STROHECKER: Northeastern football team looks like it may exceed expectations in 2017
- Northeastern is off to a 2-0 start, outscoring its first two opponents by 50 points.
- The Bobcats will face Solanco in Week 3 to close out their non-league schedule.
- Northeastern will face, arguably, the three toughest Division I teams right off the bat in league play from Weeks 4-6.
Every preseason, I break down each of the three football divisions in the York-Adams League and make my predicted order of finish for each division.
I'm no fortune teller. That's evident by how poor my choices were last season. In 2016, I picked one correct division winner (York Catholic), while teams I picked to finish near the top of their respective divisions tended to struggle, and vice versa.
I did it again this year, and after two full weeks of high school football, I may have found my first real flaw in Division I predictions.
I picked Northeastern to finish in fourth place in Division I, probably finishing somewhere around 6-4 on the season and 4-3 in division play. However, after seeing the Bobcats play for the first time this past Friday night, Sept. 8, against York Suburban, I can honestly now say that Northeastern will most likely exceed my expectations.
The reason I dropped the Bobcats down to fourth this year after finishing in second last season is because they graduated 21 seniors from a 2016 group that went 8-3 overall and made the District 3 Class 5-A playoffs. Replacing that much talent isn't easy, and a step back was to be expected. Or so it seemed.
Strong start: Yet, what Northeastern showed me in Week 2 is a team that may have graduated a lot, but still possesses quite a bit of firepower. Granted, wins over Daniel Boone and a very young and inexperienced York Suburban team doesn't instantly signal division championships and district semifinal berths are in the offing.
The Bobcats, however, have outscored their two opponents by 50, including a 35-0 shutout over the Trojans. It might not be the stiffest competition out of the gate, but Northeastern is handling its business in convincing fashion.
On top of that, the Bobcats have shown that, while a significant portion of last year's team needed to be replaced, they had plenty of players waiting in the wings for their opportunities. In the backfield, Frank Brown and Wyatt Hughes pack a strong one-two punch, while Fred Mulbah and Taemar Willis are dynamic receiving targets. Willis can also be featured in the backfield, exhibited by his one rushing touchdown against Suburban.
All of those guys will make things easy on first-year starting quarterback, Zech Sanderson, who is just a sophomore, but plays more like an upperclassman.
Daunting schedule upcoming: Up next for Northeastern is a home game against 1-1 Solanco, which is coming off a wild 55-54 overtime loss to Conestoga Valley. The Golden Mules will, without a doubt, provide the Bobcats with their toughest test of the non-league slate and will probably tell us more about Northeastern than perhaps either of the first two games did.
"It's always our goal to win these first three," head coach Jon Scepanski said following Friday's win. "They're non-league games for us, but each week is getting tougher and we're going to have a tough one next week. We got a very physical Solanco team. They do what they do and they do it well, so next week is going to be a very good test for us."
The test against Solanco starts a four-week stretch that could ultimately define the Bobcats' season. Once Northeastern wraps up non-league play, it gets right into the teeth of Division I play, facing arguably the three best teams right out of the gate.
A game at Central York, picked by many to win Division I, is followed by a home game vs. Red Lion, the reigning Division I champ, and then a game at Dallastown, which is always near the top of the divisional race.
If the Bobcats can navigate the next four weeks with a .500 mark and go no worse than 2-1 in Division I play, then they should be set up to not only contend for a division title, but return to the district playoffs.
Winning the league and making districts are always the goals for the top teams entering any season.
Coming into 2017, neither seemed particularly likely for Northeastern. I know I didn't foresee it.
But, I've been plenty wrong before in my preseason predictions, so it wouldn't surprise me if the Bobcats proved me wrong once more.
"This team can be very scary," Willis said. "We have a lot of doubters in the county. Our line is doing a very good job opening up the run for us and then opening up the pass for us. We have a lot of great young receivers and then Frankie Brown running the rock and Wyatt Hughes, so this team can be very scary."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com