Franklin, BG football lead area sports stories of the year

“Out with the old, in with the new” was truly Penn State’s theme in 2014, as the Nittany Lions hired both a new head football coach and a new athletic director.

Late last New Year’s Eve, Bill O’Brien’s departure as the Nittany Lions’ football coach was finalized, with the announcement of his acceptance of a head coaching position with the National Football League’s Houston Texans.

Less than two weeks later, on Saturday, Jan. 11, Pennsylvania native James Franklin became the 16th head football coach in Nittany Lions’ history.

Franklin, 41, came to the Nittany Lions with lofty credentials, after building up Vanderbilt’s football program from the ashes and leading the Commodores to three straight bowl berths.

A native of the Philadelphia suburb of Langhorne, Pa. who played college football at East Stroudsburg University, Franklin also became the first African-American head football coach in Penn State history.

O’Brien’s departure and Franklin’s appointment as Penn State’s coach were among the Mirror’s biggest sports stories in 2014.

A couple other Penn State-related stories also made headlines in 2014. After Dave Joyner announced his retirement as the school’s athletic director, Penn State appointed Sandy Barbour as the school’s first female athletic director in late July.

In September, the NCAA lifted what had been a four-year football postseason bowl ban against Penn State as a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

After logging a 6-6 regular-season record, the Lions became bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2011 postseason, and wound up playing Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York’s Yankee Stadium this past Saturday.

Penn State won that game, 31-30 in overtime, on a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Christian Hackenberg to tight end Kyle Carter, followed by Sam Ficken’s point-after kick.

Franklin, who signed a six-year contract at Penn State worth $25.5 million, was the Nittany Lions’ coaching choice after an interview process that also involved Miami University head coach and former PSU player and coach Al Golden, former Tennessee Titans’ coach and ex-Penn State player Mike Munchak, and San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Greg Roman.

Long-time Penn State assistant coach Larry Johnson, who also interviewed for the head coaching position, decided not to return to Penn State even though a job on Franklin’s staff was offered. Johnson was almost immediately hired by Ohio State as a defensive line coach.

Included among the coaches Franklin brought with him from Vanderbilt to Penn State was linebackers coach Brent Pry, who was born in Altoona and whose father, Jim, is an Altoona native.

Franklin’s appointment marked the Nittany Lions’ third different head coach — including interim coach Tom Bradley – since the late, legendary Joe Paterno’s 46-year reign ended in November 2011 amidst the Sandusky scandal.

While most area Penn State fans welcomed the arrival of Franklin, there was some sentiment locally that the coach might follow O’Brien’s path and head for a better job, possibly in the National Football League, down the road.

Franklin – who was also the guest speaker at the 2014 Blair County Sports Hall of Fame banquet in April – attempted to quell any doubters by asserting that Penn State was his destination coaching job.

Time will tell.

Joyner retired as Penn State’s athletic director this past summer. Joyner had been appointed Penn State’s acting athletic director by former Penn State president Rodney Erickson in 2011 in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal, and the acting part of Joyner’s title was removed in January 2013.

Joyner – a former Penn State athlete and prominent surgeon – replaced Tim Curley, who faces charges stemming from the scandal and is awaiting trial.

Penn State appointed Barbour, 54, who had formerly been the athletic director at the University of California, to the AD post on July 26.

Penn State signed Barbour to a contract worth $700,000 per year.

She arrived at Penn State just one month after she resigned at the University of California, where the school’s football program endured a 1-11 season a year ago, and had the lowest graduation rate (44 percent) among the 72 teams that compete in major conferences.

The Golden Bears’ basketball program also had the lowest graduation rate (38 percent) in the Pac-12 Conference, according to NCAA statistics.

Although the Penn State football coaching change was at the top of the Mirror’s list of big stories in 2014, there were many others, including the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic Marauders’ first PIAA state football championship:

SUBHED: BG wins football title

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School enjoyed the finest season in its venerable football history, capping off a perfect 16-0 campaign with a 19-18 win over previously-unbeaten Clairton in the PIAA Class A championship game Dec. 12 at Hersheypark Stadium.

The Marauders won a state football championship in their first-ever appearance in the title game and became just the second team from Blair County to win a PIAA football championship, joining the Tyrone Golden Eagles, who won the Class AA crown back in 1999.

