Michael Henwood

Hickory’s Michael Henwood tries to break free from a North East defender during Saturday’s District 10 Class 3A quarterfinal game at Greyhounds Stadium in New Wilmington.

Clarity came calling recently as to the reason why Hickory High head football Coach Bill Dungee has been so successful in his initial season at the Hornets’ helm:

Self-belief.

After a lengthy career as an assistant at his alma mater, Farrell, as well as Sharon, Dungee has directed Hickory to a 7-3 overall record, His Hornets had just defeated North East (56-0) in the District 10 Class 3A quarterfinals, and Dungee was asked if his 1st career playoff head-coaching win was personal validation. 

“To be honest, not really,” Dungee diplomatically replied. “Of course I want to win the playoffs, but I’m not even think(ing) about it as trying to validate myself. It’s really about the team. And I’ve learned – from Coach (Lou) Falconi, Coach Jarrett Samuels, Coach Jim Wildman – you just play a game. You prepare your team for the opponent in front of you, and you don’t think about the other stuff. And to be honest, that’s how I approached it.

“Last week (a bye following the regular-season finale) I wanted to get better, and I thought we got better workin’ on different things that we were deficient in, and then just comin’ out here and tryin’ to make a statement and get ready for Grove City. So that was my main focus, rather than validating myself at all,” Dungee related.

Region 5 champion Hickory has a rematch with Grove City. In Week 6, the Hornets snapped Grove City’s 23-game regular-season win skein (21-19). This second showdown stakes are even greater – that being the D-10 semifinals. Since winning 6 consecutive District 10 titles under Bill Brest, Hickory has not been back in 2 years. Conversely, Coach Sam Mowrey has gotten Grove City to the past 3 district championship games.

In the win over North East, Dungee had no difficulty doling out praise for almost his entire team. Quarterback Michael Henwood (6 TD passes), running back Braelin Stewart (career-best 139-yards rushing, including a 41-yard scoring sprint) ... H-back Rocco Iacino (38-yard TD catch) ... wide receiver Ramarion Whitehead (3 catches for 111 yards, including a 50-yarder) ... and Hunter Stoots, the running back who recovered from injury to sprint 75 yards for his first score in 6 weeks.

“ ... every day in practice we’re just workin’ to try and find new guys that want the ball, that want to play ... related Dungee, who continued:

“I’ve been tellin’ him, ‘Braelin, come on, come on!’ and finally, in the Grove City game after Hunter went down, (Stewart) showed somethin’, and now he’s believin’ the type of back that we knew – all the coaches thought he could be back in August. He’s runnin’ with some aggression, then we mix in the speed with Hunter Stoots, and we’ve still got Kam Fisher, so I like the ‘three-headed monster.’

“It’s a confidence-boost (for Stoots), and when he hits a straight line – he’s a track kid – he’s gone. He was even with the (North East) safety, then he’s ten yards in front of him. So that was big for him, his confidence, with that core injury (abdominal) that he had, just testin’ it with that touchdown. So proud of him and happy for him.

“I told him that he’s startin’ to look like ‘Summer Rocco.’ In summer, in passing teams’ scrimmages, he was givin’ teams fits until he hurt that collarbone. And, of course, with a collarbone (injury) you can’t run, so he lost all his conditioning. So he’s back and he’s in condition now, so he’s another weapon we can put him out there – split him out wide or put him in tight, and he can beat some guys one-on-one.”

In all the excitement of a 600-plus total-yardage performance by his Hornets, Dungee did admit, as opposed to the regular-season variety, a playoff win, “definitely feels better, ‘cause you’re still movin’ on in the tournament. And when you’re playin’ in November ... “

• Scholastic football playoffs in November is validation for any coach. Consider, Greenville High’s Brian Herrick, who has 13 years at the helm.

Herrick’s Trojans trimmed Northwestern (14-10) and will meet Wilmington Friday night for the D-10 Class 2A crown.

Validation?

“Yes,” Herrick, without hesitation, replied. “The big goal of our’s comin’ in – and from where we were last year (3 wins) we made a lot of improvement. We still have a long ways to go, but I felt it was important for the kids to be in a tight game like that, be able to finish it and have some success, and I think it’ll help us, moving forward.”

