Two teams looking to improve in 2017 will meet Friday when Ambridge opens the season at Moon.
The Bridgers failed to crack the win column a year ago, but head coach Terry George, who is in his second stint with the school, believes his team made significant strides in the offseason.
“I think we’re further along this year than we were last year, which is a great sign,” George said. “The young kids did a real nice job of getting in here—in the weight and conditioning program—and our five heat days went real well.”
Moon will take the field under first-year head coach Ryan Linn, who served as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator the last two seasons. His familiarity with the team, and most notably, his relationship with senior quarterback Cole Konieczka, has made the transition easy.
“You can’t put any type of value on it,” Linn said. “Having the ability to know the kids, know what they’re capable of, know where to put them so they’ll be successful—you know a first year coach coming in to most situations doesn’t know.”
A new sense of commitment and attitude to compete are recognizable when watching this year’s Ambridge squad.
Five players transferred out of the district before the start of last season and the Bridgers suffered on the field, being outscored 437-26. Despite poor on-the-field results, George applauds the players who stuck with the program.
“We have what I call the 24, and that’s the 24 kids who have stayed with me through thick and thin,” George said. “If I say the 24, they know exactly who they are. Those kids have really come through for us and kept everything solid.”
Ambridge will be green up front, starting five all new offensive lineman, including some freshman. As a result, the team’s running game is still a work in progress. Senior running Mahki Robinson is the starting halfback and expects to get the bulk of carries. Demarri Jones, who transferred to Moon last year before transferring back to Ambridge, will also see time in the backfield.
While the running game gets up to speed, junior quarterback Noah Campalong will orchestrate the passing attack. Senior Laconia Seymour is the top wideout and will be flanked by seniors Brenden King and Dozhay Crumb, among others.
George has been impressed so far with his quarterback’s development and is excited to see his growth over the next two years.
“Skill wise, his [Campalong] throwing motion improved, reading defenses has improved,” George declared. “He basically improved in all categories, and we still have him for another year.”
“We’re looking to spread it around. I don’t think you can key on one person in our offense. We have a lot different options.”
Defensively, the Bridgers surrendered more than 45 points a game last year. Expect to see many of the same faces from the offensive side of the ball have an impact in slowing opposing teams down.
Konieczka, who threw for 1,100 yards and eight touchdowns as junior last year, will the lead the Moon offense. Junior Brady Sunday returns as the primary running back after rushing for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns in 2016.
Senior offensive lineman and Army commit, Nick Kotok, and senior Marques Duncan are the returners on the offensive line.
Much like Ambridge, the Tigers will spread the ball around offensively. Last year, Moon ran multiple sets in the spread and option attacks, but Konieczka mentioned the team has completely shifted to the spread this season.
On defense, seniors Frankie Steratore and Kyle Kuminkoski provide experience along the front line, and junior Christian Tanner will be tasked with leading the linebacking corps. In the secondary, senior Jake Dunning returns as the top defensive back.
Linn has preached disciplined tackling leading up to Friday’s season opener, emphasizing the Bridgers’ talent at the skill positions.
“Offensively, it looks like they move the ball really well so we’re going to have be leery of some athletes,” Linn admitted. “If they get the ball in space, we’re going to have to tackle well.”
He did add the Tigers should have a size advantage up front and hopes establishing a running game will open up big plays later in the contest.
George served on the Moon staff before returning to Ambridge last year. He knows Linn very well and expects the Tiger to be a tough challenge.
“We’re going to have to play our best game to stay in it and have an opportunity for our first victory,” George said.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.