Senior running back Sam McCloskey scored two touchdowns in the final, and BG’s defense held a Clairton offense which had averaged nearly 63 points in its first 15 games to a season-low three touchdowns in the championship game.

Led by McCloskey and senior quarterback Brandon Chadbourn, BG’s prolific offense averaged more than 43 points over the course of the year. The Marauders reached the 60-point mark in three games, 50 in another, and 40 in eight others.

BG’s defense was just as good, allowing an average of a little more than six points per game, shutting out seven opponents, and limiting four foes to one touchdown or less.

BG coach Justin Wheeler was named the Pennsylvania Football Writers Association’s Class A Coach of the Year, as well as the Altoona Mirror’s Coach of the Year, for 2014, while McCloskey (running back), Chadbourn (defensive back), and seniors Matt Gormley (tight end) and Andrew Berger (defensive lineman) were also all-state selections.

McCloskey rushed for 2,080 yards on 207 carries – an average of 10 yards per carry – and 41 touchdowns, and also earned the Mirror’s 2014 Player of the Year award. He scored a total of 47 touchdowns.

McCloskey will play college football at Lehigh University, where he is being ticketed for duty at safety. Chadbourn, who completed 83 of 146 passes for 1,459 yards and 17 touchdowns as BG’s quarterback this past season, will go on to play collegiately at Villanova University, which recruited him as a wide receiver.

In clinching the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference championship with a 10-0 regular-season record, BG posted an impressive 27-3 victory over previously-unbeaten Somerset in the regular-season finale. Somerset went on to earn a berth in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals.

Bishop Guilfoyle opened the state playoffs with a 62-21 rout of Camp Hill in Chambersburg, and the Marauders punched their ticket to Hershey by beating South Williamsport, 28-21, in a PIAA Class A semifinal game that was played in DuBois.

SUBHED: Bucs return to playoffs

The Pittsburgh Pirates qualified for the National League playoffs for the second straight season, earning home field for a National League wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco Giants Oct. 1 at PNC Park.

The Pirates finished as the league’s top wild-card entry for the second consecutive season after winding up the regular season with an 88-74 record and in second place in the National League’s Central Division, two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 2014 wild-card game ended in disappointment for the Bucs, who dropped an 8-0 decision to the Giants before a PNC Park single-game record crowd of 40,629 fans.

Shortstop Brandon Crawford cracked a grand slam homer in the fourth inning off Pirates’ starting pitcher Edinson Volquez, giving the Giants a 4-0 lead that was more than enough for lefthander Madison Bumgarner, who tossed a four-hit shutout.

The Giants went on to win their third world championship in the last five seasons, defeating the Kansas City Royals in seven games in the World Series.

Led by third baseman Josh Harrison, whose .315 batting average placed him second in the National League batting race to Justin Morneau of Colorado’s .319, the Pirates staged a 17-4 surge in September that enabled them to overtake both the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves in the wild-card fight.

SUBHED: Steelers end drought

After a two-year absence from the National Football League playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers are postseason-bound again this month.

The Steelers rode a red-hot 4-0 December to an 11-5 regular-season record and the American Football Conference’s North Division championship.

The Steelers will face their archrivals, the Baltimore Ravens, in the opening round of the AFC playoffs Saturday night at Heinz Field.

The Steelers’ offense struggled as the team got off to an inauspicious 3-3 start this season. But the offensive unit, behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, and wideout Antonio Brown, began to gel in late October, and the Steelers went on to win eight of their final 10 games.

SUBHED: Pitt changes coach

The Pittsburgh Panthers ended the 2014 calendar year with a new football coach.

Paul Chryst, a 49-year-old Wisconsin native, left Pitt Dec. 17 to take the reins of the Wisconsin Badgers. On the same day, Pitt also parted ways with its athletic director, Steve Pederson.

Just nine days later, on Dec. 26, the Panthers hired Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, 48, to become Chryst’s successor.

Wisconsin hired Chryst just a week after the surprising departure of Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, who left the Badgers to take the head coaching job at Oregon State.

