a definite impact on the team, which lost its swagger and lacked confidence in those big games in the second half of the season.

“We can’t do anything about the past,” said Keefer, who replaced Mike Brown as head coach in the offseason after spending nine seasons as a Spartans assistant. Brown is now the head coach at Norwin. “We can only worry about our future and what we control. We have a big job ahead of us, but I see a group that wants to build on last year’s success.”

The Spartans have a lot of jobs for the taking with only two starters returning on offense and two on defense.

Senior Keiran Lippmann returns at quarterback and safety. He was a starting wide receiver until Phillips was injured. He moved to quarterback the second half of the season, and Keefer is counting on his leadership this season.

The other offensive starter back is 6-foot-5, 285-pound left guard Joe Dolinski. Senior linebacker Brennan Knight is back on defense.

“Even though a lot of these kids weren’t part of the success on Fridays, they witnessed what took place and had success on Saturdays,” Keefer said of the 95-player roster. “Yes, there are a lot of openings, but that competition breeds excellence.

“That’s getting all these kids to compete. They are hungry. They want their opportunity to play in front of 8,000 people on a Friday and have the biggest win in school history and be a contributor to that. This is a new year, and it’s made these kids want to do it again. They don’t want to fall off after five games.”

Lippmann completed 16 of 27 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown last season. He also caught 10 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

Keefer said the wide receiver unit is young, but there is depth with junior Mitch Bitar and senior Dom LoPinto on the outside and junior Owen Buchholz, sophomore Nick Marquis and junior Reddik Katchur in the rotation at slot.

The H-back is senior Brady Ewing, a player Keefer said will play a big role.

“I like his leadership,” Keefer said. “During the spring, we had the eighth graders come to the weight room and he led the lift and showed them how we do things. He should be a major contributor.”

The top candidate at running back is junior Rogan Katchur, twin brother of Reddik.

“He’s a physical kid that we expect to have a good season,” Keefer said. “I love his size.”

While Dolinski is the only offensive lineman returning, Keefer feels he will have a solid unit that is athletic. Senior Rafael Batista will play left tackle and Knight will play right guard. Junior Declan Pillatzki will play right tackle and junior Jacob Hornyak will be at center.

“We have a lot of kids we can rotate in and get more experience,” Keefer said. “That should help us in the future.”

Keefer said he considers the defense to be the strength of the team with Lippmann and senior Anthony Puskar playing the safety spots, Ewing and Knight at inside linebacker and senior Lucas Moore and Marquis as outside linebackers. The cornerbacks who will rotate in include Bitar, Buchholz and sophomore Henry Mutschler.

“We have 11 guys who are fast and are looking to hit someone,” Keefer said. “We’ll see what happens when they put on the pads, but I’m excited to see them perform.”

What Keefer likes most about the Big East Conference is the proximity of the games.

“We have a lot of natural rivals,” he said. “Also, the competition is outstanding. There are a lot of great teams in the conference.”

Hempfield

Coach: Nick Keefer

2022 record: 6-4, 2-3 in Class 5A Big East Conference

All-time record: 303-333-13

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.25 Greensburg Salem, 7

9.1 at Connellsville, 7

9.8 Latrobe, 7

9.15 Shaler, 7

9.22 at Penn-Trafford*, 7:30

9.29 at Gateway*, 7

10.6 at Seneca Valley, 7

10.13 Franklin Regional*, 7

10.20 Plum*, 7

10.27 at Norwin*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Jake Phillips*

69-102, 1,171 yards, 11 TDs

Rushing: Geno Caesar*

150-793 yards, 14 TDs

Receiving: Dan Katonka*

24-286 yards, 5 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• Hempfield has had three undefeated regular seasons — 8-0-1 in 1958, 9-0-1 in 1962 and 10-0 in 1966. The Spartans tied Jeannette in 1958, tied Norwin in 1962 and lost in the WPIAL championship game to Mt. Lebanon, 18-14, in 1966.

• Hempfield’s only playoff win was in 1997 against Woodland Hills, 30-25. The Spartans’ last playoff appearance was in 2016, a 42-7 loss to North Allegheny.

• Hempfield’s most memorable win in school history was in 1978 when the Spartans ended Penn Hills’ 32-game winning streak 45 years ago. The Spartans beat the top team in the state 17-14 on a 29-yard field goal by Larry Zajdel.

ROSTER

No., Name, Pos., Ht./Wt., Cl.

1, Mitchell Bitar, WR/DB, 5-8/145, Jr.

2, Brady Ewing, WR/DB, 5-11/215, Sr.

3, Jack Kopas, WR/DB, 5-10/150, So.

4, Rogan Katchur, RB/DB, 5-11/175, Jr.

5, Brock Heisler, H/LB, 6-3/220, So.

6, Anthony Puskar, WR/DB, 6-2/170, Sr.

7, Carden Lippmann, WR/DB, 5-8/130, Fr.

8, Owen Buchhholz, WR/DB, 6-0/155, Jr.

9, Parker Donsen, WR/DB, 6-0/190, Sr.

10, Henry Mutschler, QB/DB, 5-7/145, So.

11, Dominic Detruf, QB/DB, 6-0/200, So.

12, Keiran Lippmann, QB/DB, 6-2/180, Sr.

13, Aidan DeGuffroy, WR/DB, 5-10/165, Jr.

14, Ronald Katchur, WR/DB, 6-2/160, Sr.