Herrick assessed, “Everybody played extremely well. I thought we played really good defense. Our front four – Justin Harbaugh, Griffin Richardson, Aaron Solderich and Ross Swartz and Anthony Gentile – all played really well, probably as well as they’ve played as a group. And, obviously, moving forward, our run-defense has to be really, really good. But I’m pleased with their effort last week.

“We knew how tough Northwestern is. We’ve played them so many times the last three, four years that we know each other very well,” Herrick continued. “Coach (Mark) Brooks does a great job, and their defense was really tough to run against. So we were pleased to be able to get a couple touchdowns on the board.”

Greenville’s game against state-ranked Wilmington is another rematch from the regular season (Wilmington won in Week 6, 45-0). When asked to assess the ‘Hounds, Herrick had a hearty laugh and related, “I’ve got about a hundred-and-ten plays sitting on my (dining room) table right now that I’m lookin’ over. They are, obviously, extremely talented and very well coached. They pose a lot of problems on both sides of the ball. 

“They’re a nightmare, to be honest, to try and defend,” Herrick continued. “We want our kids to play fast, and we’ll keep it as simple as we can. They’re a very good football team. It’s a tall task, but we’re lookin’ forward to it.”

Defending D-10 champion and reigning PIAA runner-up Wilmington has had a 2-week hiatus since its regular-season finale. Herrick was asked about the rest versus rust theory, and admitted with a chuckle,

“I hope they’re a little rusty. It would sure help. It’s tough, but I’m sure Brandon (Phillian, Wilmington’s 2nd-year head coach) does a great job spacing things out, keeping his kids fresh and excited. It’s unfortunate the way the system is set up at this point in the season, to have two weeks off. But I’m sure Wilmington’ll be ready to play.

“I’m just happy we didn’t have that. I don’t like bye weeks, time off. I like to stay in a routine,” Herrick explained. “I’m pleased we had a 10th (regular-season) game (Mercyhurst Prep) and a playoff game last week. At this point in the season bye weeks are hard to keep kids motivated, see the big picture out in front of them. So I’m pleased we had a couple games late; hopefully it’ll help us, moving forward.

“We’re as healthy as we can be at this point in the season. ... Everybody has bumps and bruises at this point int he season. But we’re as healthy as we can be going into the biggest game of the year for us.

“We’re thrilled to be still practicing,” Herrick said, concluding, “Obviously our goal every year is to win a district championship, and we’ve put ourselves in position to do that. I told our kids it’s been an up-and-down season, we’ve taken our licks and come back and played hard every week. We have a great opportunity here, and we want to make sure we play well and take advantage of it.”

• Farrell meets Maplewood Friday night for the D-10 Class 1A title. Coach Anthony Pegues’ Steelers are seeking the program’s 5th consecutive crown. Meanwhile Maplewood is in the midst of a career year, if you will. According to The Meadville Tribune, Maplewood’s program has not produced a postseason win since current Coach Bryan Borkovich was 7 years-old.

Perhaps the person with the most unique perspective is West Middlesex mentor Mark Means, whose Big Reds battled both during the regular season. Following last week’s D-10 semifinals setback to the Steelers, Means mused, “They’re a great football team. They’ve got a lot of speed, they’ve got size up front. They just took it to us -- that’s the bottom line. I know we didn’t play the best game; we were pretty sloppy, and you can’t do that against any team, let alone the defending state champions.”

However, Means also admires Maplewood, and not only the Tigers’ talented J.D. and Jesse McFadden.

“(Running back Kaleb Donor) hurt us, too. He’s fast ... not a big kid .. but he’s fast and he’s durable -- you hit the kid and he gets right back up. He’s got a lot of heart. He’s the perfect epitome of a football player,” Means praised, later admitting,

“ ... I hate to make predictions on things like that. I know Maplewood and company up there, they’re doing really well. They’re very athletic, so I think they’ll fare a little bit better with their athletes. But I think Farrell’s just another notch above that. I don’t know ... but I’ve gotta go with the Mercer County teams, back those guys. I think that Farrell’s just too much for them. But it’s going to be interesting to see. I think this probably is a match-up that everybody is lookin’ forward to seein’ down the road. Unfortunately, we’re not it it, and that hurts,” Means admitted.

ED FARRELL is assistant sports editor for The Herald. E-mail him at efarrell@sharonherald.com.

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