With disruptive defense, New Castle looks to extend playoff streak

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Monday, August 31, 2020 | 11:16 PM


Edge rushers Jaylan Cox and Allen Bradley make coach Joe Cowart optimistic about how disruptive New Castle’s defense could be this season.

They also make the 1999 New Castle graduate feel old.

“I keep talking about all the Steelers outside linebackers those guys could be like, and they’re like, ‘Who?’” Cowart said. “I’m like, ‘You don’t remember Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene?’ They’re like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘OK, you have to be those two people. Get on You Tube tonight and watch it.’”

Red Hurricanes players might not be up on 1990s NFL personnel, but one thing they know all about is making the playoffs. New Castle has made seven straight trips to the postseason.

Those visits have yielded only two victories, however, which has turned into a locker room rallying cry of sorts.

“Are we a good team? We’re a good team. We regularly make it to the tournament every year,” Cowart said. “But great teams win in those moments. We want to get from good to great. We want to take that next step forward.

“That’s what we talk about in our locker room all the time. Who’s going to be the team to take us the next step? Who’s going to take us to Heinz Field? Who’s going to take us to Hershey? That’s where we want to go.”

If the Red Hurricanes advance farther down the postseason road, there’s a good chance Cox will lead the way. A 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior, he’ll be starting on defense for the third straight season.

He’s also an intriguing weapon on offense.

“We’re going to try to get Jaylan in in a bunch of different ways,” Cowart said. “Who knows? We may use him in the wildcat, put him out wide. He’s such a big-bodied athlete.”

New Castle will also have to replace a high-end athlete on offense in running back DeMetrius McKnight, who accounted for 1,632 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns last season.

Cowart said that will be a group effort.

Junior Michael Wells, who displaced McKnight at the starting quarterback spot last season, will play a key role.

“Mike’s an excellent kid,” Cowart said. “I think it made us better, with him at quarterback a year ago, a more traditional guy that can kind of stretch the field horizontally and vertically, and it gives you the ability to make defenses defend the whole field. Mike’s got to get better at that. He’s got to get better at throwing to the open guy and throwing crisp and making less mistakes. We have no doubt that he will.”

Top receiver Donny Cade, who developed a rapport with Wells last season, also returns.

Chris Hood is an offensive weapon who will play in the backfield and in the slot. Malachi Sherman was No. 2 on the running back depth chart behind McKnight last year.

The graduation of a pair of talented two-year starters at the tackle positions, Bernie Fabian and Antonio Ryan, will hurt, but Cowart is enthusiastic about his offensive line. Logan Gibson and Jason Shearer are the leaders on the interior. Cowart raved about Alex Fox and Devin Palmer at tackle.

WPIAL realignment has changed up New Castle’s schedule significantly, moving the team from the Northwest Eight to a six-team Parkway Conference.

South Fayette is off the schedule, but Aliquippa is on.

“They’re both amazing. I’m just glad they’re both not on our schedule,” Cowart said. “Aliquippa is the class of Western Pennsylvania football for as long as I can remember, and we will enjoy the challenge of playing them.

“In New Castle, we’ve had a unique rivalry with Aliquippa that dates back to the ‘60s and ’70s. The fact that we’re back in the same league again, it’s exciting not only for the opportunity to play a great program but also to renew and restoke that rivalry that’s really been long standing.”

Schedule

Coach: Joe Cowart

2019 record: 7-4, 4-3 in Class 4A Northwest Eight

All-time record: 746-409-69

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Aliquippa*, 7

9.18, at McKeesport, 7

9.25, Central Valley, 7

10.2, at Montour*, 7

10.9, Beaver*, 7

10.16, Blackhawk*, 7

10.23, at Chartiers Valley*, 7

*Class 4A Parkway Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Michael Wells

85-181, 1,464 yards, 13 TDs

Receiving: Jason Williams*

22-490 yards, 4 TDs

Rushing: DeMetrius McKnight*

223-1,213 yards, 17 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• With four more victories, New Castle will become the sixth program in Pennsylvania high school football history to win 750 games. The first five were Mount Carmel (866), Easton (844), Berwick (825), Jeannette (756) and Steelton-Highspire (754).

• New Castle (309) was one of four WPIAL Class 4A teams to score at least 300 regular season points last year. Thomas Jefferson (482), Belle Vernon (441) and South Fayette (392) were the others.

• New Castle did well in nonconference action last season. Upon further review, they were undefeated. On the field, the Red Hurricanes defeated Shaler and South Park and lost to West Mifflin in three games outside the Northwest Eight. After the season, West Mifflin was found to have used an ineligible player, making the official result a New Castle forfeit victory. Shaler (5A), South Park (3A) and West Mifflin (4A) were all playoff teams.

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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