The Northern C 8-Man is one of the tougher prep conferences in Class C football. Teams like the defending state champion Chinook Sugarbeeters cast a big shadow, especially since they also house an undefeated record at 7-0. But the Hawks’ head coach Jim Vinson knew he had a special team this season, and while the Hawks still continue to try and make a name for themselves as a Class C powerhouse, Vinson’s team is right where he expected them to be.
“We did see ourselves accomplishing this,” Vinson said. “But I think a lot of people didn’t. As a coaching staff we had pretty high expectations of the boys, knowing that they were capable of playing good football, but our expectations were higher than other peoples.”
A big reason for the Hawks’ success was due to their ability to reload after some key losses.
When a team takes a blow to the roster it is never easy to keep moving forward. But even after losing the talents of Ceddy Pogue and Brandon Graff to the college ranks, C/J-I was able to find some able bodies to fill some very big holes. Quarterback Leonard Pugsley and tailback Erik Kelly headline the list of Hawks who answered the call this season.
Mix in some unproven athletes at the wide receiver position, and it is no wonder why the Hawks weren’t early favorites. But with Puglsey taking over the offense in a big way, and Kelly dominating in the ground game, the Hawks have a potent recipe for success.
“He (Pugsley) has been a huge key to our success,” Vinson said. “He has really stepped up and been a great team leader. He has taken control of the offense and really understands what we are trying to accomplish and is doing a great job running and throwing the ball. And Kelly is having a heck of a year. He is another guy that as a sophomore, he didn’t get a lot of varsity playing time, but when he did get in, we really thought he would turn out to be a good one, and he has really panned out to be a great running back.”
Kelly has added a nice one-two punch to what Pugsley can do with his legs, and already has racked up just under 1,000 rushing yards thus far.
But without an offensive line Pugsley and Kelly would be nowhere, and that is where the Hawks’ success truly lies this season.
Lane Harmon, Adam Fitzpatrick and Jeff Wanken have anchored the offense this season. They are three strong linemen and have dominated teams upfront for the Hawks. They have been a huge factor in an offense thus far, and have played intricate roles in racking up the nearly 50 points per game the Hawks are averaging.
“Those three interior guys have played well for us,” Vinson said. “This is the third year starting for all of them.”
But what is an outstanding offense without an outstanding defense?
C/J-I not only puts points up on the board in a hurry, but the Hawks also have a knack for keeping them off of the board for the opposition. While the offense has put up big numbers, the defense has kept teams to just over 13 points per game on average.
Again, it comes down to the line. Harmon, Fitzpatrick and Wanken get the credit again, but so does Jake Fitz. The strength, without question of most Northern C teams is their run game. But the Hawks’ lineman have done a nice job of stopping the running game, and forcing teams to turn to the air.
“They have really done a great job with that,” Vinson said. “They really make teams do some things they didn’t expect to have to do, and in our last three games we have forced each team to throw the ball over 30 times each. That is just a testament to what they are doing.”
Pugsley, Kelly, Mike Henke and Jordan Oraw have also played outstanding defense as the linebackers and defensive backs for the Hawks.
Moving forward the Hawks are looking to maintain their undefeated streak. And the Hawks are looking for a return to the playoffs, as well as back to the days when they were a dominant football power year-in-year-out. The last football state championship in Chester was in 1998 when they were still the Chester Coytoes.
But while they have turned plenty of heads over the last six games, fans will really pay attention when they face Chinook tonight in Chinook. This is the untamate test for the Hawks, and everything they have done so well to this point will be ran right at by the Beeters’ Zach Molyneaux and Ben Stroh.
“This is a big game,” Vinson said. ”It has been a goal for our kids, what they have been shooting for and what they are going to get. They just have to stay grounded and be ready to play, Chinook is a good football team and are ranked No. 1 for a reason. They have had their way with everybody they have played this year and we are looking to go into Chinook and play hard. I know coach (Matt) Molyneaux is going to have his kids dialed in and ready to go and I am sure he expects the same out of us. It is just going to be a good football game.”