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A rash of injuries and a roster devoid of any experienced starters last season left Point Boro, one of the Shore Conference’s most consistent programs over the past 10 years, with a 1-9 record for its first losing campaign since 2003.

One year later, the Panthers are banking on what is now an experienced group of returners being able to turn the corner and get the program back to its winning ways.

“Last year was the lowest we’ve been so we can only go up,” said senior John Youmans. “We have pretty much everyone coming back and we gained a lot of experience last year.”

Point Boro returns eight starters on offense and defense, including all its skill players in its flexbone offense that looks to improve after averaging just 13 points per game in 2013. Senior Jack Fitzsimmons leads the way after starting all 10 games at quarterback last season. As a junior, Fitzsimmons ran for 718 yards and 12 touchdowns and threw for 652 yards and 4 touchdowns. Behind him is an experienced group of running backs that includes junior ‘A’ back Gavin Hynes and junior slot backs Gene Franceschini and Devin Connelly. Junior Nate Husak is also in the mix at ‘A’ back.

Point Boro senior quarterback Jack Fitzsimmons returns to lead the Panthers' offense after starting all 10 games last season. He is also the team's returning starting middle linebacker. (Photo by Bob Badders).

“For (Fitzsimmons) to play 10 games last year and get the experience was huge,” said head coach Sean Henry. “He did a great job with his reads last year even though we weren’t successful. The kids look to him, and he leads by example. He’s an old-school player, and in this offense he’s dictating everything.”

“I feel very comfortable this year, especially getting back to running the flexbone, which I’ve done since my freshman year,'' Fitzsimmons said.

Last season Point Boro experimented running its offense out of the pistol, but went back to the traditional triple option later in the season.

Both wide receivers are returning starters as junior Mike Waddleton and sophomore Hayden Frey will line up outside. Point Boro is looking to be a smash-mouth, clock-draining type of offense, but its receivers have traditionally been factors in its vertical passing and as impact blockers.

The left side of the offensive line returns with senior Jack Enright at left tackle and senior Kyle Ryan at left guard. The center is senior Josh Vitale, who returns after missing last season with a torn ACL. Junior Mike Falconetti is the right guard and Youmans is the right tackle.

“Those 12-to-14-play drives that go 80 yards, to me that’s our kind of football,” Henry said. “We’re looking to grind it out.”

“We want to be a smash-mouth, shove-it-down-your-throat offense, and I think we can be that kind of team this year,” Ryan said.

“We have a lot of big, strong grinders,”  Fitzsimmons said. “We’ll take four yards at a time and control the clock.”

Just as important as improving the offense will be tightening up a defensive unit that allowed 27.8 points per game last season. As with the offense, the remedy appears to be experience.

In Point Boro’s 3-3-5 base, sophomore Aidan Connelly will be the starting nose guard in between returning starters at defensive end, Hynes and Falconetti. Youmans started last season at outside linebacker and returns in the same role. Nate Husak is the other starting outside linebacker while Fitzsimmons is back as the starting middle linebacker.

Junior Gene Franceschini is one of eight returning starters for Point Boro. Franceschini will play slot back and strong safety, where he had three interceptions last season. (Photo by Bob Badders).

Point Boro’s defense features two hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety positions, and those will be manned by Franceschini, a returning starter who had three interceptions last season, and junior Austin Druccuer. The rest of the secondary is comprised of returning starters with Devin Connelly and Waddleton as the cornerbacks and Noah Husak, a junior, as the free safety.

“Our defense is going to play hard-nosed,” Youmans said. “We should be getting in there and making plays.”

On special teams, junior Collin Ansbach returns as the starting kicker and Aidan Connelly is the punter.

The Panthers also have several former players now on the coaching staff. Ryan Canary, Tom Orrok, Shane O’Connor and Ty Hughes were all former stars within the last 10 years, and their presence has been a major influence.

“They bring a lot to the table and the kids respond well to them,” Henry said. “These kids were in middle school watching them win championships. That pride of coming back to your school and continuing the tradition is very important to me as a head coach.”

Point Boro was 0-8 entering the final week of the regular season last year before it shocked eventual sectional semifinalist Lakewood, 19-18. That victory helped the Panthers avoid a winless season while also giving them the confidence they would be able to compete with the top teams in Class B South.

Now it’s just a matter of turning the experience they gained last year into wins.

“We’re using last year as a motivator,” Henry said. “We’ve been preaching to play with a chip on your shoulder. We were in that irrelevant spectrum last year, and it was tough. But the kids are working harder because of it. They’re on a mission to get this program back to where we usually are.”

“We’re pumped,” Fitzsimmons said. “We want to get this program back to where Point Boro should be. We need to prove ourselves and show people we can do that.”

 

Head coach: Sean Henry, 5th season

Career record: 15-20

Assistant coaches: Matt Cilento (def. coord./RB); Ryan Canary (OL/DL); Shane O’Connor (QB/DB); Tom Orrok (WR/DB); Dan Drymkowski (OL/DL); Ty Hughes (RB/LB); Pat Brady, Dave Drew (freshman); Tim Spenard (athletic trainer).

2013 record: 1-9 (1-6)

Big Shoes to Fill: Mike Falconetti, Jr., OL/DL

Although he’s a returning starter on defense, Falconetti is the only non-senior offensive lineman and will be stepping into a starting role for the first time, filling a gap left by the graduated Matt Gliddon, who was a Class B South all-division selection last season.

X-Factor: An improved defense

The offense should score more with a host of returners, but when Point Boro has been at its best it’s been because of a defense that was stout and created turnovers. An improvement on allowing over 27 points per game last season is a must.

Glue Guy: Jack Fitzsimmons, Sr., QB/LB

As the quarterback and middle linebacker, it’s apparent Fitzsimmons is a critical player for Point Boro. After a year as the starting quarterback he’s developed more as a leader.

Impact newcomer: Nate Husak, Jr., RB/LB.

Husak jumps into the starting role as one of the outside linebackers and will also compete for time a ‘A’ back.

Pivotal Game: Sept. 12 vs. Pinelands

Pinelands stunned Point Boro last season with a field goal in overtime to snap a long losing streak. The Panthers would love to get revenge and start the season on the right foot by taking out what should also be a much-improved Wildcats team.