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Decade’s best No. 9: N.P.-Mansfield’s Tom Dickinson became one of district’s best coaches

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series looking back at the top 10 football coaches, games and players from last decade

Starting in the late 1990s, Hughesville developed into one of the district’s premier teams, utilizing a smash-mouth Wing-T offense. The Spartans throwing 10 passes a game was there version of airing it out.

At that same time, North Penn-Mansfield basically was Hughesville-North. The Panthers ran the same offense, scarcely threw the ball and started winning. Coach Tom Dickinson revived a dormant program and the Panthers surged into the 2000s, continuing to record winning seasons throughout its first decade.

The 2010s, however, saw a seismic offensive shift occurring in Blossburg. This run-heavy offense suddenly was utilizing four-receiver sets and running the spread offense. Then North Penn-Mansfield started running a rapid-fire no-huddle offense, the first District 4 team to feature it for an entire game.

And the winning continued.

The shift in offensive philosophy is one of several reasons Dickinson has become one of District 4’s top coaches. The Wing-T worked because it fit his roster. When the roster changed and Dickinson had more speed at his disposal he made the switch. Some coaches are set in running one system. Dickinson believes in whatever system helps North Penn-Mansfield win.

While North Penn-Mansfield sometimes flies under the radar, it wins a lot. Dickinson led the Panthers to a 70-44 record last decade, compiling a .614 winning percentage. Along the way, North Penn-Mansfield made nine playoff appearances, captured two league championships, played in two district finals and won an Eastern Conference championship. This is a program with staying power and it is the second straight time Dickinson has been included among the decade’s Top 10 area coaches.

North Penn-Mansfield recorded seven winning seasons last decade and the first came in 2010 when it went 9-2. Quarterback Jason DeHaven had a record-setting year and both Skye Stiner and Marquis Delgado developed into big-time playmakers who were both running and receiving threats.

While North Penn-Mansfield threw the ball a lot, it hardly forgot about the running game and Stiner topped 1,500 yards in 2011 as he earned co-Sun-Gazette Player of the Year honors. The Panthers surged down the stretch, winning their last four games and capturing the program’s first postseason championship by rallying from 14 down to beat Tamaqua, 34-28 in overtime for the Eastern Conference title.

A year later North Penn-Mansfield missed the playoffs for the only time in the 2010s but quarterback Taylor Hillson topped 1,400 yards passing. Hillson was one of five quarterbacks who went over 1,000 yards last decade and every year included a 1,000-yard passer.

Bo, Brock and Brent Burleigh quarterbacked North Penn-Mansfield for the next six years and all had outstanding seasons. Bo took over in 2013 as the Panthers went 6-5, setting the stage for one of the best years in program history.

The Panthers lit up the scoreboard throughout 2014 and Burleigh went over 2,000 yards passing while throwing 30 touchdowns as they captured a share of the NTL-I championship. North Penn-Mansfield won its first league title and then avenged a regular-season finale loss when it downed rival Wellsboro, 36-26 in the district semifinals. North Penn-Mansfield reached its first district final but lost to eventual Class A state semifinalist South Williamsport.

Growing pains were expected in 2015 since several starters had graduated, but North Penn-Mansfield continued surging and again reached the district final, losing to Wellsboro. Brock Burleigh threw for a program-record, and at the time, an area record 2,773 yards and 35 touchdowns, but Dickinson again showed he only cares about winning in the district semifinals. The Panthers changed their colors again that night, running the ball 43 times. Brad Pequignot ran for 114 yards and North Penn-Manfield dethroned South Williamsport, 28-14.

The success kept flowing like water throughout the rest of the decade. Dickinson’s teams were entertaining, but also physical and well-schooled. They also often made great strides throughout the season, the 2018 campaign best highlighting that fact.

North Penn-Mansfield started 1-2, but dominated the rest of the regular season, winning its last seven games and capturing its first outright NTL-I championship. The Panthers showcased their progress in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals against a Bloomsburg team that had thoroughly beaten it in Week 3. This time, North Penn-Mansfield, led by all-state linebacker Garrett David, smothered Bloomsburg, 16-6 before giving Mount Carmel a battle in the district semifinals a week later.

North Penn-Mansfield was ravaged by graduation following that championship season and returned just four starters. Doing some of his best work, though, Dickinson had this young team surging at the perfect time and North Penn-Mansfield returned to the district semifinals after upsetting rival Wellsboro on the road, 17-14.

Reaching the playoff was impressive, but winning a game was especially big because North Penn-Mansfield returns so many starters for 2020. The Panthers have big-game playoff experience, talent and a coach who can get the most out of them.

And whatever formula it takes to help this team flourish, Dickinson will implement it. That is this program’s system.

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