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Hempfield football turns eye to future

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Steph Chambers | Trib Total Media
Hempfield players signal a turnover after they forced a fumble against Altoona on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014, at Hempfield. Altoona won 35-12.

Faced with inexperience and a wealth of injuries, the Hempfield football team failed to reach the postseason for the first time in three seasons.

But for coach Rich Bowen, the way his team played through adversity is a point of pride the Spartans can carry into next season.

“We always want to make the playoffs; we didn’t meet that goal,” he said. “We played a lot of young kids, had a lot of injuries at the start of the season that really set us back quite a bit. I was proud of the way we finished the season.

“It wasn’t what we wanted, but we were definitely pleased with the way we finished the season.”

Hempfield (3-6, 2-6 Quad East) began the season 0-2, a hole it never quite could climb out of. But after conference wins against Kiski Area and Latrobe, the Spartans found themselves in a de facto playoff game against Altoona in its section finale, a game they eventually dropped 35-12.

“We had a spurt in the third quarter for about four minutes where we had like four turnovers in a row,” Bowen said. “It just knocked us out of that game. We were right there with them, and that seemed to be the tale of our season.”

Hempfield went up against Fox Chapel in its last regular-season game.

With nothing on the line, the Spartans defeated the playoff-bound Foxes, 56-21.

“It would have been real easy for us to just fold the tents up and pack it in for that last game, but we didn’t so that’s what I was proud of,” he said.

The injury bug hit the Spartans early and often, as the team lost seniors Jay Flock (tight end), Logan Swan (wide receiver) and Josh Kempka (linebacker), junior quarterback Dan Walters and sophomore center Bussy Remaley, among others, throughout the season.

“We had some devastating injuries that really hit us early,” Bowen said. “We’re not making any excuses. You’ve got to play with what you’ve got.”

With plenty of youth on its roster, Hempfield has a lot to look forward to next season. Walters is set to return after passing for 1,371 yards and nine touchdowns to go along with 492 yards on the ground.

“We expect big things from Dan again next year,” Bowen said. “Again, the tale of our season, we lost him in Week 9 with a back injury so he did all that in eight games. That was quite a season for him.”

Despite the loss of senior receiver Dante Luther (601 yards) to graduation, junior Dylan Sikora will look to fill the void in the receiving corps.

Don Washington aims to lead the Spartans’ rushing attack after gaining 470 yards with a 6.0 yards per carry average this year.

Bowen knew things were going to be a little different this season after featuring senior-laden teams the previous two years. But with so many underclassmen gaining experience in 2014, Hempfield is excited about what the future holds.

“That sophomore class who got a lot of playing time this year, we’re expecting them to be a year older and a year better, too,” Bowen said.

“Those sophomores who are now going to be juniors, a lot of them are going to be starting their 10th game already coming into Week 1 next year.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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