Rejuvenated Hampton football team off to strong start

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Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 5:06 PM


The Hampton football team is loving the changes associated with a new season.

New turf. New scoreboard. New uniforms. And a winning team.

The last one, by far, matters most to coach Jacque DeMatteo. Facing its highest expectations since the WPIAL’s six-class realignment three years ago, the team is off to a strong start, matching its win total from the previous year in mid-September.

Its latest win, a 31-28 nail-biter over Shaler in front of a packed house in the team’s first experience at the newly minted Fridley Field, was a signature victory coaches, player and fans had been waiting to see.

“It was a great high school football game on both sides,” DeMatteo said. “I was just happy our kids persevered through a lot. The building was under renovation and we’re running all over the place for practices. They’re dealing with injuries and question marks. For our kids to go out there and keep battling, I was really happy for them.”

The turning point came before halftime, when the Talbots orchestrated a 70-yard drive to set up a 22-yard field goal by Sam Bens as time expired. To begin the second half, Max Smith returned the kickoff 90 yards to complete a 10-point swing that would prove pivotal as sophomore Matt DeMatteo replaced an injured Ian Andersson at quarterback.

“It was just a really fun game,” said running back/defensive back Josh Andersson. “Max taking it to the house to start the second half, we just felt really confident and were able to finish strong. The end of the game in the locker room was just a blast.”

It hasn’t been all touchdowns and locker room celebrations for Hampton this year. The team started off on the wrong foot with a five-turnover performance in a 24-0 loss to Knoch.

“We all talked about how it was a big wake-up call,” Josh Andersson said. “Obviously it was a tough loss and we did a lot of things wrong. But we talked and tried to stay confident. We just had a really bad game and then obviously we bounced back.”

The past two games, which also included a 30-12 win over Armstrong, have gone smoother. Hampton’s run game is seeing a big push that a large contingent of upperclassmen on its offensive line should provide. Lead back Luke Lindgren amassed 267 yards in the first three games, including a 23-carry, 115-yard, two touchdown performance against Shaler.

“That’s why we went to this wing-T type of offense,” said DeMatteo, who noted Lindgren’s love for Steeler legend Jerome Bettis. “We thought, ‘He’s a 200-pound kid. He’s a good athlete. He does well on the basketball court as a point guard, has great vision and quick feet.’ He wears 36 because of the bus. He looks like the bus. … He has that little step, that little jitter, then he goes.”

Ian Andersson’s status was unclear as the team prepared to face North Hills, but the coach wanted to clear up any questions about who the starter was, though the sophomore and coach’s son, Matt, played well when called upon.

“Ian is a tremendous competitor and he’s our starting quarterback when he’s healthy,” DeMatteo said. “He provides a spark and leadership that you just can’t coach. We’re just fortunate that Matt came in and could execute. Not trying to win, but just manage the offense.”

The senior-laden group will head into the meat of its season with an opportunity to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.

“I like where we’re at physically,” DeMatteo said. “I like where we’re going mentally. There are facets of that. Mentally, you’ve got to believe, you’ve got to be sharp, you’ve got to be strong. And our kids are really starting to get it.”

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