(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald and Erie Times-News)
WEEK ONE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
The 2018 high school football season opens this weekend with all 12 local teams in action. Eleven of the 12 teams will play Friday night while Mercer opens the 2018 schedule Saturday night at Cochranton.
The weekend's 10-game card features two all-local matchups as Sharon hosts Wilmington and Sharpsville heads to Hickory. Friday night also features a pair of playoff rematches in Greenville-Northwestern and Grove City-Fort LeBoeuf.
Four head coaches make their respective debuts this weekend: Bill Hickman (Lakeview), Keith DeGraaf (Mercer), Mark Means (West Middlesex) and Brandon Phillian (Wilmington). Two coaches could record milestone wins Friday night. Sharon head coach Jim Wildman aims for career win No. 250 while Sharpsville head coach Paul Piccirilli currently owns 199 career wins.
Wilmington at Sharon, 7:00 p.m.
For the second straight season, Wilmington visits Sharon in the season opener. This year's game has two major differences compared to the 2017 opener, however. First, this year's game is a non-conference game as the two programs are in different regions this season after being league foes the last two years. Secondly, Wilmington has a new head coach as former defensive coordinator Brandon Phillian replaced the retired Terry Verrelli during the offseason.
However, both teams return numerous standouts from their respective stellar 2017 seasons. Wilmington, which reached the Class 2A state championship game last year, returns three All-State honorees. Senior halfback/safety Cameron Marett headlines that trio after earning Region 2 Player of the Year and All-State honors last season. He accounted for 22 total touchdowns last season while rushing for 907 yards and intercepting 10 passes.
Senior two-way linemen Jimmy Reed and Colton Richards also return after earning All-State and All-Region 2 honors. Those two, along with fellow All-Region lineman Jordan Gray, will anchor the offensive and defensive lines for the Greyhounds.
Wilmington also returns senior quarterback Robert Pontius, who earned Second Team All-Region at both quarterback and defensive back. He threw for 929 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first season as the Greyhounds' starter. He added 11 rushing touchdowns in 2017.
Sharon advanced to the state semifinals in Class 3A last season and like Wilmington, has a decorated group of returners. Junior quarterback Lane Voytik led Mercer County in passing yards (2,636), touchdown passes (31), completions (176) and attempts (283).
Three of his top five targets from last year are also back, led by senior tight end Frank Shaffer. Shaffer earned First Team All-Region honors in 2017 after hauling in 30 passes for 321 touchdowns and six touchdowns. Junior wide receiver C.J. Parchman missed time due to injury but still caught 17 passes for 343 yards (20.2 yards per catch) in eight games.
Senior tailback Jordan Wilson added nine receptions out of the backfield last year. Wilson is known more for carrying the ball as he has produced consecutive 1,000-yard rushing yard seasons. After rushing for 1,318 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, Wilson charged through opposing defenses for 1,267 yards and 17 scores last year.
Like Wilmington, Sharon returns plenty of experience along the offensive and defensive line as four starters return. All four men are seniors: tackles Dorian Jefferson and Josh Torr, guard Dakota Burnett and center Jordan Volpe. Senior C.J. Malloy also returns on the defensive line for Sharon.
Wilmington rallied from a 7-0 deficit to earn a 21-7 win in last year's opener at Sharon. Marett scored twice on touchdown runs in the second half for Wilmington, which recorded its 10th straight season-opening victory. Voytik threw for 167 yards in his first start. Shaffer caught a team-high six passes while Wilson had a 27-yard touchdown catch.
Of those 10 Wilmington wins, eight have come against local opponents (two each over Grove City, Sharon, Slippery Rock and West Middlesex). Wilmington last lost a season opener to a local team 28 years ago -- a 41-18 loss at Slippery Rock in the 1990 season opener August 31, 1990.
Wildman's 200th career win came in the 2001 opener when Sharon rolled to a 38-0 home win over Cornell.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7.
Sharpsville at Hickory, 7:00 p.m.
