With a trio of players such as Chandler Kincade, Cole Chiappialle and Alex Caratelli, one can never count Blackhawk out of a game and certainly not out of a season.
Even after numerous heart-breaking losses and injury after injury, the Cougars are still one of the toughest outs in the Parkway Conference and it has a lot to do with Kincade, Chiappialle and Caratelli.
As strange as it might sound, Blackhawk might be the best 1-4 team in the WPIAL.
In the season-opener, the Cougars let a 13-point lead slip away in the final 1:34 of regulation in a 31-27 loss at West Allegheny. They muffed an onside kick late in the game.
They lost, 7-6, at Hopewell after missing two field goals. They lost, 41-40, at Beaver last Friday after holding a 40-21 lead with 9:55 left in the game. The Beaver comeback was fueled by another special teams snafu, this time a blocked punt returned for a score in the fourth quarter.
Coach Joe Hamilton has seen a lot in his 47 years as a head coach but between the late-game collapses, injuries and lack of depth, Hamilton has never seen anything like this.
"We have had so many injuries we have freshmen and sophomores playing in there," Hamilton said. "We are right there in games, usually just a hair away."
The Cougars (1-4, 1-3) have been forced to lean on the trio of Kincade, Chiappialle and Caratelli more than they had anticipated. Already three wide receivers have been lost for the season. Those wide receivers were two-way players.
"So it was like losing six kids," said Hamilton who had a small 39-player roster to begin with.
Despite all the special team issues and injuries, Blackhawk has had a chance to win four of its five games in the final minutes. A lot of that has to do with its offensive playmakers.
Kincade, a University of Pittsburgh recruit though only a junior, is 74 for 131 this season for 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns.
"We do some sprint outs and we do some play action with Chandler," Hamilton said. "He is tall enough to sit back there but we need to protect him the best way we can. We don't let him run very much because if we lose him, we just don't have another person to put there."
Kincade is the only true quarterback on the team. If he were to get injured, Hamilton would be forced to move Chiappialle from tailback to quarterback. At tailback Chiappialle has rushed for 683 yards and eight touchdowns while also hauling in 26 passes for 349 yards and two more scores. Caratelli, a senior, is the top receiver on the team with 33 receptions for 566 yards and two scores.
"Obviously those guys are a mainstay in the ballgame," Hamilton said. "We are relying heavily on our passing game. We are having great difficulty with the depth at skill positions, so we rely heavily on those guys to carry us and they are doing a good job."
All three players are two-way starters.
"They do everything, they are on the field almost all the time," Hamilton said. "It is hard to get them off the field. It is really hard on the kids sometimes."
Things got really hard on Caratelli during a game when he was having trouble breathing. He was later diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. During games he signals to Hamilton when he needs a rest.
"Alex has just been a heck of a player for us," Hamilton said. "He has made so many big plays. He runs very well with the ball after he catches it. He makes some big catches, just some unbelievable catches, he always seems to be able to pull it in."
In the 41-40 loss to Beaver, Blackhawk outgained the Bobcats by nearly 300 yards. Kincade passed for 225 yards, Chiappialle, a senior, had 347 yards of total offense and Caratelli added 96 yards of total offense.
The Cougars will try to right the ship Friday night when they visit Parkway Conference rival New Castle (2-3, 1-3) at 7:30 p.m.
First Published October 4, 2012 4:00 AM