Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ten Games to watch: Week One 8/29-8/30

10. Everett at Chestnut Ridge
Friday 7:00
Everett will look to make some noise after a somewhat disappointing 4-7 season. The Warriors have some talent in place, and they will have an added emphasis on a strong ground game under new coach Jerry Fabian. It will be interesting to see Kyle Shaeffer's role in this offense as he is certainly the team's primary playmaker. Jacob Jay is a solid back himself, and I would expect both of them to see a bulk of the touches on offense. The main question surrounding Everett, will they have a line in place to block a strong Chestnut Ridge defense fronted by Matt Wiley and Noah Osman?  
The Lions did graduate some good players from a 9 win team last year, but they have more than enough around to be a really good football team in 2014. Many are thinking Bedford in District 5, but I'm intrigued by Chestnut Ridge. I want to see how they develop a quarterback, and see which direction the offense goes this season. 

My call - I think this has the chance to be a close game, because I do believe in the play of Shaeffer and Jay. Everett is always a physical football team, and they will not back down to Ridge on the road.  Chestnut Ridge has a strong team, and I think the main thing is we are still unsure if they can be just OK or a really good team.  I think they take that first step to being a really good team in this one and pull away from Everett in the second half. 

Lions 28 Warriors 14

9. Shade at Berlin
Friday 7:00 Snyder's Sports Complex
Shade is looking to make a third straight trip to the district playoffs, a rarity for a school that has struggled on the gridiron for many years. The Panthers have developed some confidence as a program, and they are being given a huge opportunity for a statement by getting league favorite Berlin in week one. Are the Panthers ready for this kind of showdown? They just may be as they only graduated 5 seniors from last year's district semifinal team, and return nearly the entire line that produced a solid rushing attack in 2014. 

Berlin should be eager to get back on the field after a humbling 42-14 defeat in last season's district championship game. The Mountaineers will center their attack around their sensational running back, Braden Fochtman. The junior running back already has prolific rushing numbers, and his career will be watched closely from here on out to see if he can break any kind of records, you know posting a 2,000 yard season as a sophomore will certainly put you on a lot of people's radars. Berlin is a good team beyond their star back, as they are pegged as one of the favorites in the WestPac and District 5. 

My Call - Last year's game resulted in a 49-0 victory for Berlin, but I believe it can be closer in 2014. Shade is a year older, and they have some big game experience. The key against Berlin all year will be to slow down Fochtman, because it will be too hard to stop him altogether. Still, Berlin has a good defense that shut down Shade last season and it could very well happen again.

Mountaineers 35 Panthers 7

8. Forest Hills at Bishop McCort
Saturday 7:00 Point Stadium 

Forest Hills enters the 2014 season as one of the favorites to win District Six AA, and it is for easy to see why. Don Bailey will call on Joe Donoughe to run the show for the third straight season, and the senior playcaller is most certainly one of the best QB's in the entire area. The Rangers had their struggles in 2013, but with an offense filled with weapons, a line with more experience, and still that same Ranger coaching staff, this will be a much improved team from their 7-5 mark last season. 

Bishop McCort is coming off one of the worst seasons in school history, but will now turn the page with a new coach, Jerry Davitch. McCort has talent, no doubt about it, but will they be able to piece it all together? They had talent but were unable to get it done in 2013, perhaps a new start is something the team needed. Levi Cook is a promising young quarterback, and should have the offense operating strongly. The defense is expected to be a strength and it could carry them early on in this season. 

My Call - When McCort and Forest Hills get together, chances are you are going to see a good football game. Both programs have been so consistent through the years, and even last year when McCort had an abysmal season, it was still a great battle in week two when these teams got together. Forest Hills is clearly in better shape right now, and they should walk into the Point Stadium and walk away with a win. Period.  Still, I think McCort is up and coming with plenty of sophomores and freshmen expected to contribute. It could be a chance for the young Crushers to prove themselves.

Rangers 31 Crimson Crushers 14

7. Ligonier Valley at Northern Cambria
Friday 7:00
Ligonier is coming off a disappointing end to the 2013 season, after a big 6-0 start the Rams ended with five consecutive losses, including a pair of 46-6 decisions to close out the year. They will have to try to find a way to replace Alec Bloom's production in the offense. Jordan Jones is a guy that should see a lot more chances on offense, as he is a big 6'4" target himself.  The offense is going to depend a lot on Collin Smith's play. The kid has all the tools and got some experience last year, and I really think he is the next big thing in the Heritage Conference. 

Northern Cambria had an up and down 2013, but showed some promise later in the season. The Colts actually edged Ligonier last year 35-34, and will look to carry that game plan into this year. Northern Cambria will have to turn to a trio of juniors to carry the offense. Joey Olish looks to be a solid receiver, and Tyler Pershing is a promising quarterback that can move.  Adam Weiland will be the main man getting carries.  They should be able to score the ball, but the defense is something "new" coach Frank Paronish needs to improve.

