GAR knows that losing its first two football games of the season isn’t terminal. The Grenadiers did just that last year, then went on a victory binge to qualify for the District 2 Class 2A playoffs.
And while GAR coach Paul Wiedlich Jr. commended last year’s team for its mettle, he would prefer this year’s bunch doesn’t perform the same high-wire act.
That could be very difficult as the Grenadiers (0-1) will be on a thin line between victory and defeat when they host Dunmore (1-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
“Last year was really tough, especially coming off two seasons where we kind of ran the table,” said Wiedlich, whose team won the D2-2A titles in 2010 and 2011. “But our kids really showed a lot of determination and a never-say-die attitude each week. We took one game at a time.”
While GAR’s 2012 campaign ended with a district semifinal loss to Lakeland, Dunmore continued playing right to the very end.
The Bucks advanced all the way to the PIAA Class A state championship game, falling to perennial powerhouse Clairton 20-0. Many faces that led to the title contest are back, and they didn’t miss a step in trouncing North Pocono 48-13 in their opener.
The two biggest names are in the backfield. Senior running back Daiqwon Buckley is closing in on 4,000 career rushing yards. He’s a big guy at 225 pounds. Senior quarterback Brandon Kujawski passes sparingly, but when he does he is usually very effective.
It’s a formula that coach Jack Henzes has used throughout his 47 years as a head coach. Establish the run, sneak in the pass, win the game. Henzes, who was Wyoming Area’s first coach in 1966, has walked off the field a winner 372 times.
“They have a lefty quarterback who can sling the ball,” Wiedlich said. “They like throw the quick out or mid-range slant pattern. But they’re going to line up, try to out-formation you with a heavy look. Either a guard-tackle-tackle look or a four-man over to one side, what we call a loaded look.
“They are going to try to jam the ball down your throat.”
Dunmore won last year’s game 29-0. Very little went right for GAR in that game. The Grenadiers turned over the ball seven times. Starting quarterback Corey Moore was sidelined with an injury, throwing inexperienced Rashaun Mathis behind center. The results were predictable.
Moore has graduated and Mathis has assumed the role as the starter. Wiedlich liked what he saw from him in the 27-19 season-opening loss to Lakeland. Mathis brings a running element to the position, something that can be traced throughout GAR’s quarterback history.
Senior running back Rich Sickler has always been a lunchpail guy. He rushed for 158 yards on 15 carries against Lakeland.
“I thought Rashaun played a heck of a game,” Wiedlich said. “He really had control of our offense and showed great leadership. And Rich Sickler, I can’t say enough about him. He’s a horse for us. For the last three years, he has been stepping up. Our offensive line did a nice job and opened some nice holes.”
GAR’s defense contained Lakeland’s running game for the most part, limiting the Chiefs to 135 yards on 35 carries. The Grenadiers held Chris Roche, a top-notch runner, to 45 yards on 20 carries. However, they were torched by the pass for 244 yards.
“Our pass coverage was a little off,” Wiedlich said. “They were throwing those 20-yard patterns and our kids were getting a little confused with their depth in the zone. Our run defense played really well. We had some kids step up we really didn’t expect to.”