New Castle overcame a 1-3 start to rally for a WPIAL Class 4A playoff spot.
Four Red Hurricane players — Devin Sams, Josh Bartley, Demetris McKnight and Rocco Robinson — helped the team rally for a fourth-place tie in the Northwest Eight Conference and were honored on the conference’s all-star first team.
Sams, a senior, earned honors on both sides of the ball, at tight end and outside linebacker. He had five carries for 19 yards and two catches for nine yards on offense.
“He had a great career for us and he was a four-year starter. The fact he made first team on both sides of ball, I thought, was well deserved,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “I like to think that anybody that’s a first-team guy is a guy who could start for any team in the league. I think he was one of those guys. He was dynamic offensively. For the last two seasons, in particular, he was really a force as far as setting the edge for our rushing attack. He carried the ball and caught some passes for us. Defensively, he has been a force for us. He really had his best year as a senior. It was exciting to see him progress throughout the past four years.”
Bartley, a senior, earned honors as a center.
“He was a two-year starter for us and he really was a catalyst for our run game,” Cowart said. “He has been the centerpiece of our good offensive lines the past two years. The fact he got a first-team nod was a testament to how he was the captain of our offensive line the last two years. When he was going well, we were going well up front. We’ll miss him, moving forward.”
McKnight, a junior, earned honors on offense as athlete. He finished the year as the team’s quarterback. He rushed for 848 yards on 106 carries. He threw for 411 yards as well. He scored 12 touchdowns.
“The fact that everybody in the league thought he was a first-team player said something because he missed nearly half the year. To get that honor is a testament to the type of football player he is. He is a special talent,” Cowart said. “I think the athlete spot is the right for him. He can do pretty much everything you ask him to do. We’ll look for him to continue to progress as a young man and football player. He has an exciting skill set. Our league took notice of it.”
Robinson, a junior, was a force at defensive end.
“I thought he may have been the best player on our team, from start to finish. He had a fantastic season defensively. He was a staple in the other team’s offensive backfield. He had a lot of tackles for loss and sacks,” Cowart said. “He has earned everything he’s received. He has a load of talent, but his work ethic shows up on Fridays. He is nearly impossible to block, at times. We’re excited to see what his senior year looks like. Hopefully, he takes another a big step.”
New Castle rallied to finish the season with a 5-5 mark. The ’Canes wound up 3-4 in the conference, tied with Knoch and Montour. New Castle earned the loop’s final playoff berth based on tiebreaker criteria and reached the postseason for the sixth year in a row. The ’Canes fell to Thomas Jefferson, 49-16, in the first round.
“Our four-year seniors went to the playoffs all four years, which is nice,” Cowart said. “Obviously, we didn’t start the year in the fashion we wanted. You have to tip your cap to the grit and determination of our upperclassmen and seniors. When things looked bleak, those guys kept grinding and they developed into a pretty solid team as the year progressed. Hopefully, the younger guys took note and will make the most of that, moving forward.”