The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

HS Sports Ferndale

August 25, 2012

Finishing games key to getting Ferndale back in win column

JOHNSTOWN — Veteran coach Tony Penna Sr. knows the difference between a winless season and a respectable record sometimes comes down to a few plays, a big stop – or a strong finish.

Last season, Ferndale lost all nine of its games.

But the record might have been much different had the Yellow Jackets fared better in the second half of their first five games.

“We know how to start. We’ve got to learn to finish,” Penna said. “The hardest thing in the world is to win a game. Once you get one, the other ones seem like they’re easier.

“That first win is so difficult. You have just got to play your heart out. We’re hoping we’ve worked hard enough to bring some success to the kids.”

Penna felt the Jackets came tantalizingly close to turning the corner early last season. But as the losses mounted, it became a tougher road.

“The first five games last year, we were right there,” Penna said.

Ferndale led at halftime in its first two games against Berlin (a 25-6 loss) and at Shade (28-7), and was tied 14-all against Meyersdale (35-20) in the third quarter during Week 3.

Close setbacks at Rockwood (29-20) and against Blacklick Valley (8-0) followed.

“The first game we played Berlin in that heat we were a little thinner than them. We lost three linemen and weren’t deep enough to come back though the kids fought right until the end of the fourth quarter,” Penna said. “The kids had worked so hard in training camp. A lot of guys cried after that game, which is a good sign.

“It gets harder and harder to show emotions when it keeps happening. We were beating Shade at halftime. We were beating Rockwood at halftime. Meyersdale we played tough.”

Ferndale returns 13 lettermen, including seven starters on offense and eight on defense.

Penna will have a lot of weapons to utilize in his multi-schemed offense.

Senior quarterback Chad Eisenhuth returns after completing 76 of 140 passes for 1,050 yards last season. He ranked 10th in the area in passing yards.

“Chad brings an intelligence to the game,” Penna said. “He’s a tough competitor. He’s got a lot of savvy. He’s a really smart football player. Whatever sport, he understands the complete game. He’s the whole package.”

Senior Carlos Mason, junior Isiah Sajatovich and senior Tyler Hileman are experienced receivers.

“We have five or six other guys that will be fighting for those receiving jobs, too,” Penna said. “We’re very happy with our skill people.”

Mason and Hileman might also see time in the backfield, Penna said.

“We’ve been taking a real hard look at Carlos Mason,” Penna said. “He’s a senior coming back, a big guy at 6-2, 215. He’s a big, strong kid who is fast and has great football savvy.”

Senior Patrick Palmer played fullback last season but will move to tailback. Sophomore Steve Sharp also is a back.

“We’re real pleased with what we’re seeing at the running back position,” Penna said.

Penna knows the Jackets have the ability to pass the ball. The development of his offensive line and running game will be a key to Ferndale’s success.

“Up front was our concern,” Penna said. “We’ve shown some great improvement up front. We had some kids come back and we’re making progress up front.

“The biggest thing we want to be able to do is run the ball,” he added. “That’s what we’re working hard on. We’re trying to find a go-to running back.”

Senior center Nate Hoffman is an experienced lineman. Joshua Earnest, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound right guard, moved into the district from Oklahoma.

Senior right tackle Beau Thompson is a two-year starter. Senior left guard Carl Jeske started both ways for the Jackets two seasons ago and returns after a year at an out-of-state school, Penna said. Left tackle Robert Maticic is a 6-3, 280-pound senior. Freshman Brad Boring and junior Levi Eisenhuth are also vying for time on the line.

“They’re all working hard and we hope it’s enough to make an impact this year,” Penna said.

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets use a 50 front and will rely on three-year starters Palmer, Mason and Sajatovich.

“We have a lot of guys with a lot of experience,” Penna said. “We’ve got a couple holes to fill.”

The defensive line will feature Palmer and Jeske at end, with Hoffman rotating into the position. Thompson and Earnest are tackles. Maticic and Boring are nose tackles.

Mason returns at linebacker. Sophomore Gary Walker, senior Devin Hoffman, junior Bradon Shawley, sophomore Steve Sharp and sophomore Devon Valinsky also are at linebacker.

Sajatovich and Hileman are cornerbacks. Chad Eisenhuth and sophomore Taylor Kinsey are at safety.

“We need to play against the run much better. Over the years, our biggest problem has been stopping the run,” Penna said.

“Our whole secondary is back. We have two of our three linebackers back. We have our defensive ends back. We’ve found some good replacements at tackle. We’re solid on defense. We’ve just got to stop the run.”

Boring will kick off for the Jackets. Mason will handle punts and extra points.

Ferndale’s numbers included 30 apiece on the varsity and junior high rosters.

“For a Class A school, that’s good,” Penna said. “That’s 60 kids playing football at Ferndale. Last year, we had 14 junior high kids who hung in there the whole season. I called them the ironman squad. This year we have two 30-man squads.”

Penna is in his third year as head coach at Ferndale and fourth with the team.

Overall he is in his 42nd year as a coach either in football or baseball – and for many years, both sports.

He started coaching football as an assistant at the former Johnstown Vo-Tech in 1983 and took the Spartans’ head job five years later. He held that post until 2001. Penna was a defensive coordinator and athletic director at Johnstown prior to joining the Ferndale staff.

Penna is assisted by offensive coordinator Shawn Furfari, defensive coordinator Gary Kinsey, secondary-wide receivers coach Dan Fenton, and line coach Mike Kush.

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