Bald Eaglea Area has been knocking at the door.
The Eagles have made the District 6 playoffs the past two seasons.
First came a 41-6 blowout loss to Ligonier Valley in 2012, then BEA nearly upset Tyrone, falling 26-21 last fall.
Heading into a season with a new head coach, the Eagles have their sights set on the postseason again, with a caveat.
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“I feel like that’s the mark to make the playoffs,” tight end/linebacker Jarrett Shreffler said. “Now winning a playoff game is the next step.”
Ron Hoover takes over for Jack Tobias, who resigned after last season to pursue an administrative position. While technically a first-year coach, Hoover is a very familiar face on the sidelines in Wingate. He had a six-year stint as head coach at BEA that ended in 2001. He’s served as an assistant coach there, including last season on defense.
Hoover has seen the program improve first-hand.
“Two years ago they lost to Ligonier Valley and last year we had Tyrone on the ropes,” he said. “We’re definitely closing the gap on those teams. ... I think the kids feel that they’re there and have the confidence to know that they can play with people and not fear them.”
Hoover has been dealt a decent hand, but he still has to replace several explosive players on offense.
Leading rusher Dakota Bartley (876 yards, 10 TDs) has graduated. So have electric receivers Bryan and Bryce Greene. The twin brothers combined for 56 receptions, 1,189 yards and 12 touchdowns and were just as dangerous on kickoff and punt returns.
Hoover says his team will have to find different ways to score this season.
“It’s going to be more of a team,” he said. “There’s going to be multiple kids involved. It may not be the big play, the long kickoff or punt return. We may have to work a little harder. We definitely have people who can step in and play and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Eagles do return quarterback Jason Jones, who threw for 1,400 yards and 15 scores last season. Jones, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, has a big arm and has done an excellent job picking up Hoover’s new offense.
“He’s a leader,” Hoover said of his senior quarterback. “He came to all of the summer workouts. He’s picking up the signals. He can run the no-huddle. He has a total grasp on things already.”
“Experience is a big thing,” added Shreffler. “It was a good thing that Jason got through last year and knows what to expect this year.”
Jones will expect to target Shreffler, who went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament midway through last season.
“He’s definitely a threat and also a great defensive player for us,” Hoover said of Shreffler.
Senior Mitchell Struble, who rushed for 314 yards (6.4 per carry), will be the featured tailback. Hunter Hockenberry will also see time in the backfield. They’ll run behind an offensive line anchored by returning starters Levi Cramer, a second team All-Mountain League pick, and Ben Bytheway. Josh Fye saw some starting action last season. Evan Kim, Eli Myers and Kolyn Mellott are battling for the other starting spots.
Colton Comly and Adam Morgan will see action at fullback. Cole Robinson also will see action at tight end.
BEA doesn’t return a wide receiver who had a catch last season.
Cody Scholl and Shane Kunes will be among the outside targets for Jones, who is optimistic about the other playmakers.
“Mitchell Struble is going to step up and do a great job,” Jones said. “I think our receivers are going to be just as good as last year.”
Jones will continue as the team’s punter, while Jared Ishler and Myers are battling for placekicking duties.
Fye (6-3, 280), a first team All-Mountain League selection, and Cramer (6-2, 260), a second-team pick, will lead the defensive line. Morgan (5-11, 230) and Robinson also are starting.
Shreffler’s return may help ease the loss of first-team linebacker Jordan Kobularcik. Scholl and Comly also will start in the 4-4 defense. Hockenberry, Austin Young and Elliott Peters are battling for the fourth spot.
Struble and Kunes will start in the secondary. Scott Sayers, Jacob Gates, Tanner Kresovich and Mike Kachik are battling for the final spot. Jones also could see time in the defensive backfield if needed.
“Defensively we’re going to stay pretty much as we were because I ran that last year,” Hoover said. “We felt really comfortable with that.”
In the Eagles’ first scrimmage, Hoover thought his first-teamers played well, but the reserves were “a little tentative.”
Hoover has about 50 players on the roster, which gives him some options.
“We’re trying to develop some depth,” he said. “In our league, you’re going to need depth.”
And the Eagles will need that depth to make the playoffs, again.
“It was hard last year,” Jones said. “We had a pretty good team but I don’t see why we can’t do it again this year.”