My Call - This is a huge game with a big opportunity for both teams to get off to a big start. Having the game at home will be big for Northern Cambria, and with Paronish returning to the sidelines should put a buzz in the air.  Ligonier on the other hand could be a surprise team in this league. They lost so much and they are turning to a sophomore QB to run the show, but the kid can really play. I think he has a big day in his first start at QB and leads Ligonier to a win. 

Rams 28 Colts 14

6. Conemaugh Township at Windber 
Friday 7:00 Windber Stadium
Windber has a big alumni night planned, and it will kick-off the final year of the currently configured Windber stadium before it is rebuilt. It will be an emotional night, and a very fun atmosphere, and let's hope it stays clean between these two rivals after last year's debacle with the local police and some coaches. On to the game itself, this should be a good one. Neither team is in their usual form, but there is some talent and exciting players for both sides.  Windber will look to replace all of their big skilled position players, but with a quarterback like Jake Podrasky having some varsity experience at QB and an athlete like Jared Maurizio running the ball, the Ramblers should be fine on offense.

Conemaugh Township is "young" and I don't always like that term because these kids have a three to four year window to play high school football, but in this case it really does fit. Township expects to play a lot of their sophomores and some of their freshmen, it will be a team that learns on the fly, and I think it is a group that will be exciting to watch grow over these next few years, starting on Friday night.

My Call - I think with all the hoopla surrounding the game will put in some extra motivation for Windber. Still, Township will love to spoil the party. This is one of the better rivalry games around, but it sometimes can get overlooked.  I think Windber is going to gut this one out, and I think they actually have a few more play-makers.

Ramblers 27 Indians 20

5. Homer Center at Penns Manor
Friday 7:00
Homer Center has a lot to prove going into this year, as being the defending champs can be a burden. The Wildcats lost a good bit of their power running game with Newhouse graduating along with a good bit of the line, still they have a few players in place to keep themselves in contention for a second straight Heritage Conference title. Aaron Berezansky should get some credit for operating a district six championship offense at QB, and Ean Lee is a returning 1,000 yard rusher.  Homer Center's cupboard is far from bare, and I think they want to prove they are still capable of winning at a high level this year. 

Penns Manor is a team very similar to Homer Center, and matched their season for the most part until the head to head meeting. Penns Manor was hanging, and all the sudden Homer Center turned it on and left the Comets in the dust. Penns Manor can play with them again, but it will be a new group of kids making the plays. Bailey Mumau and Steven Dumm are two kids I expect to have big years in Bill Packer's offense. Like Homer Center, replenishing the line and defense is something they will be trying to do.

My Call - All in all, this can be a very good football game as it was for the most part last season. Both teams will be counting on their skill players to break some big plays as they look for consistency in their offenses, and I give the nod to Homer Center in that regard. Lee is a good back, Berezansky can make plays, and Matt McAdoo is someone to keep an eye on in this offense.  I like what Penns Manor is capable of down the line, but week one I think Homer is better equipped to take this one, even on the road. 

Wildcats 30 Comets 21

4. Bishop Guilfoyle at Richland 
Friday 7:00 Herlinger Field
All it takes is one year to have a complete role reversal. Richland was the team with the strong senior class, the star players, the expectations...they had it all. Now it is time to start it all over again. Richland will essentially suit up an entirely brand new team this year with 20 starters gone from last year's LHAC championship team. Jonny Kutchman is a quarterback that Coach Brandon Bailey likes a lot, and he should have the offense moving well. Dom Farina and Colby Warshel are guys that should help spread the field and allow Richland to continue to play how the like to, still there will be so many new faces everywhere else. Only one lineman back and only a few kids come back on D, this team may be pretty good in a few weeks, but week one certainly presents a lot of question marks. 

Bishop Guilfoyle on the other hand is the team with all of the expectations to not only win the LHAC, but to win the district as well. Brandon Chadbourn is the star of the show, and the Villanova recruit is a special player and makes things happen all the time. Sam McCloskey is his partner in crime, and the senior back is someone that is capable of making big plays happen himself. The Maraduers have it all with very skilled offensive players, a tough group of defenders, size, speed, talent, coaching.....it looks great on paper, but it will be fun to see them do it on a Friday night with the focus all on them.

My Call - Could this be a passing of the LHAC torch for this season?  I'm sure Richland would not like to think that way. The Rams have bred a winning mindset, and their kids won't back down from the predicted league favorite, but it does come down the guys on the field, and Guilfoyle simply is ahead right now. It has been fun thinking of what this BG team is capable of this season, and I think a lot of us are ready to see it in action.  I like BG to make the statement in this one.

