About the Bulldogs:
Record: 9-3, 6-3
District 11 Class A champion
Head coach Jeff Sampson on the expectations for the Bulldogs in 2018 after the team posted an 8-4 record in 2017:
“I don’t think the expectations were as high as they were last year. The team lost 16 seniors who were very talented and they accounted for the majority of the starting positions on offense and defense. The kids coming back, especially the 14 seniors, they didn’t get a lot of playing time, including Daulton Leedy at quarterback. The district championship or a place in the state tournament weren’t anticipated, but these kids worked very hard in the offseason and during the season to dispel any thoughts of what this team was going to be able to do. They’ve come together as a team and we’re seeing where it takes us.
“Looking back on the season, there were a couple games that we weren’t happy with the way we played. I think it was after the loss to Halifax that they realized — here’s a team as good as Halifax was that we played very tough in the first half. They realized after that it was one of the better teams in our league and we hung with them. They started to believe that we could play with anyone. That was the starting block of where that thought began.”
On the play of Leedy, a first-year starter under center who has compiled more than 1,500 yards passing and 300 rushing yards:
“He didn’t play a whole lot at quarterback last year with [Logan] Yoder at quarterback. He came in when I came in this year and we had a lot of contact. He did a lot of work in the offseason to learn the offense. He had the skills. He’s very mobile and likes to run. He has a strong arm. We tried to work on the small points to make him a better passer, and he’s been a tremendous quarterback for us. He’s an extension of me in the huddle — he takes charge and the kids have respect for him.”
On other athletes to emerge as key contributors:
“Tyler Mcgrath has exploded onto the scene. He has nine interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. He’s a lockdown corner and plays against the better receivers we face. He’s emerged as a star on defense, and offensively he’s a starting receiver. We have so many good receivers — him, Nick Stiely, Nick Zeigmont, Alex Torres, Chase Herb — that we don’t have a key No. 1 guy that our quarterback can go to that has 40 or 50 receptions. Everyone has 20-25, so their numbers aren’t as high, but they play well.
“Nick Zeigmont was a cornerback last year and we moved him to inside linebacker, and he’s excelled at that position, posting five sacks and 87 tackles.
“One area we had concerns with — on the offensive and defensive lines — we had Colt [Focht] there at defensive end, but our two tackles — Stone Clousser, who missed last year because of a knee injury, and Nick Parobeck — they’ve come in and done a nice job for us on the lines.”
On what winning the district title by defeating Williams Valley 28-21 means to this program:
“I think it is huge for the kids. It wasn’t anticipated that we would get this far. The way our districts are set up, four teams of the five make the district playoffs, it was relatively anticipated that we would make the field. But we didn’t realize how far we would make it. Nativity is a good team, Marion came on late and Williams Valley was at the top. No one thought we would be a threat. We haven’t won a district title in almost a decade. It is huge for the kids and the program. We have some good athletes coming up in the program that can feed off this for the next couple years. It’s a huge confidence builder.”
On what to expect facing Lackawanna Trail:
“They are a quality football team, 11-1. They beat some good teams in Dunmore and Old Forge — two teams that have been to the state finals recently. They run the Wing-T offense and have a four-year starter at quarterback [Nathan Rolka] and a couple of running backs [Ray Melnikoff, Cody Moyle and Jeffrey Resto] that can move very well offensively. Defensively, they are stout. They have linebackers that are quick to the ball. They have two really good defensive ends, including the quarterback. We’ll have our hands full, but we’re looking forward to the challenge. The kids fell in love playing on the AstroTurf last week. We’re not the biggest team, but we have great team speed.”