Eagles coach Malen Luke says his team is better than last year.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Clarion University head football coach Malen Luke knows what he's up against when his Eagles invade Stambaugh Stadium Thursday night to play Youngstown State University.
The Division II Eagles have never beaten the Penguins in five tries -- they've never even come within 40 points.
But Luke, an assistant coach at YSU in 1984-85 under Bill Narduzzi, knows his team will learn from the game.
Tough to focus
"You know when you come in here that you are playing a program with great tradition," Luke said. "Stambaugh Stadium is a tough place to play no matter if you are a Division II, I-AA or I-A team.
"We try to stress to our kids that they can't get caught up in what's going on around them here and to stay focused on what they are doing."
The Eagles lost 44-0 last year. The series began in 1938 when the Penguins prevailed 46-0. It was resumed in 1992 (48-7) and then in 1996 (51-10) and in 1998 (50-6).
The Eagles dropped to 4-7 last year after going 7-4 and tying for first in the PSAC-West conference in 2000. The Eagles return 18 starters from 2001.
"We are a much better team than we were a year ago," Luke said. "We're a little bit older and more mature."
Last year the Eagles were minus-12 in the turnover margin, which Luke feels was the difference between a winning and losing season.
Newton Falls graduate
The Clarion offense is led by Youngstown area product Adam Almashy, the 6-2, 190-pound senior quarterback from Newton Falls.
The three-year starter has connected on 295 of 670 career passes for 4,111 yards and 36 touchdowns and has rushed for another 826 yards and 12 touchdowns on 415 carries.
The backfield also returns senior tailback Robert Walker and sophomores Glenn Lovelace and Ben Culver at the halfbacks. Walker rushed for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Eagles and last year had 507 yards and 10 touchdowns on 97 carries.
The offensive line returns four starters, and Luke feels it is the strength of the offense. Senior Reggie Wells (6-4, 300) was a Football Gazette All-American and two-time All-PSAC choice. Senior Guard Ryan Duchon (6-3, 310) was also a two-time All-PSAC selection.
The defense returns 10 starters and 16 lettermen and has led the conference in sacks and tackles for losses the past two seasons. Last year it contributed 34 sacks and 102 tackles for a loss.
The defensive front is led by junior noseguard Troy Bowers (6-2, 285), who was All-PSAC a year ago, along with seniors George O'Brien and sophomore Tim Connolly.
Senior inside linebacker Scott McGrady returns to anchor the middle of the defense. Junior Myron Hargon, a two-year starter, returns at cornerback.
The Eagles also return punter Ken Crawford, who was first team All-PSAC in 2000, leading the conference with a 40.6 punting average.
Clarion averaged 22.3 points a game last year, but allowed 23.8. The offense averaged 353 yards, including 240.5 on the ground. The defense allowed 306.9 yards per game.
The big factor was 36 lost fumbles and 12 interceptions.