Two of the area's top football programs in this decade will meet Friday night at Hornet Stadium as Class 3A Hickory hosts 2A Sharpsville in the season opener. Both teams look to return to region and district prominence after finishing at or below .500 in 2017.
Hickory returns senior quarterback Hayden Gallagher, who earned All-Region honors after throwing for 1,697 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He ranked fourth in the county in passing yards in 2017. Gallagher, who took over as Hickory's starter late in 2016, now has 2,100 career passing yards and 23 touchdown passes.
While graduation claimed four of Gallagher's top five targets, including versatile Will Gruber, senior Michael Filardi is back on the outside after catching 20 passes for 344 yards last season.
During Hickory's six-year run as District 10 champion from 2011 to 2016, the Hornets featured a prolific running game. Last season, the Hornets ranked 11th out of 12 area teams in rushing average, however. The Hornets gained 118.5 yards per game and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. Gallagher ran for 226 yards last year while senior track standout Simeon McKinley led the Hornets with 298 rushing yards.
Special teams have always been a strength for Hickory under ninth-year head coach Bill Brest (81-21) and the Hornets return All-Region kicker/punter Sam Scarton. Scarton shared the area lead with five field goals last year and finished third on the team with 45 points. Hickory went 5-6 last season, reaching the District 10 3A semifinals before falling to Mercyhurst Prep.
Sharpsville went 6-6 last year and reached the District 10 Class 2A semifinals. Like Hickory, the Blue Devils welcome back a returning starter at quarterback in senior Nick Alexander. Alexander threw for 998 yards in 12 games last year, his first season as Sharpsville's starter under center.
Up front, senior offensive lineman JaQuay Hubbard will anchor the Blue Devils' front. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Hubbard has received numerous Division I scholarship offers and is one of Pennsylvania's top collegiate prospects. He earned First Team All-Region honors in 2017.
Senior fullback/linebacker Kobe Joseph and senior tight end Luke Levis also return after earning All-Region recognition last season. A state qualifier in the 110 high hurdles, Joseph ran for 750 yards last season. He has received interest from numerous Division I colleges in the east. Levis, meanwhile, caught six of Alexander's eight touchdown passes last year. The 6-foot-4 Levis caught 16 passes last year.
Hickory earned a 30-14 home win over Sharpsville last season as Nate Marchand's 72-yard kickoff return for touchdown and Darren Mitchell's 28-yard interception return touchdown in the fourth quarter sealed the victory. Both defenses kept the opposing offense in check as Hickory held a 192-175 edge in total yardage.
Sharpsville's last win over Hickory came September 5, 2009 at McCracken Field, 17-14. Sharpsville's last win at Hickory came October 5, 2001, 19-7. Ron Haywood's 62-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:31 left sealed the Sharpsville victory.
This is the first time that Hickory has hosted Sharpsville in the season opener since August 29, 2008, when the Hornets earned a 20-13 victory. Hickory last lost a season opener at home on August 30, 2002, when the Hornets fell to Brookfield, 30-24. The Hornets last lost a season opener at home against a Pennsylvania squad 20 years ago, a 21-15 overtime loss to Punxsutawney. That was the first game as Hickory head coach for Phil Annarella.
Hickory last dropped a season opener at home against a local coverage area team in 1993, when Slippery Rock pulled out a 14-7 win in Hermitage.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.
Eisenhower at West Middlesex, 7:00 p.m.
Two of the district's 10 Class 1A teams meet Friday night in West Middlesex in a non-region battle. The game marks the debut of first-year West Middlesex head coach Mark Means. Means, a 1998 West Middlesex High graduate, looks to lead the Big Reds back to prominence after a 2-9 mark last year.
While the Big Reds have implemented a new offensive system under first-year offensive coordinator Kolten Hoffman, senior running back Clayton Parrish is expected to be a focal point of the attack. Parrish ran for 1,268 yards last season after generating 1,117 yards as a sophomore in 2016. He earned All-Region last year at both running back and linebacker.
