H.S. FOOTBALL: Wildcats tune up for big tests
DAVIDSVILLE — The real tests are coming soon enough. Until then, the Homer-Center Wildcats are going to celebrate as if they’re on top of the world.
And really, what could be better than being 7-0?
“Honestly, to me, there’s no greater feeling in the world,” gushed Homer-Center senior Mike Newhouse after he and the Wildcats thrashed Conemaugh Township, 38-12, on Friday in a non-conference football game. “It’s a special thing. It’s a great thing. It just feels great.”
Newhouse rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns, and backfield mate Ean Lee gained 118 yards and scored one touchdown as the Wildcats entered the most difficult part of their schedule on a high note. Homer-Center welcomes Ligonier Valley (6-1) next Friday, and the following weekend it plays host to Penns Manor, which is tied for first place in the Heritage Conference, at 7-0, with Newhouse and the Wildcats.
Should Homer-Center beat Ligonier Valley, the Wildcats’ matchup with Penns Manor could be a winner-take-all battle for the conference championship.
“It’s a really good feeling,” said Homer-Center coach Greg Page. “I’m proud of our kids. Everybody talks about what we’ve got coming up — the tough schedule — but we’ve got to enjoy this one for a few days.”
The Wildcats left Somerset County late Friday night with a lot to feel good about. They rolled up 435 yards of offense, including 330 on the ground; they held the host Indians to just 135 yards; and they wore down a thin Conemaugh Township team that was playing without its head coach, Sam Zambanini, who was serving a one-game suspension after being ejected from last week’s 42-35 loss to rival Windber.
And while the final statistics — and the score — might make it look like Homer-Center had an easy night, Page shook his head at the notion that Conemaugh Township didn’t put up a fight.
“Their offense was diverse,” he said. “It was hard to stop them at times with some of the things they did. They took advantage of their personnel, and they’re a very scrappy team, but ultimately we were able to do what we’ve been doing, and that’s use our power game and mix things up just enough to sustain things.”
The key was mental for the Wildcats, who could have been forgiven for looking down the road at Ligonier Valley and Penns Manor rather than the non-conference Indians. But Page said he made sure his team understood that it needed to use this game as a springboard for the next two.
“You’ll hear a lot of coaches say that, but we preached it,” he said. “I respected this team because of the type of coaches they have and the way they played us last year. I tell our guys, ‘You only get Friday night one day a week. So if you can’t get up for a Friday night one time a week, then there’s something wrong. Maybe you shouldn’t be playing this game.’”
Newhouse said his coach probably could have saved the talk about not overlooking the Indians. Just having a game that wasn’t against one of the familiar Heritage Conference faces was incentive enough.
“I think them being out of our conference, it added a little more excitement and enthusiasm to it,” Newhouse said. “It was nice to play a different team. I think it got us a little more excited. … These guys are a good team. They came out hard, and it was a good game for us.”
The Wildcats broke open an eight-point game early in the third quarter when Newhouse scored twice and the game turned into a rout. The hosts added a late touchdown to make it 31-12, but Newhouse bludgeoned his way to another score as the Wildcats roared their way to another win.
Afterward, Page told his team to soak it in and enjoy the pride that comes with an undefeated record. But then he told them about the next step in the journey, and it was one the Wildcats are eager to take.
“You’re not 7-0 every year,” Page said, “and I told our guys, ‘There’s nothing that could be better than to be where you are right now. But one thing that would be a little better would be to be 8-0.’ So that’s our goal. We’ve got a tough Ligonier Valley team coming in that’s consistent and well-coached every year. It’s upon us to have a better week of practice than we’ve had, and then to build upon that.”
And as for Newhouse, being 7-0 isn’t much of a surprise, but it sure feels good.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised, but we work hard and we have expectations to do good,” he said. “But we play week to week. Right now, we’re focused on the next game.”