Realignment lets Knoch reunite with familiar foes

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020 | 10:53 PM


The Knoch football team has a clear goal in mind this season.

The Knights are focused on returning to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2014, and with a core group of starters back along with others ready to make an impact, coach Brandon Mowry is optimistic his team can make a run in its revamped Class 4A conference.

“We are really looking forward to renewing rivalries with our old Greater Allegheny Conference opponents,” Mowry said.

Gone from Knoch’s conference schedule are South Fayette, Blackhawk, New Castle, Montour, Beaver and Ambridge. Only rival Highlands remains, and the Knights also will face Armstrong, Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Indiana, Mars and Plum.

“Back before we went to six (classifications), we were the Greater Allegheny Conference,” Mowry said. “We were playing these teams all the time. We are familiar with a lot of the teams because the coaching staffs, in some cases, have been there for 10 to 12 years.”

With the WPIAL adopting a shortened season in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Knoch no longer will face defending WPIAL Class 3A champion Central Valley in Week Zero. The Sept. 4 game against rival Freeport now is a scrimmage, and the Week 10 conference game against Highlands has been moved to Sept. 11. The nonconference contest against Deer Lakes originally on Sept. 11 has been eliminated.

“It’s good to have concrete plans for the season, even though it’s a change,” Mowry said. “Us football coaches, we tend to be very detail-oriented with scheduling things and scripting things out. We were in a holding pattern for a while, so now we know what the situation is, and we can put together a game plan and get ready for the season.”

Despite the changes, Mowry said his team remains focused on getting better before the start of the season.

“No matter how you look at it, it’s going to be a meat grinder because we aren’t going to have the opportunity for any of those nonconference games,” Mowry said. “We are going to have to learn about ourselves more in the practices leading up to the season or on the fly in the scrimmages and early games.”

Knoch returns six starters on offense and five on defense. Three of those players, seniors Hunter Roegnik (offensive tackle/defensive end), Dalton Reed (offensive tackle/nose guard) and Keith Washington (running back/cornerback) were two-way performers in 2019.

Others back include senior Eli Reese (offensive guard), junior Keagan Fraser (running back), senior Tyler Buterbaugh (linebacker) and sophomore Jake Murphy (linebacker).

Roegnik, Reese, Reed and Buterbaugh earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2019.

“I am very excited for this season,” Buterbaugh said. “It’s my senior year, and myself and the other seniors, we are making sure we help the team do the right things to be prepared for whoever we go up against.”

Junior J.J. Szebalskie, who saw starting time at running back last year, will move into the quarterback spot in the triple-option offense.

“J.J. understands the offense and all of the reads,” Mowry said. “He knows when to call an audible to get us out of bad plays. With the option, you have to be a running quarterback, and he can hold his own that way.”

Mowry said Washington and Fraser could also factor in at quarterback.

Others expected to see time include seniors Zane Inklovich (running back/linebacker), Kyle Lauster (running back/linebacker) and Dustin Schlagel (guard/nose guard); along with juniors Nevin Peart (tackle/defensive end), Alex Cotton (guard/defensive end/linebacker), Gavin McGowan (running back/middle linebacker) and Luke Goodlin (running back/defensive end).

“I think things can kind of play to our advantage offensively and defensively being an odd front. Not a lot of teams run those,” Mowry said.

“The schemes we have on both sides of the ball should play to our strong suits.”

Schedule

Coach: Brandon Mowry

2019 record: 6-4, 4-3 in Class 4A Northwest 8 Conference

All-time record: 303-302-13

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Highlands*, 7

9.18, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

9.25, Armstrong*, 7

10.2, at Indiana*, 7

10.9, Mars*, 7

10.16, Plum*, 7

10.23, at Hampton*, 7

*Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Kam Grassi*

37-75, 517 yards, 5 TDs

Receiving: Scott Fraser*

20-255 yards, 4 TDs

Rushing: Matt Goodlin*

145-1,017 yards, 12 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Tyler Buterbaugh led the Knights defense with 62 tackles last year. He added three sacks.

• Knoch missed out on a trip to the playoffs on a Gardner Points tiebreaker each of the past two seasons.

• The Knights were 2-2 last year in games decided by seven points or less.

• The Knoch defense surrendered 17.1 points a game in 2019. It ranked fourth in all of Class 4A behind Thomas Jefferson (4.3), Belle Vernon (14.3) and South Fayette (14.8).

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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