Clearfield shows off new surface, rivalry takes center stage|
Thursday, August 30, 2012
A new field, new opponents and three new head coaches as well as a pair of heated rivalries highlight Week 1 of the Progressland high school football season.
Clearfield debuts its brand new FieldTurf at the newly renovated Bison Sports Complex, while welcoming an opponent from Canada - St. Joan of Arc. Philipsburg-Osceola also hosts a team it hasn't played before that is coming from quite a distance in Line Mountain. Glendale, Moshannon Valley and Purchase Line all host games this week, and each will be the first under new head coaches. Matt Irvine leads his Vikings against Northern Bedford, Brandon Overdorff is at the helm for the Dragons against Ligonier Valley and Michael Keith directs the Black Knights in a big rivalry game with West Branch.
Curwensville also plays a rival and is the only Progressland team on the road in Week 1 as it travels to Coudersport in a rematch of last season's District 9 Class A Quarterfinal.
Here is a closer look at this week's games:
St. Joan of Arc, Ontario at Clearfield
HYDE - Opening night is ordinarily filled with excitement and hope for every high school football program.
But this Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex is anything but an ordinary opener.
Clearfield welcomes a team from Canada in what is thought to be the first opponent from outside the United States for any Bison sports team on a night the school unveils its brand new turf field for all to see.
"It's historical in a lot of different ways," Clearfield head coach Tim Janocko said. "You have the new turf and all the work that was done to the stadium and you are playing a team from Canada. And I don't think Clearfield has ever played internationally in any sport. It's a neat thing."
St. Joan of Arc out of Ontario isn't new to playing teams from outside its country, however, as the team journeyed to McKeesport last season and was looking for another team from south of its border this year as well.
"They called us and asked to play," Janocko said. "They said they like to come to Pennsylvania and play quality teams. We were kind of flattered."
St. Joan of Arc fell to McKeesport, 54-9, in what was a preseason tune-up for the Angels last season, but Janocko warns not to let that result fool anyone. St. Joan of Arc is a quality program.
The Angels were 6-2 in their league last season and advanced to the semifinals of their playoffs.
"They have a lot of speed and size and great athletic ability," Janocko said. "They are a large AAA private school. It's going to be a tall order for us."
The game will feature American rules, but Janocko says that probably won't factor much into the game.
"They can't use any motions like they do in Canada, but watching their game film, they look pretty sound," Janocko said. "When they played McKeesport, they were very-well coached. There were no motion calls and they weren't sloppy."
Janocko also worries some about how his young team will react in their first game.
"We're young. We lost a lot of key players," he said. "We might have that deer in headlights look at the beginning. But hopefully we'll settle down and play good football."
St. Joan of Arc will likely feature a spread offense and run some pistol formations out of it. Janocko says the Angels remind him a lot of Johnstown in their formations and athletic ability.
"They had impressive receivers who ran very well in the film (from last year) I saw," Janocko said. "We need to be aware. They run a lot of jet sweeps, and a lot of screens. Canadian football is very wide open."
And the Angels play downhill on defense as well. "They like to blitz, but they cheat up and show it," he said.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Curwensville at Coudersport
COUDERSPORT - Curwensville will pick up right where it left off last season, literally, when it travels to Coudersport to face a Falcon program that ousted it from the District 9 Class A playoffs, 28-27, in 2011.
Coudersport has historically given the Golden Tide trouble on its home field and the long bus ride to open the season at one of the Allegheny Mountain League's better programs isn't ideal, but Golden Tide head coach Andy Evanko cautions not to put too much stock in any of that.
"Every game in the AML is tough," he said. "Those games in the past are exactly that ... in the past. Those were other teams, other years. And the long trip, we're accustomed to that. It doesn't really bother us. We just have to get off the bus and be ready to go."
Coudersport mixed the run and the pass well last season, throwing for over 800 yards and picking up nearly 1800 on the ground.
Evanko doesn't expect anything different this year.
"They were very balanced," he said. "They like to run and they'll throw using a lot of play-action. It's kind of like playing against ourselves."
Both Mitch Freeman and Caden Whitman are back to lead the Falcons' ground attack. The pair combined for 1,412 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2011.