Senior guard/linebacker Zach Long has also earned All-Region honors on both sides of the ball over the last two seasons and will be a key cog on offense and defense.
Senior Jake Bowen, a baseball and basketball standout, is expected to be the Big Reds' starting quarterback this season. Senior wide receiver Kaz Hoffman, an All-Region honoree last year, is back on the outside and will likely be one of Bowen's top targets.
West Middlesex is 4-6 in its last 10 season openers. The Big Reds are 4-0 against non-local teams in that span, however.
Eisenhower went 4-6 last season but closed 2017 with three consecutive victories. Head coach Jim Penley (69-76) enters his 15th season as the Knights' head coach. Sophomore Owen Trumbull is expected to take over as Eisenhower's quarterback after seeing spot duty last season.
Eisenhower looks to snap a 10-game slide in season openers. Eisenhower's last Week One win came September 1, 2007, when the Knights earned a 15-0 win at Reynolds.
Friday's game is the first meeting between the teams since November 9, 2002, when West Middlesex earned a 21-17 win over Eisenhower in the District 10 Class A championship game. That win gave West Middlesex its first D-10 crown.
Farrell at University Prep, 7:00 p.m.
After going 45 years without playing a Pittsburgh City League foe, Farrell will play a City League team for the third straight year when the Steelers take on University Prep at Cupples Stadium Friday night.
The Steelers enter 2018 as the state's top-ranked team in Class 1A after reaching the state semifinals last year. Farrell returns a 1,000-yard rusher (Christian Lewis), a 1,000-yard receiver (Jourdan Townsend) and University of Akron-bound two-way lineman Kobe Hilton. The Steelers are also bolstered by the return of a player who did not play a down last year -- senior quarterback/linebacker Kyi Wright.
The 6-3, 230-pound Wright missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury. As a sophomore, Wright threw for 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding 377 rushing yards and eight scores in 13 games. He has committed to the University of Pittsburgh after receiving scholarship offers from several Power 5 programs.
Lewis qualified for the state championships in the 100-meter dash as a junior and is one of fastest men in District 10. That speed enabled Lewis to rush for 1,356 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. He averaged 9.7 yards per carry, second-best in Mercer County. Lewis also caught 12 passes and averaged 21.5 yards per receptions.
No player in District 10 history caught more touchdown passes or gained more yardage through the air in one season than Townsend did in 2017, however. Townsend caught 22 touchdown passes and finished the season with 1,512 receiving yards on 71 catches. The 71 catches are the second-most in Mercer County history and rank third in single-season D-10 history.
A gifted kick returner and defensive back, Townsend also led Mercer County with 30 touchdowns and 194 total points.
Farrell defeated Carrick in both 2016 and 2017. Prior to that two-year series, Farrell's last game against a City League opponent came in 1959, a 27-0 win over Peabody.
Class 4A University Prep went 4-7 last year. The Wildcats fell to Brashear in the City League semifinals, 9-8, then dropped a 56-0 decision in the PIAA playoffs to Erie Cathedral Prep.
The Wildcats return four starters on each side of the ball for head coach Lou Berry. Juniors Messiah Wilkinson and Jabril Sherrill are competing for the starting quarterback spot. Farrell is the first regular season foe from District 10 for University Prep in five years. University Prep opened the 2013 season with a 52-7 win at Erie Central.
This is the first time that University Prep will play its season opener at home. University Prep first fielded a football team in 2011 after significant consolidation and restructuring in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Fort LeBoeuf at Grove City, 7:00 p.m.
It's a District 10 Class 5A playoff rematch Friday night at Forker Field as defending District 10 champion Grove City hosts Waterford-based Fort LeBoeuf. Actually, it is the third straight year that the teams will have met as Grove City eliminated the Bison from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Grove City returns five All-Region players, including Region 5 Player of the Year Logan Lutz. Lutz, a senior wide receiver/defensive back, led Mercer County with 1,622 yards from scrimmage last season. He caught 62 passes for 860 yards and also rushed for 762 yards. Lutz averaged 8.8 yards per carry in 2017.
