DuBOIS — The DuBois Beavers football team has a simple, if challenging, goal for the 2013 season — win a playoff game.
Its an understandable goal to be sure, considering a Beavers football team hasn’t tasted postseason success since beating Hollidaysburg 24-0 in 1996 in the District 6-9 Class AAAA semifinals. DuBois last won a championship in 1995 when the Beavers beat Punxsutawney 22-15 for D-9 AAAA title.
DuBois seemed primed to stop the drought in 2012 as the Beavers raced to an 8-0 record with one blowout win after another.
However, Slippery Rock denied them their first undefeated season since 1952 with a 17-15 shocker.
Still, the Beavers had to feel good about their chances with a potential first-round playoff game against Mifflin County, a team it had beaten in the first game of the season. But Mifflin didn’t finish over .500, didn’t go to the playoffs and the Beavers ended up with a bye before losing to State College in the AAAA playoffs 35-13.
“The kids want to win in the playoffs,” Beavers third-year head coach Frank Varischetti said. “We had a chance to go undefeated last year, had a few kids banged up and they had the choice to try and get healed up for the playoffs and that’s what they wanted to do, so it’s their mindset.
“Our seniors that have played the last two years have come up short against State College so that’s the team they want to play.”
It’s certainly likely the Beavers will have to beat State College at some point since the Little Lions have been the standard-bearer in central Pennsylvania for many years.
For the Beavers, the program is clearly on the rise with an 8-2 finish in 2012 and 8-3 in 2011.
The roster numbers have risen quickly and dramatically with more than 80 a year ago and 2013, too.
Varischetti’s uptempo, spread passing game has re-energized the program and led to mismatches that carried the Beavers to school records in points per game (44.6) and total points scored (446) in 2012.
While replacing dangerous, record-setting running back Garrett Brown is a major priority, junior quarterback Gabe French is back to pull the trigger on offense.
French has grown taller and bulked up and Varischetti believes a more confident French will make a big difference.
“Gabe put on a lot of good weight and he’s right where he should be.
“He won’t be as timid and he should be much more of a threat,” Varischetti said. “He had a nice, long run for a score in practice, so that was good to see.”
French had a solid sophomore campaign, throwing for a little more than 1,500 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 66 percent of his passes. But at times, he didn’t look comfortable in the pocket and didn’t run when at times was needed.
Varischetti feels confident that won’t be the case this year.
Backing up French is junior Connor Stewart, who Varischetti believes is very capable of performing if the need arises.
Varischetti said the team’s top strength is the offensive line.
“We are looking for a center, but everybody else is back and they all have good size.”
On the right side are senior guard Nick Johnson and senior tackle Rob Barnes. On the left are senior guard Tyler Fleeger and senior tackle Josh Langley.
Competing for the starting spot at center are two juniors — Bransyn Luther and Caleb Meighen.
Also expected to see time up front is junior guard Zackary Good and junior tackle Robert Zilhaver.
The unit is responsible for giving French time to throw and for springing junior running back Devin Clark.
“He looks pretty good,” Varischetti said. “I’d say he’s the second-best back I’ve had behind Brown.”
Clark has big shoes to fill as Brown carried the Beavers offense with 1,749 rushing yards, more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 27 total touchdowns.
Varichetti also likes his receiving corps, calling it the best he’s had at DuBois.
It starts with junior Bryson Paulinellie. He is recovered from a shoulder injury he suffered at the end of last season. Paulinellie has Brown-like speed and he was seriously considered for running back.
Paulinellie led the team after finishing with 29 catches for 446 yards and nine touchdowns. He added 138 yards on 20 rushes.
Senior Trevor Schwiderske will also be one of the top receivers for the Beavers. Classmate Derek Hillebrand injured his leg early in camp, but may be ready to come back at some point this season.
Two juniors — Ian Hine and Cole Kriner — will also be keys in the passing game. Hine had five catches for 59 yards in 2012.
Varischetti also believes sophomores Dante Dawson and Adam Bankovich will make significant impacts on offense.
Both made a number of big plays at the junior varsity level a year ago.
The kicking game is in the capable hands of senior Josh Hnat. He booted 42 extra point kicks and three field goals for 51 points in 2012.
Senior Isaac Kunselman will probably handle kickoffs in an attempt to replace Landon Hanna, who put several in the end zone.
Varischetti also said sophomore Andrew Harman, a member of the soccer team, showed interest in kicking.
Defensively, the Beavers will run a 4-3 front.
Junior Brad Peterson has impressed Varischetti in camp and has grown a lot, going 6-feet-4-inches and 250 pounds.
“He’s gotten big and fast, he looks good so far,” Varischetti said.
Derek Allen and Johnson will work at the other end. Allen is a senior who played quite a bit in 2012 and finished with 24 tackles.
Inside, Fleeger and Langley will start. Fleeger had 54 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and a strip sack that he recovered and returned for a touchdown.
Varischetti said at least six players will rotate on the defensive front.
At linebacker, standout inside linebacker Shane Marshall must be replaced after leading the team in tackles the last two years.
Zilhaver gets the starting nod inside with senior Lake Lander also getting time there.
On the outside will be Cory Berquist (28 tackles) and Justin Sleigh. Bankovich and senior Cody Webster (12 tackles) will also see time on the outside.
The secondary features cornerbacks TJ Troup and Schwiderske, who were starting at the end of last year. Hine will also see time there.
The safeties will be Paulinellie, senior Austin Gahr and senior Greg Rawson.
Gahr and Troup each intercepted two passes a year ago while Schwiderske had one.
Defensively, Varischetti said the emphasis on getting turnovers is more important than ever.
The schedule is similar to a year ago with one major change.
The Beavers will travel to Morgantown, West Va. Oct. 4. Morgantown High proves to be a test for the Beavers.
They have won a total of 93 games over the last nine years while winning state titles in 2004 and 2005 with five trips to the Class AAA state semifinals.
DuBois has five home games, including four of their first five.
The season opens Friday at E.J. Mansell Stadium against Mifflin County. Punxsutawney comes to town Sept. 13 and Homecoming is Sept. 27 against Bradford. Senior Night will be Oct. 18 against Warren.