Yellow Jackets closing in on
unbeaten regular season
By john bassetti
The current Waynesburg University success story is rich with area talent, which makes Rich Shepas gloat a little.
“We have good flavor of Youngstown area kids down here and they’re all doing an outstanding job,” said Shepas, whose roots are here, too.
Now in his eighth year at Waynesburg, the former Cardinal Mooney and YSU player is at the helm of a personal-best 9-0 record as the Yellow Jackets — already owning a share of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference — head into Saturday’s game against Washington & Jefferson — Waynesburg’s most important so far.
The senior-day contest with kickoff at 1:30 will be for the outright title.
The Division III Yellow Jackets (7-0 PAC) last won a conference championship in 2003. Waynesburg also won a PAC crown in 1998 and an NAIA national championship in 1966.
“The last couple years, some games were lost by a point or two,” Shepas said of losses by just 12 points in all of 2011 and by 14 points in 2010.
“Those were tough losses,” Shepas said, “but the difference this year is that we’re winning those close games. That’s 100 percent attributed to the character of the kids and how hard they’re playing. I’m telling our guys that they’re good enough to win the conference.”
There are 17 area players on the team coached by Shepas, whose high school jobs were at Massillon for seven years following stints at Seneca Valley and Poland.
Having an outstanding season is Carter Hill, the former Columbiana High player who took over the starting quarterback job and was 18 of 26 passing for 242 yards and four touchdowns against Westminster. On the season, Hill is 55 of 96 with three interceptions for 662 yards.
Hubbard’s Mike Lopuchovsky has seen action in every game, most recently as the starting safety. Lopuchovsky has led the team in tackles the last two games and has 34, one fewer than John Sikora (Campbell Memorial), a nine-game starter at linebacker.
The top tackler among area players is four-year defensive line starter Matt Krause (Ursuline), who is having a career year: 42 tackles, six tackles for loss, four sacks and one fumble recovery.
Also in the mix are LaVance Turnage (Ursuline), Jerry Lawman (Poland) and Kyle Richey (Girard), a linebacker who plays a major role in nickel and dime packages.
Turnage, when healthy, has been an everyday starter. In eight games, he has 25 tackles, one interceptions and six pass breakups.
Lawman was doing well before an injury ended his season.
Richey has returned to the field after missing some time due to injury.
Offensively, Andrew English (East Liverpool) is the Yellow Jackets’ third-best receiver with 13 catches for 191 yards and one TD.
J.T. Thompson (East Liverpool) has played in all nine games this year, including two starts, while guard David Bobby (Poland) has played in eight games of which two were starts.
Others on the roster are: Pat Depizzo (Mooney), Jimmy Morocco (Poland), Jordan Voitus (Poland), Anthony Latessa (Springfield Local), Kody Edwards (East Liverpool), A.J. Pantone (Hubbard), Spencer Bland (Sharpsville, Pa.).
“We pride ourselves on recruiting for defense,” Shepas said. “We evaluate every player on the defensive side of the ball and how they’d be there. We recruit defensive personnel and may move them to offense.”
A key component this season is time of possession.
“More so than the turnover margin is time of possession,” Shepas said. “It’s something we focused on more than I ever had in my career. Against explosive teams — some averaging the middle to high 30s per game — we’re holding those teams to 21 or fewer points by trying to slow offenses down.”
Shepas said that Hill and Lopuchovsky are the latest success stories.
Hill transferred from Tiffin and Lopuchovsky was a non-athlete at Ohio State who resumed football.
Sikora, too, is an excellent student and hard-nosed.
“There’s not a better kid in the world than him and he’s tough as nails,” Shepas said of the son of current Campbell Memorial coach Mickey Sikora, who was a three-year starter at Struthers when Shepas played at Mooney.
“We grew up together and both went to YSU, too.”