Chryst led the Panthers to a 19-19 record in three seasons, including a 6-6 record in 2014 that qualified Pitt for a berth in tomorrow’s Armed Services Bowl in Fort Worth, Tex. against the University of Houston.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph will serve as Pitt’s interim coach for the bowl game. Rudolph is expected to join Chryst’s coaching staff in Wisconsin next season.

SUBHED: Franco stays put

John Franco played a game of musical chairs this past year.

And when the music ended, Franco remained seated as Altoona Area High School’s head football coach.

Rumors were rampant late in 2013 into early 2014 that Franco would end his second tenure as Altoona’s football coach to return to the Tyrone program that he had led to a Class AA state championship back in 1999, but Franco announced that he was staying as the Mountain Lions’ head coach in mid-February.

Franco had expressed interest in the Tyrone job, which became vacant when Steve Guthoff resigned following the 2013 campaign. But Tyrone never made Franco an offer and informed Franco that he would have to apply for the position, which the school filled by hiring Jason Wilson in March.

Franco’s record in his second tenure at Altoona – he also served as the Mountain Lions’ head coach from 1986 through 1992 – is 14-16 over three seasons, including an 8-3 record in 2014, when Altoona qualified for the WPIAL [Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League] playoffs and won an opening-round game, 27-17, over Bethel Park at Mansion Park.

Franco had initially expressed his desire that the Mountain Lions leave the rugged, highly-competitive WPIAL to either compete as an independent or join forces with other central Pennsylvania teams to form a league.

But Franco was quoted last February that he thought the Mountain Lions can hold their own in the WPIAL, which realigned its Foothills Conference, of which Altoona has been a member.

At least for the 2014 season, he was right.

“I want to see if we can get this moving,” Franco said last winter. “We’re going in the right direction. We can become a major factor again.”

SUBHED: Lions continue reign

The beat went on for the Penn State wrestling team at the 2014 NCAA Championships.

Led by impressive finals victories by seniors Ed Ruth and David Taylor, Penn State captured its fourth consecutive NCAA Division I team title last March 22 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Ruth became Penn State’s first-ever three-time national champion, controlling Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock, 7-2, in the 184-pound finals, and Taylor earned his second championship with a 6-0 victory over Oklahoma State’s Tyler Caldwell at 165. The heroics by Ruth and Taylor enabled Penn State to overcome runner-up Minnesota down the stretch, 109-104, in the team scoring race. Oklahoma State finshed third with 96 points.

Ruth and Taylor graduated from Penn State after posting a cumulative record of 270-6 with 99 falls. Though their absences will create a considerable void, Penn State has established the type of dynasty under esteemed coach Cael Sanderson that gives Nittany Lions’ fans every hope that it will continue.

“To win four national championships, that’s pretty special,” Taylor said.

SUBHED: PSU spikers defend title

The Penn State women’s volleyball program continued its enormous run of success, winning its second straight NCAA title, its seventh overall, and its sixth in the last eight years.

Coached by Russ Rose, the Penn State women’s team locked up the NCAA championship by defeating Brigham Young University, 25-21, 26-24, 25-14, in the title match Dec. 20 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.

Penn State, which finished the season with a 36-3 record, entered the NCAA tournament as a third seed but defeated top-seeded Stanford, 25-16, 23-25, 25-22, 25-21, in the semifinal round before knocking off unseeded BYU (30-5) in the championship round.

SUBHED: Curve hosts EL All-Star Game

For the second time in its 15-year history, the Altoona Curve played host to the Eastern League All-Star Game.

The 2014 game was played July 16 before 6,055 fans at Peoples Natural Gas Field, with the West Division squad – including Curve pitchers Ryan Beckman and Kenn Kasparek, catcher Elias Diaz, infielders Alen Hanson and Drew Maggi, and outfielder Willy Garcia – topping the East Division team, 5-2.

Steven Moya of the Erie SeaWolves came up with the game’s decisive hit, a fifth-inning grand slam off the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ Dustin Antolin that earned Moya Most Valuable Player honors.

Altoona had last hosted the midsummer all-star game in 2006.

On July 15, the Curve staged a benefit softball event known as the Heroes Game, which pitted former Curve players – including Jack Wilson, Adam Hyzdu and Tike Redman – against a squad comprised of military veterans known as the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.

The Curve alumni won the game, 17-5, but the team of military veterans, competing with life-altering injuries sustained in combat, stole the show, providing inspiration to the 4,894 fans who showed up to watch the event.

SUBHED:Lady Lions make switch

Controversy surrounded the Altoona Area High School girls basketball program early last summer.

The varsity head coaching job that had been held for the past four seasons by Jill Helsel was opened up on June 9.

Helsel, who had led the Lady Lions to two District 6 Class AAAA championships and two other appearances in the district championship game in her four seasons as coach, was at the center of bullying allegations by some players.

Helsel had been retained by a vote of the Altoona Area School Board when similar allegations against her had surfaced in 2013, but last June the Board opted for a change in direction.

Miriam Colledge, who had coached Altoona’s junior varsity team in the 2013-14 season, became Altoona High School’s new girls varsity basketball coach on July 14.

Colledge was also formerly a head girls basketball coach at the Altoona Area Junior High School, where she is an English teacher.

Colledge was a basketball standout at Altoona, graduating in 1981, and also served as one of former head coach Art Taneyhill’s assistant coaches during the Lady Lions’ state-championship runs in the mid-to-late 1980s.

SUBHED: Pens sign area native

Last June, Hollidaysburg native Sam Lafferty became the first hockey player with a background at the Galactic Ice facility to be drafted by a National Hockey League team.

And he did it in a big way, getting chosen by the hometown Pittsburgh Penguins in the fourth round of the NHL draft with the 113th overall pick on June 28.

Lafferty, a forward, played his youth hockey for the Altoona Trackers and Mid-State Mustangs and spent several seasons playing for the Hollidaysburg Area High School program before transferring to Deerfield [Mass.] Academy.

While at Deerfield, Lafferty racked up 55 points in 25 games and caught the eye of various colleges around the United States, including Brown University in Rhode Island, where he will play college hockey after spending a season in the United States Hockey League.

It may be several years before Lafferty actually suits up in a National Hockey League uniform, but the fact that he could do so as a Pittsburgh Penguins’ player would be a thrilling story for area hockey fans.

SUBHED: Area excels on diamond

The Central High School baseball and Claysburg-Kimmel High School softball teams both punched their tickets into respective PIAA championship games last June 13.

Unfortunately, that particular Friday the 13th proved to be quite unlucky for both programs: Central dropped a 5-1 decision to Loyalsock, while Claysburg came up on the short end of a 4-1 decision to Minersville.

The Scarlet Dragons carried an unbeaten 24-0 record into the PIAA Class AA baseball championship game against defending Class AA state champ Loyalsock of District 4 at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Claysburg-Kimmel made its first-ever appearance in the PIAA Class A softball state title game against Minersville of District 11 at Penn State’s Beard Field.

While neither local finalist was able to capture PIAA gold, history still was made. It was the first time that two Blair County baseball and/or softball high school teams had reached the state finals in the same season.

Central, which returns an outstanding nucleus for the 2015 season, marked its third appearance in a PIAA baseball championship game. The Scarlet Dragons also reached title games in 1984 and 2010, but finished second in the state in those years as well.

SUBHED: Four win track gold

Area athletes enjoyed a gold rush at the PIAA state track and field meet at Shippensburg University May 23-24.

Four area athletes – Northern Bedford senior Blake Over (Class AA boys long jump), Northern Cambria senior Gus Yahner (Class AA boys pole vault), Huntingdon junior Kobren Frederick (Class AA boys triple jump), and Tyrone sophomore Erika Voyzey (Class AA girls triple jump) won state championship gold medals.

Over – who was named the Mirror’s 2013-14 Male Athlete of the Year – was seeded 17th in the Class AA boys long jump entering the state meet, but won the gold by registering a leap of 22 feet, 4 inches to best runner-up Gregory Johnson of Schuylkill Valley (who jumped 22 feet, one-quarter inch).

“I’m really happy with how it turned out,” said Over, who also won his second straight bronze medal for a third-place showing in the Class AA boys triple jump at last spring’s state tournament.

Northern Cambria’s Yahner and Springfield’s Chris Stone both cleared 15 feet in the Class AA boys pole vault, but Yahner won the gold medal based on the fact that he had fewer misses at the last height that they both achieved.

While both Yahner and Over graduated last spring, both Frederick and Voyzey will return for the 2015 track and field season.

