A young football team with a first-year coach, Northeastern couldn't have had a tougher start to last season on the high school gridiron.
There was the Week 1 heartbreaker, when the Bobcats squandered a two-touchdown, fourth-quarter lead, capped off by sophomore quarterback Marcus Josey fumbling away the ball and a York Catholic defender scooping it up and scurrying 75 yards the other way for the game-winning score. Columbia followed in Week 2 when, facing a fourth and long with two minutes left and down by seven points, the Tide hurled a 55-yard touchdown pass, then opted to go for a two-point conversion, beating Northeastern, 8-7. A week later, the Bobcats and Shippensburg went to overtime, when Ship scored on fourth down and won with a two-point conversion, 28-27.
"Ugh, it pulls your heartstrings," second-year coach Jon Scepanski said Wednesday afternoon, recalling last year's early setbacks.
There's something to be said for gaining experience and learning from mistakes, though. And following an 0-9 start to the 2013 campaign, which included a six-point loss at Susquehannock in Week 7, the Bobcats finally put together a winning performance in Week 10 over Kennard-Dale, 35-13.
As a result, Northeastern's 17 returning starters this season feel like they should be able to keep the momentum going and get the program back to its winning ways, like the teams in 2011 (6-5) and 2012 (7-4), and in the process be a contender in the program's first year competing in a wide-open Division I.
"There's a lot of talk about how much harder it's gonna be," Josey said about Division I. "Yeah, it's gonna be a step up from last year but I'm not too worried about it."
Josey, who totaled 1,246 passing yards last season as a first-year starter, has added 30 pounds to his 5-foot, 11-inch frame. The added bulk will help Josey, who also totaled 258 rushing yards in 2013, since he'll be expected to run more in Scepanski's new spread wing-T attack.
"We're trying to adapt to fit our kids the best way we can," Scepanski said. "Our line has decent size but they have speed. And in the spread wing-T we can utilize our big guys moving more than with last year's offense."
Speed appears to be the theme of this Northeastern ballclub. On defense, the Bobcats junked the 4-3 for a 3-5-3 setup.
"It allows us to bring backers from different angles and groupings of who's going (blitzing) and who's not," Scepanski said. "Again, we're trying to fit our kids to what best fits them."
The new offense provides plenty of options for Northeastern to attack on the ground, taking advantage of an average sized but quick offensive line and the return of the Bobcats' top four rushers, so we should see an improvement from a club that finished second to last in the York-Adams League in rushing last fall.
This brings us to Friday's crossover meeting with a quick and dangerous York Catholic offense — featuring quarterback Hakeem Kinard (1,203 rushing yards, 1,688 passing yards and 33 total touchdowns last season) and wideout Qua'Shawn Grooms (39 receptions for 632 yards, seven touchdowns). The matchup could turn out to be one of the most entertaining games among the 19 total Week 1 contests featuring York-Adams League squads.
"I expect to come out with a bang," Josey said. "I really just want to stick it to them."
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.