Hempfield looks to replace offensive standouts
There are nine teams in WPIAL Class 6A. Hempfield hopes to avoid being one of the three that doesn’t make the playoffs.
“It’s the best of the best. There isn’t a lot of room for mistakes,” Spartans coach Rich Bowen said of the revamped class, which is down to just one “power” conference. “We want to be able to get that signature win and be able to follow it up with another one. We haven’t been able to do that here for a while.”
Hampered by injuries and inexperience up front, Hempfield stumbled to a 1-9 mark last season and failed to reach the postseason for a third straight time.
Hempfield played a number of sophomores last year so, “We’ll be young two years in a row,” Bowen said of this year’s team, which must replace some key standouts, program staples for several years, such as quarterback Justin Sliwoski, tight end/linebacker Braden Brose and dependable and durable twins Nick and Isaiah DiAndreth.
As for quarterback, where the incumbent starter got unexpected playing time last season, junior Blake Remaley is set to take over for Sliwoski, a walk-on at Pitt.
“I’ve been working with (Sliwoski) since seventh grade,” Remaley said. “He has helped me tremendously. I hope to do well and help our team accomplish big things this year.”
Remaley (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) played when Sliwoski was injured for three games, throwing for 522 yards and four touchdowns. He was 43 for 84.
“He played pretty good for two-and-a-half games,” Bowen said. “And you’re talking (games against) Central Catholic, Mt. Lebanon and Canon-McMillan.”
Nick DiAndreth graduated as the program’s all-time leader in receptions (104) and receiving touchdowns (25). Isaiah DiAndreth had 59 career catches.
Braden Brose had 57 catches for 812 yards last season alone.
Bowen wants to keep the passing game intact, but he also wants to see the Spartans regenerate a rushing attack. The team gained just 916 yards on the ground last year, the leading rusher, Austin Gockel, with just 211 yards.
Other potential impact players include junior Nate Roby (RB/DB), sophomore Mario Perkins (RB/LB), junior Randy Nelson (RB/LB), senior Clay Metz (TE/DE), junior Nick Ross (WR/DB), and junior Zach Cieslo (WR/DB), among others. Roby was the third-leading rusher with 192 yards.
With one Brose gone (to Delaware), another will look to make his own mark on the program. Junior Fintan Brose (6-4, 275) will be an offensive tackle and defensive end.
He will be joined up front by juniors Ryan Cross and Cole Graham, and Metz, while junior Dillon Ferretti returns at linebacker, a position at which junior Mitchell Miletics and Zach Cieslo will look to compete.
“We have a lot of guys we want to rotate in so we don’t have guys playing both ways so much,” Bowen said.
“We want to get better defensively. We have to improve there. The thing about us last year is we’d make six, seven, eight good plays in a row and then have a breakdown. We have to get off the field on third down.”
Hempfield will play six away games, including trips to Central Catholic, Canon-McMillan and Seneca Valley.
The WPIAL’s move to six classifications two years ago vanquished a number of neighborhood rivalries and wore the tread off bus tires.
“You miss those rivalries,” Bowen said. “You go from playing teams right down the street to two-and-a-half hour bus rides. But it is what it is.”
With traffic and unforced slowdowns on interstates at rush-hour, Hempfield took longer to drive to Canon-McMillan and Mt. Lebanon in past years than to Altoona.
“We would leave school at 3:15 and get there at 6 for a 7 o’clock game,” Bowen said. “With Altoona, that was easy. Just a straight shot up (Route) 22.”
Opening night, of course, will be an exception.
The season starts Friday for the Spartans when they visit venerable Offut Field to take on rival Greensburg Salem.
Coach: Rich Bowen
2017 record: 1-9, 0-6
All-time record: 287-304-13
Date, Opponent, Time
8.24, at Greensburg Salem, 7 p.m.
9.1, at Pine-Richland*, 1 p.m.
9.7, Norwin*, 7 p.m.
9.14, at Central Catholic*, 7:30 p.m.
9.21, at Canon-McMillan*, 7 p.m.
9.28, Mt. Lebanon*, 7 p.m.
10.5, at Seneca Valley*, 7:30 p.m.
10.12, North Allegheny*, 7 p.m.
10.19, Butler*, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Plum, 7 p.m.
*Class 6A Conference game
Passing: Justin Sliwoski*
126-223, 1,668 yards, 19 TDs
Rushing: Austin Gockel*
65-211 yards, 2TDs
Receiving: Braden Brose*
57-812 yards, 10 TDs