New Castle ready for playoff return after year to forget

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Monday, August 23, 2021 | 6:01 AM


After a rare down year in which New Castle saw its seven-year playoff streak snapped, Red Hurricanes coach Joe Cowart said his players better have a chip on their shoulder and a desire to get back on the right track.

New Castle went 1-5 last year in a season shortened by the covid-19 pandemic but is ready to make 2020 a distant memory.

“I loved the guys that played for us last year, and it breaks my heart that it unfolded the way it did last year with covid and how our season went, but as far as 2021 New Castle football, we are taking a burn-the-ships mentality,” Cowart said. “We’re looking in one direction and that’s forward. We don’t want to piggyback on anything we did last year. We’re leaving that behind and moving forward. We’re ready to get going in the right column again.”

The Red Hurricanes have a good core of returners at each position on both offense and defense.

That starts with Mike Wells and Chris Hood, who will split duties at quarterback. Wells will play wide receiver when he’s not under center and Hood will be at running back.

“Mike and Chris will touch the ball a lot if things are going well for us offensively,” Cowart said. “They are a little bit different as quarterbacks, but they bring a gritty competitiveness to the table. It’s not so much what we like or dislike about them at the quarterback position. It’s more about how much we like them at different positions. They’re both Swiss Army knives, in a sense, because they are so good at multiple positions.

“We just need to make sure the ball gets into the appropriate people’s hands and do our best to be successful and productive on the offensive side.”

Alex Fox and Devin Palmer are returning starters on the offensive line. Austin Kelly, Tyler Leekins and Andre Jackson, a basketball player who is out of the team for the first time, are slotted in at wide receiver. Tristan Marapese, a junior, is a returning starter at tight end.

Cowart said the Red Hurricanes have a stable of running backs capable of making an impact, but Julian Morton will be the starter after a spectacular offseason.

Wells and Hood will be linebackers on defense along with Marapese, Bryce Wood and Malik Jefferson, who is one of the team’s running backs. Charles Brown, a first-team all-conference performer a year ago, anchors the defensive line with Fox, Palmer and Nyeem Rogers.

Leekins is a returning starter at cornerback, and Tashaun Wilkins will play free safety.

Before the Parkway Conference schedule begins, the Red Hurricanes have five nonconference games to start the season beginning with hosting Shaler for a Week Zero tilt Aug. 27.

“I think us at New Castle, and everyone else in our conference come Week 5 is going to know exactly who they are,” Cowart said. “Everyone will have half a season under their belt and everyone will be a veteran on the team by that point. I think it will make for some spectacular games within the course of the league. Nobody is going to be surprised by anyone by that point.

“We’ll be locked and ready to go. It’s basically a five-game playoff to get into the playoffs.”

New Castle

Coach: Joe Cowart

2020 record: 1-5, 1-3 in Class 4A Parkway Conference

All-time record: 747-414-69

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.27 Shaler, 7

9.3 Quaker Valley, 7

9.10 at Mars, 7

9.17 Summit Academy, 7

9.24 at Central Valley, 7

10.1 Montour*, 7

10.8 at Beaver*, 7:30

10.15 at Blackhawk*, 7

10.22 Chartiers Valley*, 7

10.29 at Aliquippa*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Mike Wells

65-123, 787 yards, 7 TDs, 10 INTs

Receiving: Donny Cade*

33-470, 6 TDs

Rushing: Malachi Sherman*

67-479, 7 TDs

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• New Castle has several players who played on championship teams in other sports in the 2020-21 school year. Mike Wells, a 1,000-point scorer, and Andre Jackson were a part of New Castle’s seventh WPIAL boys basketball championship team in 10 years. Austin Kelly played on the Red Hurricanes’ first WPIAL and PIAA baseball championship team.

• The Red Hurricanes have won 11 WPIAL football championships, the last coming in 1998. Their last appearance in a WPIAL championship was in 2016, a 42-0 loss to Thomas Jefferson.

• To go along with not making the playoffs for the first time in seven years, it was only the third time since 2013 that the Red Hurricanes had a losing record.

• New Castle has a pair of intriguing nonconference games with perennial playoff powers. They are at Mars on Sept. 10 and at defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champion Central Valley on Sept. 24.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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