New Brighton driven by playoff near miss

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Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM


Few teams in the history of WPIAL football, if any, have come as close to making the playoffs without getting in as New Brighton did last year.

New Brighton and Laurel tied for second place in the Midwestern Athletic Conference at 5-2. The Spartans got in thanks to a victory in the head-to-head meeting, 27-25, after a stop on a two-point conversion in the second half.

Regardless of losing the tie-breaker for second place, the Lions would have easily qualified for the 16-team Class 2A bracket the WPIAL uses most years. Pandemic-related changes cut the field down to eight teams last season, however.

Even despite that, the Lions still had a chance to get into the tournament. Because teams played an uneven number of games due to covid cancellations, the WPIAL used a selection committee to finalize the eight-team bracket, rather than simply taking the top two teams from each of the classification’s four conferences.

The case for a third team making it out of the MAC was strong, but after an hour-long debate, a vote was held, and New Brighton was out. The vote wasn’t unanimous, WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said.

“Ouch,” Lions coach Joe Greco said. “Had to remind me.”

Greco won’t have to remind his players, of course. He figures to have a motivated group of Lions on his hands come kickoff.

“Everyone wants to be part of the playoff atmosphere,” he said. “Our kids understand that. A lot of them have been in that situation. They want to get back.”

In their quest to return to the postseason, New Brighton will have to replace a pair of bruising ballcarriers in graduated 230-pounders NyaSanu Greene and Kei’Ondre Abercrombie, but that doesn’t mean the Lions will lack experience. To the contrary.

That starts under center, where Gabe Haddox is back for a second season as starter.

“Him being able to come out this summer and get involved in seven-on-sevens, you can see he’s stronger. He’s more confident,” Greco said. “Just our timing with our receivers this summer is so much better. We feel very confident with him directing our offense.”

The offensive line is a strength, with Alex Mittner, Trent Porter and Christian Kirschner leading the way.

Greco said he expects to use a large group of skill players — including Keandre Williams, Eric Montanez, Noah Stofen, Dashawn Harmon, Kyler Rombold and Blake McKay — to carry and catch the ball.

“They might not be big names yet, but we’re hoping we’ll be able to spread the ball around a little bit more,” Greco said.

If it takes a little bit of time for a revamped offense to come together, a defense that returns eight starters should hold down the fort.

Mittner on the line, Stofen and Harmon at linebacker and Williams, an all-conference first-team pick last year, in the backfield have years of starting experience.

“With having so much intact and that much experience, we’ll rely on the defense early,” Greco said. “I’m not saying the offense will try to catch up. Obviously we want to be in a good place offensively. But we think we have a chance to play some pretty good defense.”

Add it all up, and it’s a recipe for excitement, not just in the huddle but in the stands as well, especially coming off a season dampened by pandemic restrictions.

“Hopefully people maybe appreciate Friday nights more,” Greco said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting season.”

New Brighton

Coach: Joe Greco

2020 record: 5-2, 5-2 in Class 2A MAC

All-time record: 558-478-59

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.28 at Western Beaver, noon

9.3 at Rochester, 7:30

9.10 South Side, 7

9.17 at Ellwood City*, 7

9.24 Mohawk*, 7

10.1 Beaver Falls*, 7

10.8 at Laurel*, 7

10.15 Neshannock*, 7

10.22 at Riverside*, 7

10.29 Freedom*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Gabe Haddox

27-67, 512 yards, 9 TDs

Receiving: NyaSanu Greene*

10-147, 4 TDs

Rushing: Greene*

96-699, 9 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• New Brighton went 5-2 in the MAC for the third straight season last year. The Lions made the playoffs the previous two years, winning a first-round game in 2019.

• New Brighton is celebrating the 70th anniversary of its back-to-back WPIAL Class AA championship team in 1951. In 1950, the Lions shared the title with Canonsburg. New Brighton also won a WPIAL crown in 1994.

• New Brighton didn’t allow an offensive touchdown in the first two weeks of last season, giving up a defensive score in a 24-6 win over Freedom in the opener and blanking Ellwood City 6-0 in Week 2.

Beaver Falls reclaimed the Little Brown Jug with a 44-15 victory over New Brighton last season. The teams didn’t meet the previous two years. The rivalry trophy was first handed out in the 1950s.

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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