Clippers manage to replace lost talent, plus plug this year's holes
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
COLUMBIANA -- There would have been little reason for Bob Spaite to believe that his football team would have a better start to the season than its current 5-0.
Consider that his offense had lost Drew Wagner, a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard passer, to graduation, along with two offensive tackles, the center and two key receivers.
Then, this year, receiver Tony Giannone broke his wrist on the first day of summer practice.
In addition, Spaite may have been unsure of his defense, since it hadn't performed to expectations last season.
Then, presto! Columbiana's magic wand must have found fresh batteries because the Clippers are outscoring opponents, 149-22.
What's behind all the offense?
"Our offensive line coaches have done a tremendous job and the line has come around a lot faster than we'd hoped for," Spaite said. "They're not perfect, but they're playing way better than anyone on the staff would have thought. They're still young and it's only the halfway point, but it's worked out well."
Mike Welce assumed Wagner's position and is making strides at the controls. He's completed 31 of 56 passes for 569 yards.
At fullback, junior Joey Winters has filled in for Beau Papania, a 1,000-yard rusher last year. Papania sprained a knee ligament in this season's second game at Mineral Ridge.
Winters is also the punter, averaging 35.3 yards.
"We're fortunate," Spaite said. "The punt team has gotten us out of some tough situations."
In place of Giannone, a 5-8, 145 junior, five players have caught multiple passes.
"Tony would have been one of our main targets," Spaite said. "He'll have his cast off this week. He hasn't played wide receiver yet.
Cody McMillian and Cory Guy are among those Spaite expected to rely on among the receiving corps, but, in the last two games, Joe Kornack has four catches for 170 yards.
On the defensive side, Spaite has been surprised.
"Our linebacker situation has been outstanding compared to what it was. A year ago, we were struggling. It wasn't lack of coaching or effort, but we were not getting it done for whatever reason. This year, we're a little quicker, especially up front. We're not as big up front, but [we're] a whole lot faster."
Anthony Melone, a junior outside linebacker, has 11 sacks, while middle linebacker Mackie McGarry has come of age and has a team-leading 56 tackles.
"He started last year as a sophomore," Spaite said of McGarry, "but it seems like he understands the game a whole lot more. That's a tribute to defensive coordinator Larry Baughman."
At the other middle spot, Giannone and sophomore Josh Hertel share time.
"We're anxious to get Tony back without the cast," the coach said of the player who has already played two games on defense with his protective device.
J.D. Beck has held down the other outside linebacker position in place of Papania the last two weeks.
In the secondary, veterans like Welce at free safety and cornerbacks McMillian and Guy at have complemented the linebackers by combining for six interceptions.
Contribution up front
Providing the speed dimension up front in the Clippers' 4-4 defense are DT Chad Stauffer, DT-TE Ty Best, a senior; DE Brandon Barnhouse, a junior; DE Doug Sposetta and DT Chris McIntyre.
Coupled with the output of the offense and quick start by the defense (three shutouts), Spaite can't complain.
"Those two factors combined are why we're undefeated," he said. "If we do those two things, we'll win a lot of games."