When looking for a WPIAL football program with historical and consistent success, it's hard to do much better than Blackhawk.
The Cougars have appeared in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game nine times since 1988, four of which they won, including three in a row from 1991-93. They are led by Joe Hamilton, who is in his 48th season as a head coach, a career in which he has won nearly 340 games.
Perhaps it's a combination of those factors that makes the program's recent struggles so intriguing ... or downright perplexing.
After a 31-14 loss to Montour last Friday, Blackhawk is 1-6, marking the second time in as many years that it lost six of its first seven games.
After going 11-2 and advancing to the WPIAL championship game in 2008, the Cougars have gone 18-26 since 2009, finishing no better than 5-4 in a season and missing the playoffs in three of those four seasons. With a 1-5 record in Parkway Conference play, they have been eliminated from playoff contention this fall.
As one of the smallest schools in Class AAA -- according to the latest PIAA entrollment figures, Blackhawk has 323 boys in the top three grades, which is 24 above the lowest number in the state for Class AAA football -- the past few seasons have not gone according to plan for Blackhawk, due to a variety of factors.
"We've had nothing but bad luck," Hamilton said. "That's been the story and that's what happens when you have a lack of numbers."
Bad luck certainly played a role in last season's 3-7 finish, one in which it lost four games by a combined 11 points. This season, that misfortune has come in the form of injuries, most notably one to its star quarterback, Chandler Kincade. Kincade was hurt in a season-opening 40-13 loss to West Allegheny and missed the Cougars' next three games. Though they managed to win one of those games, a 13-0 victory against Hopewell, the offense struggled without the Akron commit, averaging just 6.3 points per game.
When injuries -- particularly to such important players -- arise, a team's bench is tested, something which hurts Blackhawk. Hamilton noted that his team is not particularly deep or experienced this season. A defense that has allowed 31.6 points per game has also not helped matters.
Have the subpar records over the past few seasons affected Hamilton, who is in his early-70s? Has he thought at all about retirement? Hamilton said he does not want to make a hasty decision right when the season ends, preferring to wait a while to make sure he will make the right choice.
"When I run into people, the first thing they always ask me is, 'How much longer are you going to go?'" he said. "I always tell them I don't know. I'm sure I'll know when my time is up."
Rams' woes continue
Traditionally one of the strongest programs in Class A, much has been made of Rochester's shortcomings this season. The Rams are 2-5 and are losers of their past three games.
Most pressingly, they are likely to miss out on the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1996. They are a game behind Western Beaver for the final playoff spot in the Big Seven Conference, but are effectively two games out because they fell to the Golden Beavers, 50-6, on Sept. 27.
That would mean Rochester would likely have to win its final two games -- an unlikely situation considering its season finale comes against Class A No. 1 Sto-Rox (7-0, 6-0) -- plus get some other help.
Colts' offense standing out
It has been a difficult season for first-year Chartiers Valley head coach Niel Loebig, as his team is 1-6. But if the Colts are looking for a silver lining in their struggles, they need not look further than their passing offense.
Quarterback Josh Lapiana has thrown for 1,340 yards this season, putting him among the top 10 quarterbacks in the WPIAL, while his top receiver, Dom Castello, also rates among the WPIAL leaders with 31 receptions for 474 yards.
Games of interest
Aliquippa at Beaver Falls, 7:30 p.m., Friday -- The teams are Nos. 1 and 2 in the Post-Gazette's Class AA rankings and this will likely be the Quips' stiffest test of the regular season. They are winning games by an average of 42.9 points per game and defeated the Tigers last season, 66-7. (Check Friday's Varsity Xtra section for more about this game.)
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM