Week 3 of Beaver County High School Football on Pittsburgh Sports Now is made possible by Vocelli’s Pizza, Moon Golf Club, State Representative Rob Matzie, Orlandini Family Chiropractic and Pack ‘N Ship.
When Mark Washington took over the Hopewell football program in the summer of 2015, the former Aliquippa graduate knew he had to start with changing the program’s culture.
The Vikings failed to win a game in 2014 and had just one win in 2013. Rock bottom for a program that won a PIAA state championship in 2002.
“Every year you’ve got to change the culture, the way things are done,” Washington said. “When I got here, guys were not coming out, and a lot of kids were not playing.”
Washington has worked tirelessly to infuse the program with a “workman’s like attitude,” and after winning just two games in his first season, the Vikings are making significant strides in his third season.
“We just did little building blocks, little goals, teambuilding stuff—we go out into the community and help clean the roads in the spring—to try and bring this team together,” Washington said. “I can see the dividends from it.”
Hopewell opened the season with a narrow, 7-3, loss to Freedom but has since ripped off two straight wins entering Friday’s contest with Yough.
Last week, the Vikings forced four turnovers, and senior kicker Samantha Hysong connected for the go-ahead 32-yard field goal with 5:56 remaining to edge Ellwood City, 16-14. Washington was pleased to see his team’s response after falling behind 14-7 entering the final quarter.
“When the chips were down, everybody started rallying—the coaches and the players,” Washington said. “When’s there’s a sense of urgency, our team turns into a whole another gear. There’s always that fight, not giving up.”
The young Vikings have a flair for late-game dramatics. Against Burrell in its Week One matchup, Hopewell surrendered a game-tying touchdown with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. Washington’s team responded, however, with an eight-play, 55-yard game-winning drive, capped by junior DeShaun Sanders’ eight-yard scoring run with 61 seconds left.
The Vikings defensive unit has been stingy through three games, surrendering just 27 points, but Washington believes there’s still room for growth and hopes experience will help clean up the miscues.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go because we’re always giving up one big play,” Washington said. “We’re still working hard. We’re still young, and we’re trying to build upon that.”
Hopewell has only six seniors back from a team that started 5-0 last year but faltered down the stretch due to injuries and a back loaded scheduled. The Vikings lost both starting outside linebackers prior to its Week Six meeting with Quaker Valley a year ago and were dealt their first loss, 31-14. The injuries continued to pile up and the once promising season completely unraveled, ending with five straight losses.
“Being a young team, our biggest concern is staying healthy,” Washington said going forward.
During practice, he is strategic in balancing reps to keep players healthy and build up the younger, more inexperienced players.
“The young guys, or whomever it is stepping in, have to be able to handle the responsibility of getting in the game and playing,” Washington said. “You’ve got to have the young guys ready to play.”
Yough is winless so far in 2017 and has been outscored 111-20 by its three opponents. Washington believes the Viking offense is close to breaking out and Friday is a perfect opportunity as any.
“Doing the little things—stepping with the right foot, understanding your assignment, understanding your blocking,” Washington said. “It’s just the little things. We’re so close that you can smell it.”
Sanders and senior wide receiver Tyler Sabo, who leads Hopewell in all-purpose yards, are the team’s top offensive threats. Since struggling against Freedom, junior quarterback Mason Colvin has rebounded and thrown for more than 200 yards in the Vikings’ two wins.
Defensively, senior lineman Noah Drudy leads the team in tackles and is joined by junior Garrett Nicol up front. Junior linebacker Connor Forrest has emerged at linebacker and Sabo headlines the secondary.
Hopewell has two non-conference games left before closing the season with five straight Beaver Valley Conference contests. Health will be play a significant factor for the Vikings, but Washington is confident the team is better prepared for the second half.
“The program is starting to feed itself,” Washington said. “I can see it. We’re getting better.”