By Michael Bullock:
Coach: Scott Acri, 6th season (21-29)
League/division: Mid-Penn Liberty
2019 record: 4-6, 3-6 in Tri-Valley League
Postseason: Did not qualify
Passing: Comp-Att, Yards, TDs
Rushing: Att-Yards, Avg, TDs
Austin Kenny: 117-689, 5.9, 4
Receiving: Rec-Yards, Avg, TDs
Austin Kenny: 4-2, 0.5, 0
Key returning players: Slade Figard, sr, OL-DL; Austin Kenny, sr, RB-ILB; Grant McGuire, sr, OL-DL; Michael Kurtz, sr, WR-DB; Lawrence Rossman, sr, WR-DB; Brandon McKensie, sr, WR-DB; Mason Figard, so, OL-ILB; Laiken Miller, so, RB-OLB.
Outlook: Heavily dependent on the running game the past few seasons, Acri & Co. is optimistic that freshman quarterback Derek Gibney can provide the Blackhawks with an assortment of offensive options while preventing opposing defenses from stuffing the box against the Susquenita rushing attack. If Gibney can get comfortable quickly, that should create running lanes for the productive Austin Kenny and others. Since the Blackhawks have a number of inexperienced upperclassmen and 16 freshmen on their roster, Acri is hoping all of the youngsters mature quickly. If so, success may follow.
Three Things to Know:
1. Blackhawks counting on a pair of experienced two-way stalwarts: Buoyed by the return of dependable running back Austin Kenny — he’s an inside backer on defense — and two-way lineman Slade Figard, Acri believes his Blackhawks have two cornerstones that can help a group flush with youngsters and inexperienced performers gel rapidly. Both landed on the Tri-Valley League’s final all-conference squad, with Kenny a first-team pick on offense and a second-team choice defensively. Figard, meanwhile, landed a first-team nod on offense and was tagged honorable mention on D. Kenny averaged just south of six yards per carry while running behind a front featuring Figard. “Kenny’s a quiet guy. He kinda of does his own things and keeps to himself,” Acri said. “Figard is the one that does most of the talking and does most of the (stuff) from a camaraderie standpoint. You have one guy that shows up, does his job and competes at a high level and you have another guy that kind of complements that with his play but with his words also. I think they complement one another well. They’re two different personalities, but the way they go about their business has allowed the younger kids (to fit in nicely).”
2. Speaking of those aforementioned younger kids: Since the Blackhawks are packing 16 freshmen into a 44-man roster — the largest collection of players in Acri’s six seasons as Susquenita chief — a number of those youngsters have impressed the staff with their efforts and are likely to play early. Acri, in fact, admits that he could have three to six freshmen in the opening-night lineup at Boiling Springs. And one of those first-year performers, 6-3, 190-pound freshman Derek Gibney, likely will be the guy directing traffic when Susquenita takes over on offense. Yet while Acri indicates Susquenita will continue to utilize plenty of triple-option stuff, Gibney’s ability to throw the ball may enable the Blackhawks to stretch the field and limit the number of defenders creeping toward the line of scrimmage. In other words, the Blackhawks won’t be as predictable. “With Gibney, No. 1 he’s just football smart,” Acri said. “He’s really smart and he picks up things really quickly. He’s a bigger kid, solid kid that runs really hard, He doesn’t have quite the speed (that some of our other quarterbacks had), but he does the right things. It’s now getting him caught up from playing midgets a year ago to playing against 3A and 4A football teams. … He has the frame of a high school quarterback that we haven’t seen here at Susquenita. Already he’s done some things in our small camp here, he’s made some throws and some reads and some decisions that have put us in some spots that we haven’t had the luxury of being able to do in the last couple years.”
3. Susquenita returning to the Mid-Penn Conference: A charter member of the Mid-Penn Conference when it was formed in 1982, Susquenita is returning to the sprawling circuit for football only after relocating following the 2013-14 campaign. While the original plan was for Mid-Penn Liberty programs to play crossover games against those in the Mid-Penn Capital, schedules were reworked once COVID-19 concerns bumped the start of the season back several weeks. While Susquenita will open 2020 at former Mid-Penn playmate Boiling Springs, the Blackhawks and Bubblers also collided frequently when they both played in the Blue Mountain League. “It’s funny. You go to these meetings and you see the schools that I played against back when Susquenita was in the Mid-Penn,” said Acri, a Red Land grad. “I’m really excited to see how it works, because it allowed the Tri-Valley League teams, as much as we could, to stay together — because those are competitive games. … They’re a roulette wheel every week. They’re competitive as heck. They’re really well-coached and they have really good athletes. And we’ve developed some really good rivalries. Now we’re able to kind of take that tradition, per se, and morph it in the Mid-Penn and add some other hometown rivalries with some schools that are close to us that we play in some other sports and be able to continue to build that relationship under the Mid-Penn umbrella. I think it’s good for everybody.”