It's just four games into the 2012 WPIAL season, but the McKeesport Area football team is already in a position that it has not been familiar with for some time -- the bottom half of the Class AAAA Foothills Conference standings.
The Tigers are 1-3 overall and 1-2 in conference play after compiling a 40-14 record in a five-year span from 2007-11. Coach Jim Ward noted that part of his team's problems can be attributed to things outside of its control.
"The fact that a lot of them have been injured for a fair part of the year," Ward said when explaining McKeesport's problems. "It's slowed our progress in developing particular players."
Injuries to several players have compounded what was one of McKeesport's biggest weaknesses entering the season -- inexperience.
The Tigers returned six starters from a team that went 6-4 in 2011 and that lack of game experience has been evident thus far, particularly on the offensive end. After averaging 32.8 points per game last season, the Tigers' scoring has dropped to 17.5 points per game.
In fact, the sharp dip in scoring has been emblematic of a general decline in offensive production from McKeesport over the past few seasons. In 2008, the Tigers averaged 38.2 points per game then saw scoring go down by a single point in 2009 before a drop to 25.4 points per game in 2010.
McKeesport's scoring rut has come even though one of its six returning starters is senior quarterback, Eddie Stockett. Last season, Stockett, a University of Akron commit, completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 1,772 yards.
Although injuries sidelined him in last week's loss to Penn-Trafford and a half of a Sept. 7 loss to Woodland Hills, Stockett has seen his numbers regress. In his less than three games this season, he has completed 19 of 44 passes (43.2 percent) for 296 yards and no touchdowns.
According to Ward, part of Stockett's struggles have been due to new players around him on offense.
"He's working with a completely new group of receivers and a line that's 100-percent brand new," Ward said. "Those things being said, there's been some inconsistency with the guys he's used to working with."
A difficult schedule, too, is partially responsible for the slow start for the Tigers. The team's three losses have come to squads with a combined 9-3 record. In McKeesport's only game against a team with a losing record, it defeated Norwin, 26-7.
With many players returning from injury this week and with its next three games coming against teams that are a collective 3-9, McKeesport sees reason for hope moving forward.
"I'm looking forward to getting them back on the field and really letting them develop some chemistry," Ward said.
"I think we can start to develop into the team we thought we would be early on."
While it came in a losing effort for his team in a 21-14 defeat against Quaker Valley, Keystone Oaks senior running back Dale Klobuchir had his biggest game of the season, rushing for 186 yards and a touchdown.
His running total from that game more than doubled his total of 142 rushing yards through the season's first three games. Kolbuchir's Golden Eagles will try to get their first win of the season Friday against a 3-1 Beaver Falls team.
Chartiers Valley is the only team in the South Xtra region and is just one of three WPIAL teams to have scored more than 100 points this season while also having given up more than 100.
The 2-2 Colts have allowed opponents to score 136 points through four games (an average of 34 points per game) and have scored 110 (22 points per game).
This week, two games involving South Xtra region teams will take place, both of which have important implications for conference championships -- West Mifflin Area at Ringgold and Monessen at Bishop Canevin.
West Mifflin is undefeated and atop the Big Nine Conference standings, but the Titans, who have yet to play a team currently with a winning record, will face a tough test from running back Demetrius Louis and the 3-1 Rams.
Monessen, a week removed from a 52-7 defeat at the hands of Clairton, will look to rebound against a second consecutive undefeated Black Hills Conference opponent in Bishop Canevin, which has outscored opponents this year, 108-24.hsfootball