Voyzey won the Class AA girls triple jump with a leap of 5 feet, 7 inches, and Frederick captured the Class AA boys triple jump with an effort of 46 feet, 2 inches. Voyzey’s closest competition was Central Columbia’s Lindsey Carl, who registered a jump of 5 feet, 4 inches. Frederick’s closest competition was Richland’s Michael Somiari, who turned in a jump of 44 feet, 11 inches.

SUBHED: Williams goes pro

Alli Williams, a former Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School standout who finished her Saint Francis University basketball career last March as the school’s second all-time leading women’s scorer with 2,170 points, signed a one-year contract in September to play for Team A.O. Terpithsea near Athens in Greece’s top women’s basketball league, known as the Division I league.

Williams became one of just 11 Division I college women’s basketball players to collect 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 steals in her career, and she set a Red Flash single-game scoring mark with 47 points in her final regular season game against Wagner – a total she duplicated one game later in a Northeast Conference semifinal win versus Sacred Heart.

Williams participated in the Women’s National Basketball Association combine in Nashville, Tenn. last April. Her ultimate career goal is to become a professional player in the WNBA, and she is hoping to use her basketball experience in Greece as a stepping stone toward an eventual WNBA career.

SUBHED: Lady Devils reign

Led by sophomore Sydney Gilkey’s fifth-place individual finish, the Central Cambria girls cross country team captured the PIAA Class A team title in the PIAA championships held Nov. 1 at Hershey’s Parkview Course.

Central Cambria’s 72 team points bested runner-up Elk Lake (84) and third-place Holy Cross (93).

It was the fourth state team title for the Central Cambria girls squad, which had also won in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

SUBHED: Bedford’s Gabriel second

Bedford Area High School sophomore Jonathan Gabriel was the only area wrestler to reach the PIAA championship match in either Class AAA or Class AA last March.

Gabriel, a District 5 champion and Southwest AA Regional Tournament fourth-place finisher, finished a 29-6 season with a 5-0 loss to Bethlehem Catholic senior Luke Karam in the 113-pound Class AA title match March 8 at Hershey’s Giant Center.

It was the second straight year that a Bedford wrestler had lost to a Bethlehem Catholic opponent in the state finals. In 2013, Bedford’s Ryan Easter dropped a 17-5 major decision to Bethlehem Catholic’s Darian Cruz in the 120-pound Class AA state championship bout.

SUBHED: Pitt make March Madness

The Pittsburgh Panthers made it to the NCAA Tournament last March in their first season as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, but didn’t survive March Madness’ first weekend.

Pittsburgh completed a 26-10 season with a 61-45 loss to eventual Final Four finisher Florida in the South Regional at Orlando, Fla. March 15.

The Panthers, seeded ninth in the regional, opened the tournament with a 77-48 win over eighth-seeded Colorado March 13.

The Penn State women’s basketball team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in three seasons under head coach Coquese Washington. The Lady Lions finished 24-8, defeating Wichita State (62-56) and Florida (83-61) in the first two NCAA tourney games, both played at the Bryce Jordan Center, before losing at Stanford, 82-57 in the regional semifinals March 30.

The Penn State men’s basketball team didn’t qualify for either the NCAA or National Invitational Tournament last March, instead playing in the third-tier College Basketball Invitational. The Nittany Lions split two games in that tournament, losing at Siena, 54-52 in the second round to finish a 16-18 season.

SUBHED: In memory

Former Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer and New York Mets broadcaster Ralph Kiner, 91; former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, 82; former Juniata Valley High School basketball coach and athletic director Ed Sparr, 77; Emil Branas, 77, who distinguished himself in wheelchair marathon racing competition; former Saint Francis University men’s basketball standout Wilbur Trosch, 75; former Bedford High School boys basketball coach and Indiana University assistant men’s basketball coach Royce Waltham, 72; former Pittsburgh Pirate player and Philadelphia Phillies manager Jim Fregosi, 71 … former Everett High School football coach Irv Brambley, 69; former Claysburg-Kimmel High School athlete Sam Glass, 48; Chris Amerine, 44, who served as a police officer with the Altoona Area School District and helped to provide security at the school’s athletic events …. Former Central High School and St. Francis University athlete Matt Hazenstab, 34.