Marauders 42 Rams 20

3.Central Cambria at Johnstown
Friday 7:00 Trojan Stadium

I think this game is so important for both teams, and it can really lead to big things for the team to come out on top. Johnstown has a lot to prove, and there is just no way around that. 6 combined wins over the past two years is simply not good enough, and nobody in that program will deny it. Johnstown has all the tools to have one of the best teams in the league, and Friday can be a great chance to show they put the past two seasons away, and the 2014 version of the Trojans is a better all around product. Jeremy Updyke is a good QB that has the luxury of the district best receiving corps, and I don't think that's disputable. Johnstown has some kids that can go up and make the play like Kareem Gibson, Willie Robinson, and Kevin Brandon. Johnstown has to have the offensive production they are capable of, and that will just put less pressure on their defense.

Central Cambria is a team with an equal amount to prove. Sure they made the playoffs, but sitting at 5-1 and finishing 6-5 cannot sit well with this group. They have a great start with Will Seymour running the show. He is one of the best players around, and he will battle for this team. Kerry Kirsch is an exciting back that can make some plays, but overall Central Cambria is not the biggest quick strike offense. Seymour and company should be at their best when they are controlling the line of scrimmage and rolling the time of possession. I think they have a team capable of that, and they should be an improved group all around from last year.

To be honest, this is a game I have been having real trouble with for a few days now. On one hand I want to believe Johnstown is better and this offense can be high-flying through the air. On the other hand, I trust that Central Cambria's sound 35-14 victory last year can happen again, especially with a senior running the show.  I'm going with Central Cambria in this one, and past history helps with that. Johnstown has seemed to struggle with the Red Devils, even on the best years, and even on some of Central Cambria's worst years. The fast track of Trojan Stadium should benefit Johnstown, because it seems CC's muddy field is something that played into those upsets in the past, still I'm going with the Red Devils.

Red Devils 22 Trojans 18

2. Central at Tussey Mountain
Friday 7:00
Having two defending district champions square off in week one is an excellent way to start the football season. Tussey Mountain is a team that still has some firepower from their District Five title team, while Central is a team that will look almost completely different. Even with Central's departures, nobody is counting them out of anything yet with the type of skill and depth they currently have in their younger classes, it will almost be one of those reloads, not rebuilds. Noah Benton looks like a very capable quarterback, and he has plenty of athletes to throw and hand off to in this offense. The Scarlet Dragons won't be short on talent, and they will have some new stars developed in no time. 

Tussey is a team that brings a good deal of talent with them from 2013. Quinn Barnett is a quarterback that threw for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior, and should be poised for another big year in his final go round. The Titans also boast one of the area's top players in Daniel Taylor, as he was a player that posted 25 touchdowns on offense last season. With those kind of skilled players, it's easy to figure out Tussey's strong points. The Titans did lose some key contributors, and some new guys will definitely have to take on larger roles so teams can't key on Taylor all the time. 

My Call - Tussey Mountain and Central have had two very different offseasons, but both should be anxious to get back out there, and the buzz surrounding this game should be very high. Tussey Mountain will want to prove they can hang with a AA team, as Central is bigger and stronger and they have more depth.  The Dragons still have plenty of questions marks coming into this game, but it will be good to finally see some start to get answered. Despite Tussey Mountain's presence of impact players, I think the squad from Martinsburg takes this one.

Dragons 34 Titans 22

1. Bellwood-Antis at Tyrone
Friday 7:00 Grey-Vets Memorial Field

No matter the expectations, the Backyard Brawl is still the Backyard Brawl. Bellwood and Tyrone both have different dynamics, but like any year, both are expected to compete for a district crown in their respective classes. Bellwood-Antis will look a lot different from the past few years, with a chance that this offense may be more pass oriented.  Jake Burch is a promising quarterback that handled himself well as a sophomore, and I think he is set for a couple of big seasons ahead.  The Blue Devils also have a strong group returning on defense. This is a program that always has that next man up mentality, so I think they will be ready for this one.

Tyrone is getting the nod from a few people to be the best team in District Six AA, but losing a two year starting quarterback (Erik Wagner) and a prolific running back (James Oliver) should slow therm down somewhat to start the year.  The Golden Eagles have a talented bunch in place, and it will be fun to watch them develop on the fly in such a big game with a new head coach in Jason Wilson. Garrett Hunter is the man set to run the offense, and he will be surrounded by a good group of skilled players and a solid line in place to protect him. All things considered, the Golden Eagles have it all on paper, but it will be a matter of taking that into a game situation.

My Call - Tyrone is the bigger and stronger team with more depth, but that is the case almost every year. John Hayes and his Bellwood teams play with big heart, and they are so well coached they can hang with Tyrone despite being outmatched physically at times. I look for this to be a competitive game, but ultimately one where Tyrone pulls away late. The Golden Eagles have more weapons on both sides of the ball, it's that simple.

Golden Eagles 34 Blue Devils 22

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