Senior quarterback Brady Callahan also earned All-Region honors and is back for his second season as the starter. He threw for 1,974 yards and led the county in completion percentage (75.1). His 10.2 yards per attempt average ranked second in the area.
Senior tight end/linebacker Carter Chinn earned All-Region recognition on both sides of the ball despite missing the last month of the season due to injury. He caught 16 passes last season. Senior linemen Jake Bush and Shawn Woods also return after capturing All-Region in 2017.
Senior running back Tyler Greer saw extensive action in 2017 and ran for 587 yards and seven touchdowns. He led the county in yards per carry (11.1).
Fort LeBoeuf went a combined 15-7 in 2015 and 2016 before finishing 4-6 last year. The Bison opened 3-0 before losing quarterback Corey Shields for the season due to injury in Week Four. Junior Cole Dauson started the final six games and threw for 269 yards.
Callahan completed 9 of 10 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns for Grove City in last year's 45-7 playoff win over Fort LeBoeuf. He also ran for 67 yards and a touchdown. Lutz caught six passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
Both teams have dropped down in classification this season. During the last two seasons, both Grove City and Fort LeBoeuf were Class 4A-sized schools that played up in Class 5A. This year, Grove City is Class 3A while LeBoeuf will be 4A after not moving up again.
Grove City has won seven straight season openers against opponents from Erie County. The last loss came September 3, 2004, a 34-21 setback at Harbor Creek. Grove City opened that season 0-2 before rattling off 11 straight wins and reaching the state championship game in Class AA.
Grove City last lost a season opener at home to an Erie County foe in 1946, when Erie Tech earned an 18-0 win over the Eagles. That game marked the return of head coach Gene Forker from World War II. The field, which is now named in Forker's honor, featured new lights for the 1946 season.
The final tie in Grove City program history came in the 1991 opener, a 20-20 stalemate at Oil City.
The game can be heard on WWIZ Z-104 (103.9) here.
Greenville at Northwestern, 7:00 p.m.
The other District 10 playoff rematch will be held Friday night in Erie County as Greenville heads to Albion to face Northwestern at Rogers Field. Greenville downed the Wildcats in last year's District 10 2A quarterfinals, 63-19.
Few familiar faces return for either squad, however, as graduation hit both teams hard. One name that is familiar to both local fans and to Northwestern is Greenville senior running back Brady Gentile. Gentile ran for 164 yards and four touchdowns in last year's playoff victory for the Trojans. After taking over as Greenville's feature back at midseason, Gentile ran for 839 yards in 2017. He also caught 21 passes, which led Mercer County running backs.
Greenville does return three starters on the offensive line in senior guard Nick Jones, junior guard Aaron Solderich and junior tackle Justin Harbaugh. Junior Jon King, who started at free safety last year, may have the inside track to start at quarterback.
Gentile, King and senior linebacker Ian Porter are Greenville's returning defensive starters for 12th-year head coach Brian Herrick (83-44).
Head coach Mark Brooks led Northwestern to a 5-5 mark last year, his first season as head coach. Graduation claimed Northwestern's quarterback, Killian Cooper, who threw for 1,273 yards and ran for 1,054 yards. Junior Derek Albert is expected to replace Cooper at quarterback. He completed 5 of 12 passes for 68 yards last year.
This is the first regular season meeting between the programs since October 12, 2012, when Northwestern earned a 42-7 win over Greenville.
Northwestern opens the season with three straight Mercer County foes. The Wildcats host Mercer next week before heading to Wilmington in Week Three.
Maplewood at Lakeview, 7:00 p.m.
Forty years ago, Maplewood downed Lakeview, 27-7, in Crawford County League action as the teams met for the first time on the gridiron. Friday night, the series will be renewed with a non-region game in Stoneboro. The game also marks the debut of first-year Lakeview head coach Bill Hickman.
