Non-playoff teams still working toward goals

Many of the area’s high school football teams will spend the final three weeks of the regular season making a push toward the playoffs or try to improve their seed.

But for some, that ship has sailed and the focus has shifted to trying to make special memories for out-going seniors or preparing underclassmen for future seasons.

“Our Tuesday offensive practice we had last week was the best we had all year,” Central Cambria coach Shane McGregor said. “The seniors realize it’s coming down to their final games, and young guys want to honor the seniors and are looking toward the future and looking at it as a springboard, kind of like a college football bowl game.”

The Red Devils opened the season with a comeback victory over Johnstown but haven’t tasted victory since. Still, McGregor says his team has plenty to look forward to as the season wraps up.

“We are playing at Saint Francis University this week for our homecoming,” McGregor said. “Then we get a Thursday night football game (against Bishop McCort on Oct. 18) and then senior night, it will be the last time for the seniors to play at Red Devil Stadium. We are not playing to go undefeated, but you realize those experiences are a big motivation to keep you going.”

As the losses pile up, it’s only fair to question whether the same intensity shows up in practices that was present when everyone was 0-0.

“We’re pretty fortunate,” Williamsburg coach Bob Hearn said. “The guys who are playing want to play, like the game and they understand we only have a few upperclassmen. They know they need to set good examples for the younger players, work hard and play hard every week.”

The Blue Pirates are 0-7, have scored just three touchdowns this season and have less than 25 players on their roster, but Hearn and his players still enjoy coming to practice and working hard each day.

“It isn’t always about the wins and losses,” Hearn said. “I look at it as developing the players as young men and preparing them for life, not just athletics. We’ve had a lot of good kids with good stories. I try to make a difference in the player’s lives, and that’s what I get out of it.”

Philipsburg-Osceola was in the same camp as Williamsburg when it entered last week at 0-6, but the Mounties pounded Vincentian Academy, 49-0, in their homecoming game. Vincentian may not have been a top-tier opponent, but victories against anyone are important to the process of building a program.

“It was good to get some confidence in the kids,” Philipsburg-Osceola coach Brian McGonigal said. “They kind of let a few games go this year. We were up on West Branch and then got gassed, because we were out of shape. We have talked to kids about coming to summer workouts to get in shape, and as the season progressed, they saw how important that is.”

McGonigal is hoping that picking up a victory will help reinforce that the hard work the Mounties have put in since they reported to camp is paying off and that coming to those offseason programs this summer will be worth it.

Wins also bring more interest to programs and help build numbers, something McGonigal has been working on during his first season at Philipsburg.

“A lot of kids came out,” McGonigal said. “We had right around 50 kids come out, and all of them have stuck with it, which is awesome. It was great to have a junior varsity program, because we are very heavy with our sophomore class with only a handful of juniors. Getting them reps has been very beneficial as we continue through the season and the upcoming offseason.”

Williamsburg isn’t likely to ever reach 50 players on its roster due to the small size of its school. Instead, Hearn said the upcoming games are important to develop the young talent he already has on the team.

“We’d like to try to win a game but also continue to improve,” Hearn said. “We want to throw the ball a little more and score a few more points. We want to try to eliminate mistakes and turnovers and keep progressing on things we’ve worked on all season.”

Philipsburg-Osceola closes out its season with home games against Huntingdon and Penns Valley with a trip to Clearfield sandwiched between those games. McGonigal is hoping to see a new confidence in his team now that they’ve experienced a win.

“We have had some games where we were right there like with Tyrone, but we just didn’t have that finish mentality,” McGonigal said. “They were up, and it was a shock, but we have said as coaches they have the mindset of ‘when is something bad going to happen so this week’ so winning was a big boost. We played really well on both sides of the ball, and hopefully that carries us through our last three games.”

Meanwhile in Ebensburg, McGregor knows his players will keep going hard, simply out of respect for the game.

“I preach to my guys all the time, guys like Kobe Bryant respect the game of basketball and treat it not just a game but like it has a soul,” McGregor said. “Our football games are the same thing. You can’t throw it away. You only get so many Friday nights and everyone is precious. That alone should drive and motivate you every week to play well.”