(Statistical Information Courtesy of The Herald and Erie Times-News)
WEEK ONE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
The 2016 high school football season opens this weekend with all 12 local teams in action. Four league games highlight the weekend, along with an all-Mercer County non-conference clash. One of the two games that doesn't involve a pair of local teams is Farrell facing nearby Neshannock in a battle of one-time conference opponents when Farrell competed in District 7. The Farrell-Neshannock and Lakeview-Mercer games will both be played Saturday.
Sharon at Wilmington, 7:00 p.m.
Two perennial area rivals renew their series after a two-year hiatus Friday night in New Wilmington. The teams did not meet in 2014 or 2015 due to Wilmington dropping to Class A. However, the reconfigured regions have placed Sharon and Wilmington in the nine-team Region 2.
Both programs feature small senior classes this year, although Wilmington may have an experience edge with 13 returning starters, compared to Sharon's seven returners in the starting lineup. The Greyhounds (5-5 in 2015) return senior quarterback Spencer DeMedal, who accounted for 1,800 yards of total offense and 18 combined touchdowns while directing Wilmington's spread attack in 2015. His top target, junior wide receiver Bryson Verrelli, pulled in 34 passes last year and earned First Team All-Region honors.
Senior fullback/quarterback Reese Bender also returns after missing much of 2015 due to injury. He is expected to be a key cog in the Wilmington offense this season.
Sharon also returns one of the district's top pass catchers in junior Ziyon Strickland, who earned All-District 10 recognition from the Erie Times-News as a sophomore. Strickland caught 60 passes for 1,213 yards and 15 touchdowns last year and will likely be a primary target of senior quarterback J.P. McComb. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound McComb will be making his first start but features a strong, accurate arm and deep knowledge of the Tigers' multiple-formation offense.
Technically speaking, Sharon has not won a season opener since a 14-7 win at Farrell in 2008. Sharon vacated its 34-27 win over Struthers in last year's opener due to using an ineligible player in the game. On the other hand, Wilmington has rattled off eight straight Week One wins, with the last six coming over area opponents (two each over West Middlesex, Slippery Rock and Grove City).
In 2007, Wilmington lost its opener at Ford City, 24-0. Ford City is now part of Armstrong High School. The previous Wilmington opening night loss also came against a school that is no more -- a 33-0 loss at Monaca in 2002. Monaca is now part of Central Valley High School. According to available records, Wilmington has not lost at home in Week One since joining District 10 in 1994.
The two head coaches in the game, Wilmington's Terry Verrelli and Sharon's Jim Wildman, have combined for 519 wins, four state championship game appearances and 21 district titles. Verrelli took over as head coach at Wilmington in 1978 while Wildman's first stint started in 1977.
This will be Sharon's fourth consecutive game played at Wilmington. Wilmington hosted each of Sharon's three District 10 playoff games last year. Sharon and Wilmington have met six times in the District 10 playoffs with each team winning three. Sharon won the last regular season matchup, 35-21, at Tiger Stadium October 18, 2013. The previous year, Wilmington earned a 48-21 home win over Sharon.
Twenty years ago, Wilmington and Sharon met in the 1996 finale with both teams owning 8-0 records. Wilmington won 27-7, keeping Sharon out of the playoffs as only one Class AA team from the Mercer County Athletic Conference qualified for the district playoffs. Fifteen years ago, Wilmington pulled out a 21-20 overtime win over visiting Sharon when the Greyhounds stopped a two-point conversion attempt after a Tiger touchdown. Sharon won the first meeting between the teams as D-10 foes in 1994, 23-13, at Tiger Stadium. Since the teams began playing as D-10 foes, Wilmington has never lost to Sharon in New Wilmington.
The game will be heard on 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.
Greenville at Hickory, 7:00 p.m.
Over the past three seasons, Greenville and Hickory have combined to go 64-14, with five seasons of 11 or more wins between the two programs. Greenville pulled out memorable come-from-behind wins at Hickory in both 2013 (22-21) and 2014 (13-10). But Hickory won the most recent postseason matchup, turning the comeback tables on Greenville in the 2014 District 10 Class AA title game, 12-7.
Hickory earned a 28-9 win at Greenville last year as the Hornets ran for 199 yards and quarterback Luke Brennan threw for 200 yards while leading the balanced offensive attack. The Hornets also overcame a minus-3 turnover differential.
Senior tailback Chuck Carr ran for 2,515 yards last season for Hickory, including 151 at Greenville last season. Brennan threw for 1,572 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 59 percent of his passes in his first full season as the Hornets' starter under center.
Greenville senior wide receiver Ethan Reiser ranked second in Mercer County with 43 receptions last year while junior running back Canyon Eells ran for 518 yards and a team-leading 14 touchdowns.