A 21-year military veteran, Hickman has an installed a triple-option offense while also emphasizing discipline and conditioning throughout the program. Junior Logan McFadden is Lakeview's leading returning rusher after gaining 146 yards in 2017.
Whereas Lakeview will look to control time of possession with its rushing attack, Maplewood will utilize a wide-open attack that features junior quarterback J.D. McFadden. McFadden threw for 1,709 yards and ran for 680 yards in 2017, helping Maplewood to a 6-5 record and a berth in the District 10 playoffs. Senior running back Chevy Blake also returns after rushing for 630 yards last season.
The Tigers also return a pair of All-Region specialists in senior kicker Hunter Groger and senior punter Dylan Proper.
Maplewood head coach Bryan Borkovich is in his seventh season. He played collegiately at Westminster College for head coaches Jerry Schmitt and Jeff Hand. Maplewood is 5-5 in its last 10 season openers. Lakeview enters the game on an 18-game slide.
This is the first meeting between the teams since November 8, 2012, when Lakeview earned a 61-6 win over Maplewood in the District 10 Class A playoffs. It's the first regular season clash since August 29, 2003. That night, Lakeview pulled out a 14-6 home win in a driving rainstorm as Danny Van Dyke scored on a pair of touchdown runs. Maplewood's last win in the series came August 30, 2002, a 31-12 Tiger victory in Guys Mills.
Reynolds at Union City, 7:00 p.m.
The Reynolds Raiders may change their nickname to the "Roaders" during the first month of the season as Reynolds opens the season with four straight road games. Friday night, Reynolds heads to Erie County to face fellow Class 1A program Union City in non-region play.
In 2017, Reynolds advanced to the District 10 Class 2A semifinals and recorded the program's first playoff victory in a dozen seasons. Now, the Raiders move into Class 1A and will rely on a relatively young nucleus this year under sixth-year head coach Josh Mull.
Junior quarterback Bryce McCloskey completed 13 of 22 passes last season and will likely take over the Reynolds offense. Sophomores Cole Toy and Jordan DeCarmen will likely be featured in the rushing attack after serving in complementary offensive roles last season. Senior tight end Chance Westover caught seven passes last year and is a two-way starter. Senior linemen Hunter Jones, Wyatt Owen and Derek Skeehan are all back as well for the Raiders.
Reynolds has won each of its last three season openers that have been held on the road (2012, 2014, 2016). The last time Reynolds dropped a season opener on the road also marked the Raiders' last season opener in Erie County. Northwestern nipped Reynolds, 13-6, on September 2, 2011.
Union City enters Friday night's game on a three-game regular season win streak. While graduation also hit the Bears in several key areas, Union City does return its leading rusher from last year in senior Gavin Henry. Henry ran for 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns last year as the focal point of Union City's ground-oriented offense.
Head coach Randy Gunther led the Bears to a 3-1 Region 1 record last year and a 4-6 overall mark. This year, the Bears will also play Mercer County foes Farrell (Sept. 7) and Mercer (Sept. 21) in non-conference play.
Slippery Rock at General McLane, 7:00 p.m.
Slippery Rock heads to Edinboro for the season opener Friday night against General McLane. Both teams are looking to return to contention this fall after up-and-down 2017 campaigns.
Slippery Rock carries momentum from last year's playoff run which saw the Rockets reach the District 10 Class 3A semifinals. Following a 38-14 thumping of Harbor Creek, Slippery Rock battled state semifinalist Sharon tough before dropping a 26-10 decision.
Third-year head coach Larry Wendereusz welcomes back several key contributors on both sides of the ball, including two players with ample experience at quarterback. Senior Jacob Shaffer threw for 493 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He also ran for 229 yards and three scores. He is competing with junior Vito Pelosi, who ran for 269 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Pelosi also completed 12 of 29 passes for 106 yards.