15, Maxwell Short, WR/DB, 6-0/182, Sr.

16, Andrew Jones, QB/DB, 5-8/171, So.

17, Dom LoPinto, WR/DB, 5-11/165, Sr.

18, Francisco Lopez Diaz, WR/DB, 5-10/150, Sr.

19, Isaiah Joseph, RB/DB, 5-8/155, Sr.

20, Brayden Gerst, RB/LB, 5-8/180, So.

21, Andrew Bentz, WR/LB, 5-6/140, Fr.

22, Lucas Moore, WR/DB, 5-11/186, Sr.

23, Nicholas Marquis, WR/DB, 5-8/174, So.

24, Reddik Katchur, WR/DB, 5-11/151, Jr.

25, Aidan Stinebiser, RB/DB, 5-5/141, So.

26, Ethan Zontek, RB/LB, 5-10/195, Jr.

27, Jack Humes, H/LB, 6-0/210, Jr.

28, Troy Anderson, OL/DL, 6-0/215, Sr.

29, Terrance Vaughns, WR/DB, 5-6/130, Fr.

30, Troy Sebring, WR/DB, 5-5/141, Fr.

31, Nico Brunazzi, WR/DB, 5-7/142, So.

32, Marcus Robasco, WR/DB, 5-6/143, So.

33, Jayson Watkins, H/LB, 6-2/187, Sr.

34, John-Michael Landa, RB/LB, 5-8/180, So.

35, Gino Chicklo, RB/LB, 5-6/151, So.

36, Liam Davies, H/LB, 6-1/164, So.

37, Joshua Reilly, K, 6-4/170, Sr.

38, Deniro Mongell, H/LB, 5-7/165, Fr.

40, Caleb Stepinsky, H/LB, 5-8/200, So.

41, Sawyer Leuthold, K, 5-7/121, Fr.

42, Deondre Richards, RB/LB, 5-8/160, SR.

43, Jacob Morgan, H/LB, 5-10/166, So.

44, Dennis Tang, H/LB, 5-8/148, Fr.

45, Keegan Hrutkay, RB/LB, 5-9/152, So.

46, Max Gromoll, H/LB, 5-10/156, Fr.

47, Adonte Rainey, RB/DB, 6-2/155, Jr.

50, Rafael Batista, OL/DL, 6-2/245, Sr.

51, Patrick Moreman, OL/DL, 5-9/173, Fr.

52, Brennan Knight, OL/LB, 5-10/225, Sr.

53, Marcus Smith, OL/DL, 5-8/230, Sr.

54, Brandon Stanislaw, OL/LB, 5-11/195, So.

56, Dom Meckling, OL/DL, 6-0/275, Fr.

57, Jacob Wiederstein, OL/DL, 6-0/290, Fr.

58, Declan Pillatzki, OL/DL, 5-11/205, Jr.

59, Jacob Hornyak, OL/DL, 5-9/230, Jr.

62, Anthony Miele, OL/DL, 5-9/210, Jr.

63, Stephen Siko, OL/DL, 5-6/174, So.

64, Logan McCauley, OL/DL, 5-11/213, Jr.

65, DJ Ruffin, OL/DL, 6-0/279, Sr.

66, Everett Woodbury, OL/DL, 5-10/250, Fr.

67, Niko Horton, OL/DL, 5-11/245, Fr.

68, Cameron Hochendoner, OL/DL, 5-11/245, Sr.

70, Landon Ferguson, OL/DL, 5-10/235, Jr.

71, Owen Linsenbigler, OL/DL, 6-0/185, Jr.

73, Austin Butler, OL/DL, 5-11/282, So.

74, Joe Dolinski, OL/DL, 6-5/285, Sr.

75, Colin Tapper, OL/DL, 6-2/241, Jr.

76, Angelo Apodaca, OL/DL, 5-10/219, Fr.

77, Colin Namie, OL/DL, 5-10/188, Fr.

78, Noah Helfrich, OL/DL, 6-2/227, Fr.

79, Danny Kissell, OL/DL, 5-10/206, Fr.

81, Jacob Buchholz, WR/DB, 5-9/135, Fr.

82, Jorden Wilson, H/LB, 5-11/186, Fr.

83, Brady Buehner, WR/DB, 5-9/140, So.

84, Liam Reese, WR/DB, 5-7/123, Fr.

85, Jake Kosinski, WR/DB, 5-8/134, Fr.

86, Brice Kenwick, WR/DB, 5-7/135, So.

87, Logan Mumau, WR/DB, 6-0/125, Fr.

Peter Barton, RB/LB, 5-7/164, Fr.

Patrick Braffet, OL/DL, 5-10/285, Fr.

Parker Cernuska, OL/DL, 5-5/213, So.

Alex Foos, OL/DL, 6-2/204, Fr.

Evan Gabel, WR/DB, 5-4/125, Fr.

Dominic Granata, OL/DL, 5-9/242, Fr.

Lucas Herrod, OL/DL, 6-2/235, So.

Ezra Peluso, WR/DB, 5-7/121, Fr.

Isaac Pugliese, WR/DB, 5-7/135, Fr.

George Reuss, H/LB, 5-8/145, Jr.

Devin Shevlin, RB/DB, 5-5/133, Fr.

Nick Vaughn, WR/DB, 5-5/153, So.

Taivon Woody, RB/LB, 5-7/130, Fr.

Jacob Zerbini, WR/DB, 5-8/128, Jr.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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