Hickory head coach Bill Brest is 6-0 in season openers as the Hornets' last opening night loss came in 2009 at Sharpsville (17-14). It's the first time since 2007 that Greenville has not played North East in its opener. It is the first time that Greenville has faced a local foe in the opener since 1999, when Greenville hosted archrival Reynolds. That year also marked the Trojans' most recent District 10 title.
Hickory played Strong Vincent in Week One in each of the last four seasons. Hickory last opened a season against an area foe in 2011, when the Hornets defeated West Middlesex.
The game will be heard on SportsRadio 96.7. Greenville's WGRP 940 will also carry the game.
Reynolds at Slippery Rock, 7:00 p.m.
While Greenville and Hickory have played with great frequency in recent years, the same cannot be said for Reynolds and Slippery Rock, as Friday night will mark the first meeting between the programs in seven years. Slippery Rock won the teams' meetings in 2008 and 2009. Those wins came after a two-year hiatus in the series. Reynolds' last win over Slippery Rock came 11 years ago, a 15-2 triumph.
Reynolds features the backfield combination of quarterback Garrett Daniello and halfback Dylan McDanel, who combined for 1,837 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015. Daniello also threw for 557 yards and eight scores in 10 games last year.
Larry Wendereusz makes his debut as Slippery Rock head coach Friday night. He will look to do what his predecessor, Travis Sarver, did by winning his debut. The Rockets advanced to the D-10 playoffs last year before falling in the quarterfinals to Fairview, 28-21. While graduation claimed a pair of 1,000-yard rushers from the Rockets (Trent Porter, Ryan Lauster), third-leading rusher Seth Slater returns after amassing 302 yards in a complementary role. Senior kicker Nicholas Stutz drilled five field goals last season and could be a factor throughout 2016 for the Rockets.
Each team has won four straight season openers. Friday night's game will be the first time since 2005 that Reynolds has opened the season against a local foe. Eleven years ago, the Raiders pulled out a 14-7 win at Kennedy Catholic. The 2005 Raiders won the District 10 Class AA title and advanced to the state semifinals. Slippery Rock has opened each of the last four seasons against Pittsburgh City League foes (Brashear in 2012-2013, Perry Traditional Academy in 2014-2015).
Each of Reynolds' next three games will be at home. Three of Slippery Rock's first four games are at home.
Sharpsville at West Middlesex, 7:00 p.m.
For the 29th straight season, Sharpsville will play West Middlesex during the regular season in football. However, this year's meeting marks the first time since 1988 that the teams will be playing a non-conference game. From 1989-2015, the teams competed as rivals in the Mercer County Athletic Conference Small School or Class A divisions and later on, District 10 Class A region play. However, Sharpsville is in Class 2A while West Middlesex is one of two local schools in Class 1A, along with Farrell.
Sharpsville won both meetings last season; a 37-6 home win during the regular season October 2, and then secured a 46-7 win in the District 10 Class A semifinals at Greenville. In the playoff win, then-junior Marquis Altman ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Luke Henwood and also returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown.
Like Altman -- an All-Region pick in 2015, Henwood is a returning starter for Sharpsville. Henwood threw 15 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in 2015.
West Middlesex will break in a new quarterback this season after the graduation of Nick Cannone. Senior Joshua Porterfield, a starter at linebacker in 2015, is reportedly the favorite to take over under center. Junior wide receiver Chase Staunch also returns after becoming the only player in D-10 last year to record a touchdown, field goal, two-point conversion and extra point.
Sharpsville has won seven straight openers. The last Week One loss for Sharpsville came in 2008 at Hickory, 20-13. The next year, Sharpsville downed Hickory in the opener, 17-14, which also marks the last time that Sharpsville played a local team on Opening Night. West Middlesex has won back-to-back season openers, including a come-from-behind 22-20 overtime win over Cambridge Springs last year.
Each of Sharpsville's final eight games will be league games in Region 2. West Middlesex starts conference play in Week Four against Farrell.
West Middlesex won the 1988 non-conference meeting 8-0 under head coach Tom Trimmer. West Middlesex and Mercer joined District 10 in football prior to the 1989 season after competing in the WPIAL's Tri-County North A against Farrell, Union, Neshannock, et al.
General McLane at Grove City, 7:00 p.m.
In what some are calling a possible playoff preview in Class 5A, Grove City will host Edinboro-based General McLane at Forker Field. Both teams have ranked among the better large school programs in District 10 over the 15 years but surprisingly, have only been in the same playoff bracket once: in 2002 (Class AAA). In fact, the teams have rarely been in the same classification due to each school usually being near the AA/AAA cutoff in the old four-class system. Now, both teams are 4A and have elected to play up voluntarily in 5A.