"Whitman is very effective as their fullback and Freeman gave us some trouble," Evanko said. "And they have a number of good linemen."
Defensively, Coudersport looks stout.
"They have some outstanding linebackers and a huge line with a couple 300 pounders," Evanko said. "We have to diversify our offense."
While Curwensville's Week 1 battle with the Falcons should be a stern test, Evanko is confident his team will be ready for the challenge.
"This team, this group of kids just works like crazy," he said. "And they've done it every single practice. They are always talking football, and I just love this group."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
West Branch at Moshannon Valley
AMESVILLE - If last year's meeting is any indication, Friday's season opener between the Black Knights and the Warriors won't be for the meek of heart.
Mo Valley got pushed all over L.T. Drivas Field before a late interception turned what appeared to be a 5-0 defeat into an 8-5 win.
While the Knight offense gained just over 100 yards of net offense in the contest, West Branch head coach Lester Smeal is wary of what first-year head coach Michael Keith's spread offense is capable of after falling to Glendale, 34-6 in 2011.
"We prepared by watching Glendale more and what they run," said Smeal. "Teams usually won't show too much in scrimmages, but we also did some research on Mo Valley's kids from last year.
"Being the first time out, it's always going to be a tough game, especially with it being a rivalry game. With the game being such a close game last year, I think the thing that it will come down to the most is who has the most breaks."
While he wasn't a part of last year's tilt, Keith has been involved in some of the most heated West Branch-Mo Valley matchups - including an integral role in a pair of wins over the Warriors in 1996.
The Knights handed West Branch its only regular season loss and then rallied for a win in the District 5-6 Class A semifinals.
"It's Mo Valley's biggest rival, if you ask me," Keith said. "It's not a matter of who's better (because) rivalries always come down to the wire. I'm just hoping we play within ourselves, show up to play and not put the ball on the ground. If we do that, we'll be alright."
The Knights' offense returns, literally, its biggest weapon from a season ago in 6-foot-5 James Stodart, who led Progressland in receptions in 2011
In Keith's offense, Stodart will have a chance to at least duplicate his production, so Smeal is looking to slow things down with his biggest returning offensive weapon in Chad Speigle.
Speigle gained over 1,000 yards as a junior and both coaches think his success can go a long way in deciding the outcome.
"He runs hard, so we have to tackle," said Keith of Speigle. "We can't arm tackle because he's going to break them. From what I've seen on tape, (winning the game) comes down to (stopping him). They have a nice receiver in Parker Emight, but if they're going to beat you ... it's going to be Speigle."
Speigle rumbled for 103 yards on 23 carries in last year's contest.
"We want to be able to control the tempo and we'll just try to play our football game," Smeal said. "Mo Valley is a quality team and it's going to be a classic rivalry game."
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Moshannon Valley Athletic Complex.
The Knights have won each meeting since 2006 and have claimed all but three of the last 17 meetings - dating back to Keith's senior season.
Northern Bedford at Glendale
FLINTON - With high expectations entering the season, Glendale will look to get the things started on the right foot and will get a chance to exact some revenge when it hosts Northern Bedford.
The Panthers bested Glendale 21-6 a season ago to start a 7-game winning streak for a team that finished 8-3.
"When someone comes into your place and beats you like they did last year," said Glendale head coach Matt Irvine, "and you get another shot at them at home the next year, it's something that you talk about. The kids are excited and ready to go."
Northern Bedford's offensive production took a hit, however, as quarterback Logan Fluke and tailback Matt Sollenberger both graduated. The Panther duo accounted for 3,000 of the team's 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, but Irvine knows that he can't take this year's group for granted.
The Viking defense will have their hands full with Tayler Pressel, the team's leading receiver from a year ago and the Panthers' top defender.
Pressel hauled in 35 passes for 480 yards and six scores in 2011, and made 77 tackles - 23 more than any other player - from his spot at defensive end.
"Against a kid like him, you definitely throw your No. 1 guy on him," Irvine said of stopping Pressel. "He's one of their big defensive guys, too. If you have a lead blocker or someone cracking down on him, he's someone you keep an eye on. Offensively, you want your best guy on him.
