By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Todd Rothermel, 9th season (55-34), 13th season overall (88-47)
League/division: Mid-Penn Liberty
2019 record: 7-4 (7-2 Tri-Valley League)
Postseason: Lost to Upper Dauphin 44-14 in District 3 Class 2A semifinals.
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TD
Mason Huggins: 1-1, 34, 1
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TD
Mason Huggins: 72-204, 2.8, 3
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TD
Andrew Bates: 26-269, 10.3, 6
Key returning players: Will Davis, sr., WR-DB-K; Mathew Godbout, sr., FB-LB; Mason Huggins, sr., WR-DB; Aaron Liddick, sr., OL-DL; Thomas Pyle, sr., RB-LB; Caleb Godbout, jr., WR-DB; Tyler Geer, so., OG-LB; Andrew Bates, jr., QB-LB.
Outlook: While Newport closed the 2019 regular season in a hurry, what is on tap during a truncated 2020 campaign is one of those slippery propositions that has quickly led to all sorts of guesswork. What will keep the ‘Port’s opponents guessing, especially since all-time leading rusher Ethan Rode is gone, is who will be getting the football? Having lots of bodies up front is another potential plus for the Buffaloes, who may be able to platoon their lines. Regardless of who touches the football and who winds up moving bodies up front, these guys will compete and compete with passion.
3 Things to Know:
1. Buffs prepared for Year 1 A.R.: Since the remarkably consistent Ethan Rode carried the football for the final time in Newport’s loss to eventual champ Upper Dauphin in the opening round of the District 3 Class 2A playoffs, the Buffaloes’ coaching staff was already brainstorming for the 2020 campaign when they wouldn’t have the powerful 5-foot-10, 220-pounder available. Yet while bidding adieu to the program’s all-time leading rusher is never easy — Rode piled up 4,001 yards and 48 scores in four seasons, three as a starter — head coach Todd Rothermel knows graduation losses are inevitable. “It’s always a new year, and you always have to deal with losses and obviously you ride the horse that you have. And when you have that horse for several years, you use him until people stop him or he has to move on and grow up,” Rothermel said. “I knew going in that we were going to have to do different things, that we weren’t going to be able to hand it to Ethan and let him go do his thing.” So, instead of watching Rode do his thing game after game, this year’s Buffs are trying to find ways to max touches for converted quarterback Andrew Bates, multi-talented wideout Mason Huggins and probable feature back Thomas Pyle. A likely dual-threat performer, the 6-3, 195-pound Bates shifts to QB after two seasons on the flanks. Huggins, at 6-4, 175, will be a target in the passing game, yet he’s capable of breaking something on a Jet sweep or reverse. Pyle is smaller than Rode, but he’s packing more breakaway possibilities than his predecessor. With a young yet capable offensive front available and several other returnees ready to go, the Buffs could be just as productive offensively yet get things done in a more diverse manner. Said Rothermel: “We have to try to use our athletes in space.”
2. Bates absorbing plenty in a hurry: While the remarkably athletic Bates spent his first two seasons catching passes from Elijah York, the junior suddenly finds himself directing traffic instead of trying to elude a jam in the secondary or at the line of scrimmage. Rothermel, needless to say, has been pleased with his new QB’s rapid progress. “Bates is a heck of an athlete. He’s really good. You can’t say enough about him. And he’s done an outstanding job learning things. At the beginning of July, he couldn’t even say the plays,” Rothermel said. “He has really done a nice job trying to study, listen and learn.” And while Bates has the physical tools necessary to thrive in a passing game, he’s never played the position before. Yet Rothermel did compare his promising junior to a former standout at the position. “I think if Andrew had been a quarterback when he walked into our program, we’d probably have another Noah Heimbaugh on steroids,” Rothermel said. “This kid can run and get out of trouble.”
3. Buffs hoping to make return trip to 2A postseason: Certainly won’t be a simple, unimpeded journey to the District 3 Class 2A playoffs — especially since only a title game will be contested — but Rothermel is hoping ‘Port can qualify and have an opportunity to win its second 2A crown in four seasons. What adds to the degree of difficulty is the Buffs will open the season with road tests at Trinity, Susquenita and James Buchanan before hosting Juniata at Katchmer Field. What will help is wins over JB and Juniata, which both sit in the 4A classification. So, stay tuned. “If we can mature and grow up, I think we’re going to be a tough out. We’re gonna obviously make somebody work to get that done,” Rothermel said. “If we want to play in the postseason, we have to mature right now. It has to happen. In two weeks, when we get to Trinity, we’ve got to be ready to go. We’ve gotta win every game if we hope to get in.”