In 2015, Grove City featured four pass receivers who gained 250 yards or more and all four players return this season. Brayden Martin caught 31 passes for 341 yards last year while Logan Lutz had 23 catches for a team-best 342 yards and four touchdowns. Nick Davies caught 19 balls for 300 yards and A.J. Turner had 13 receptions for 250 yards, good for a team-best 19.2 average.
Quarterback Kameron Patterson enters his third season as the Eagles' starter and needs 325 yards to eclipse Brian Cavanaugh (1990-92) as Grove City's all-time leading passer. Patterson has thrown for 3,210 yards and 32 touchdowns through his first two seasons. He accumulated 1,433 passing yards and 320 rushing yards in 2015.
General McLane's flexbone triple-option offense will provide a major test for Grove City's newly-installed 4-4 defense. The last time Grove City faced a similar offense, Slippery Rock amassed 440 rushing yards in a 52-18 win last year. Unlike Grove City, General McLane will have to replace a prolific dual-threat quarterback as Kyle Sult (1,956 total offensive yards, 25 combined touchdowns) has graduated. Senior Ethan Laird, a wide receiver/running back in 2015, is expected to take over as quarterback.
McLane head coach Jim Wells enters his 20th season and is Erie County's active wins leader with 163. He is tied for fourth all-time in Erie County history in coaching victories. General McLane has won four straight openers, all against Fort LeBoeuf, who is now a Region 6 opponent for the Lancers. The Lancers will also face two of Grove City's Region 5 brethren in Meadville and Conneaut later in the season.
Lakeview at Mercer, 1:00 p.m.
Separated by 13 miles of U.S. Route 62, Lakeview and Mercer will open Saturday afternoon in the county seat. Due to an illness outbreak at Lakeview, the game has been moved from Friday night to give Lakeview players more time to convalesce.
John Falconi will make his debut as Lakeview's head coach after spending several years as an assistant coach at Lowellville (Ohio) High School. A graduate of Farrell High School and Bethany College, Falconi has installed a multiple-formation offense that differs significantly from the power-oriented approach used under longtime head coach Dan York.
According to The Herald, Lakeview has featured a four-
Mercer returns a number of veterans on both sides of the ball this year as the Mustangs look to return to playoff contention. Sophomore Dylan Hetrick is expected to start at quarterback in the Mustangs' reshuffled backfield. Also back for Mercer is Jimmy Amon, who ran for a team-leading 623 yards in 2015.
Lakeview has won each of the last two meetings, including a 37-0 decision in Mercer last season. In 2013, Mercer earned a 19-8 win over the Sailors, handing them their only regular season loss of the season.
Lakeview graduate Pat McClearn is in his 10th season as Mercer head coach. He is 5-4 in season openers as head coach. This is the first time since 2005 that Mercer has not faced Mercyhurst Prep (2006-2011) or Eisenhower (2012-2015) in the season opener. The Mustangs lost at West Middlesex in the 2005 lidlifter, 26-20.
This is Mercer's first Saturday home game since September 7, 2013, when the Mustangs clipped Sharpsville, 6-0.
The game will be heard on SportsRadio 96.7. Live stats available here.
Farrell vs. Neshannock, 5:00 p.m.
Farrell makes the short trip to New Castle's historic Taggart Stadium to face Neshannock in the weekend's only neutral site game. It is a matchup of one-time conference opponents as Farrell and Neshannock competed against each other in District 7's Tri-County North A and Big Seven Conferences in the 1980s and 1990s.
Both teams are coming off successful seasons that featured playoff runs. Farrell, of course, advanced to the PIAA championship game in Class A and finished with a 14-2 overall record. Neshannock went 9-2 last year and reached the District 7 Class A quarterfinals. Two years ago, Neshannock finished 11-1 after reaching the District 7 semifinals.
Neshannock quarterback Frank Antuono, a Robert Morris commit, threw for 1,803 yards last year and ran for 979 yards. His father, Frank, previously served as head coach at Neshannock and Hickory.
Farrell will break in a new starting quarterback in sophomore Kyi Wright, who played extensively at tight end as a freshman in 2015. Farrell does return senior tailback Braxton Chapman, who ran for 1,427 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Classmates Tyrese Somerville and Wandell Murray return to anchor a young offensive line.
Saturday's game is the first meeting between the programs since October 19, 2001, when Farrell rolled to a 66-14 win at Neshannock. In that game, Allan Claiborne returned a kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown, ran for a 59-yard touchdown and returned an interception 38 yards for a score. Following that season, Neshannock moved up to Class AA. Neshannock is a member of Class 2A in the new six-class system while Farrell is 1A.
Farrell has won seven consecuive season openers. This is the first time that Farrell has played a District 7 foe in the regular season since October 5, 2007, when the Steelers downed visiting Deer Lakes, 42-7. Neshannock has won nine consecutive openers. The Lancers' last lidlifter loss came September 1, 2006 against West Middlesex, 34-0.
The game will be heard on 790 WPIC.
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