"(Getting pressure on the quarterback) is 50 percent of it. Their quarterback is new and they have a couple new guys up front. That's an area that we'd like to expose, using our strength - which is our line against, from what I've seen, one of their weaknesses. Getting pressure on the quarterback is definitely one of the keys to the game."
Pressel isn't the only weapon at Northern Bedford's disposal, as seven of nine players that caught passes last year are back on this year's roster.
"All of their recievers are tall," said Irvine. "It could be a problem away from our No. 1 corner. If I saw a thing (that concerns me) on offense, that would be it. They have some size at the receiver position."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Dr. Roy F. Baker Field.
Line Mountain at Philipsburg-Osceola
PHILIPSBURG - With the loss of yet another team on its league schedule, Philipsburg-Osceola had to fill an open Week 1 spot.
Enter the Line Mountain Eagles, who have dominated the Twin Valley League in District 4 the last two years.
So, once again the Mounties will open their season with another quality opponent.
Facing a new opponent didn't go so well last season, when Marion Center gave P-O its only loss in its first seven games of the year in Week 2.
But that was on the road. This time, the Mounties will play at home, where the Eagles will make a two-plus hour trip to Memorial Stadium.
Both teams know very little about each other, so it's been hard to prepare normally for the Mounties.
"The most important game is Line Mountain," P-O head football coach Jeff Vroman said. "We are not really familiar with them, they aren't really familiar with us. They are coming a long way and that's a plus. That's one advantage for us, but we have to be ready to play because they know how to win."
Line Mountain is led by first-year head coach Rodney Knock, a former player.
Knock, 24, spent a few years as an assistant to former head coach Mike Carson, so the Eagles have continued to keep the same system.
They are led by senior quarterback Cole Rickert, a 6-2, 185-pounder, who was a backup QB last season. Rickert did play some on offense last year, but most of that time came at the wide receiver.
The Eagles seem to have most of their experience in the receiver set, with Codi Morris (who will also step in at QB if needed), Jeremy Renn and Dillan Michael (who may also play some in the backfield). Senior tight end Erik Smeltz also returns.
Controlling the line of scrimmage will be huge for the Mounties, who feature several experienced linemen.
That will differ from the Eagles, who only return three starters total on both the offense and the defense.
The Eagles have plenty of experience back in the secondary, meaning the Mounties will have to play a flawless game offensively if they want to be successful.
Line Mountain lost just two games last season - Week 1 and the District 4 title game - both to Southern Columbia.
"That's a very successful program," said Vroman. "They are conference champs quite often and they spend a lot of time in that single-A playoff race in District 4.
"So it's important for us to be able to come out and be successful early.
"That comes down to be consistent and eliminating penalties and turnovers. That is what it comes down to. That's why coaches lose sleep the night before the first game."
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Ligonier Valley at Purchase Line
PURCHASE LINE - An exciting time will kick off tomorrow night for Purchase Line.
The Brandon Overdorff era begins against Ligonier Valley, which comes off an 8-3 campaign last year and a trip to the District 6 AA playoffs.
Even with the loss of eight offensive starters and nine on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams, Overdorff says there is still plenty to be prepared for.
"Ligonier has athletes and speed everywhere," said Overdorff. "That concerns us greatly, but I'm more concerned that our kids play every play, no matter what happens.
"We need to learn to give great effort every down for four quarters. That's the only way you ever have a chance to succeed."
One of the Rams' biggest weapons in their Wing-T offense is in the form of senior running back Ryan Torrance, who Overdorff describes as "fast and strong". The senior captain ran for 1,221 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago and is also a key player in Ligonier Valley's 5-2 monster defense as an outside linebacker.
Quarterback Scott Fennell saw limited time as a backup last season, but calls the signals this year for the Rams. One of Fennell's biggest targets will be 6-7 tight end Alec Bloom, who possesses great hands and can get yardage after a catch.
"They are the only AA team we will face and the only AA team in the conference, and they are talented," said Overdorff. "There is no doubt that they present us with a great challenge on Friday night."
"These kids have the opportunity to turn this program around. I'm excited to see if we have made positive progress towards being a competitive football team."
Ligonier Valley defeated the Dragons last season, 55-14.
Kickoff from Barry T. Madill Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.