Two of the quarterbacks' top targets are also back in senior wide receiver Patrick Shea (11 catches) and senior running back Kaleb Kamerer (9 receptions). Kamerer also ran for 336 yards and averaged nearly five yards per carry. Junior Nathan Hyatt emerged as 2017 progressed and will likely be a key contributor at receiver and at defensive back.
Up front, seniors Ryan Broad, Sean Northcott and Mitchell Houston are all back to lead experienced offensive and defensive lines.
Junior kicker Nathaniel Willison ranked third on the team with 29 points, including three field goals.
Last year, Slippery Rock ranked fourth among the area's 12 teams in yards allowed per play (4.9). However the Rockets turned over the ball an area-high 23 times on offense, resulting in a minus-7 turnover ratio.
General McLane looks to return to the glory of earlier this decade under 22nd-year head coach Jim Wells. The Lancers went 4-6 last year and fell to Meadville in the District 10 5A playoffs, 19-7. From 2004 through 2013, General McLane posted a 99-26 record, including the 2006 state title in Class AAA. Since then, McLane is 21-21.
Senior Luke Dillen is expected to take over as General McLane's starting quarterback this season. He ran for 256 yards and five touchdowns. Dillen, who made 52 tackles at linebacker, also kicked 31 extra points for the Lancers. General McLane also reportedly returns four starters on the offensive and defensive lines.
Slippery Rock and General McLane last met October 16, 2015 as General McLane earned a 42-21 home win. Slippery Rock last opened the season in Erie County nine years ago, when the Rockets dropped a 17-14 verdict at Fort LeBoeuf. General McLane lost to Grove City in Week One in each of the last two seasons.
Saturday, August 25
Mercer at Cochranton, 7:00 p.m.
For the third straight year, Mercer will open the season on a Saturday as the Mustangs visit Cochranton in a clash of Class 1A teams. The game marks the debut of longtime assistant coach Keith DeGraaf as Mercer's head coach. DeGraaf has 30 years' experience as an assistant at both Mercer and at Grove City. He also had a long and successful run as Mercer's wrestling coach.
A Delaware Wing-T guru, DeGraaf has installed that system on offense. Senior quarterback Dylan Hetrick returns after throwing for 466 yards. A two-year starter, Hetrick threw for 812 yards as a sophomore in a more pass-oriented system. Senior split end Brian Shevitz has 22 catches over the last two seasons. Senior Cam Peters will help anchor the Mustangs' lines this year.
Turnovers have plagued Mercer in each of the last two seasons as Mercer has finished each season minus-11 in turnover margin.
Mercer is 5-1 in its last six season openers, including a come-from-behind 35-33 win at Lakeview. Mercer last lost a season opener on the road in 2011, when the Mustangs dropped a 27-14 decision at Mercyhurst Prep. Saturday's game opens a three-game road trip for the Mustangs, who will open their home schedule in Week Four against Region 1 foe Reynolds.
Cochranton returns several letterwinners from last season's 2-8 campaign. Second-year head coach Joel Murray -- a West Middlesex native who previously served as the Big Reds' offensive coordinator -- will likely rely on versatile senior Curtis Freyermuth on offense. Freyermuth ran for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while also seeing time at quarterback. Senior quarterback Kohl Bernarding also returns for the Cardinals.
Up front, seniors Dylan Neff and Jeriah Hostetler will lead an experienced offensive and defensive line. Senior Nick Slawson returns as a two-way starter at wide receiver and cornerback.
Cochranton is 4-4 in its last eight season openers.
This is the first meeting between the teams since September 15, 2007. That night, Mercer earned a 41-6 home win over the Cardinals. Mercer also prevailed at Cochranton in 2006, 27-20. This is the first time that Cochranton and Mercer have met in the opener since August 29, 2003, when the Cardinals secured a 24-0 win at Mercer.
The last time Mercer played at Cochranton on a Saturday, the Mustangs pulled out a 21-14 overtime win August 31, 2002, in an afternoon game.