(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald, and Erie Times-News. Local coach interviews courtesy of PIC SportsLine)
WEEK TEN FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Three Mercer County teams have advanced to this weekend's state quarterfinals. Hickory and Reynolds both captured spots in the state tournament by winning respective District 10 titles last weekend in Class 3A and Class 1A. Meanwhile, Wilmington will play its second Class 2A state playoff game after downing District 9 champion Karns City, 42-14, in the first round of the state draw.
Hickory and Wilmington will both play Friday night against District 5 opponents. Reynolds will play its first PIAA tournament game in 15 years Saturday afternoon against District 9 champion Redbank Valley.
CLASS 3A PIAA QUARTERFINAL
Hickory vs. Bedford, at Windber, 7:00 p.m.
In its first eight appearances in the state playoffs, Hickory has faced opponents from Districts 4, 6, 7 and 9. Friday night, Hickory will play a District 5 opponent for the first time ever as the Hornets (8-0) meet District 5 champion Bedford (9-0) in the state quarterfinals. It is Hickory's first appearance in the state playoffs since 2016. Meanwhile, Bedford is playing in interdistrict play for the third consecutive season.
Hickory defeated Mercer County rival Grove City in last week's District 10 title game, 42-29. Meanwhile, Bedford downed District 6 champion Martinsburg Central, 28-13, in a PIAA first-round game. Bedford earned its spot in the state playoffs by topping Clearfield, 40-21, in the District 5-8-9 Class 3A subregional two weeks ago.
Both teams feature explosive and balanced offenses that dual-threat quarterbacks lead. Hickory senior Michael Henwood has accumulated 2,706 total offensive yards and 33 combined touchdowns this year. He has thrown for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns while adding 856 rushing yards and 13 scoring runs. Henwood averages 11.9 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Bedford junior quarterback Mercury Swaim has thrown for 1,301 yards and 16 touchdowns. Swaim also has 877 rushing yards and 15 scores. He averages 9.5 yards per attempt.
The respective quarterbacks also benefit from a bevy of productive performers on offense. Bedford senior Steven Ressler has caught 42 passes for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also ranks second on the Bisons with 325 rushing yards on 39 attempts. Ressler has four rushing touchdowns. A former quarterback, he has attempted 102 passes over the last three seasons.
"(Ressler) is a tremendous athlete," Hickory head coach Bill Dungee said. "He plays quarterback, he'll play at running back and they'll line him up at receiver. He's also their best corner on defense. (Swaim) is a big, strong kid. They're both really good athletes and they create problems offensively and defensively for opponents."
Senior Elijah Cook has added 275 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Gregory Edwards ranks second on the team with 20 catches for 371 yards.
Bedford averages 380 total yards per game. The Bisons had 551 yards in a 49-6 Week Four win over Forest Hills. Bedford also had 520 yards against Penn Cambria two weeks later.
"Our linebackers and our secondary will have to be really in tune this week, reading their keys and making sure that we limit big plays," Dungee said.
Big plays have played a big role in Hickory's offensive success this season. The Hornets have 14 touchdowns of 40 yards or longer this season. Junior wide receiver Ramarion Whitehead leads Mercer County with 49 receptions, 901 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Whitehead also leads the county with an 18.4 yards-per-catch average. He could become Hickory's first-ever 1,000-yard receiver.
Senior tight end Rocco Iacino and senior H-back Matt Cannone have each caught 20 passes this season. Iacino ranks fourth locally with 333 receiving yards while Cannone ranks third with six touchdown receptions.
Junior tailback Clay Wiesen ranks second to Henwood with 591 rushing yards. He ran for 73 yards in the D-10 title game win over Grove City.
"I thought it was our best game running the ball between the tackles," Dungee said. "Clay and Rocco ran the ball well between the tackles."
Although Hickory allowed Grove City to gain 421 yards last week, the Hornets forced three first-half turnovers. Hickory has 20 takeaways this season, the No. 2 mark in Mercer County this season.
Hickory has outscored its opponents 74-0 in the first quarter this season. Bedford owns a 123-6 scoring edge in the first quarter this year. Senior linebacker Ashton Dull, a PIAA wrestling championships qualifier in the 195-pound weight class last winter, leads the Bisons with 63 tackles.
Bedford opened the season with consecutive Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference wins over eventual Class 2A state quarterfinalists Chestnut Ridge (7-2) and Richland (8-1). Chestnut Ridge won the District 5 title in 2A while Richland captured the District 6 crown in Class 2A. The LHAC also features 2019 Class 1A state runner-up Bishop Guilfoyle.
"They're really a good team," Dungee said of Bedford. "Our hands are full this week."
Hickory is 5-7 all-time in the PIAA playoffs, including a 2-4 mark in the quarterfinals. Hickory won the Class AA state title in 1989. Bedford went 12-0 that season but did not accumulate enough points to earn the other western finalist berth, which went to District 7 champion Steel Valley. Hickory defeated Steel Valley, 17-7, in the state semifinals, then earned a 30-22 win over Montoursville in the state title game.
The winner advances to next weekend's state semifinals to play the District 7 champion, Central Valley or Elizabeth Forward.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7. Live stats available here.
CLASS 2A PIAA QUARTERFINAL
Chestnut Ridge at Wilmington, 7:00 p.m.
For the third straight season, Wilmington will face District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge in the state playoffs. The teams are meeting one round later this year after playing in the first round in both 2018 and 2019. Last season, Wilmington earned a 35-20 win over the Lions in Somerset. In 2018, the Greyhounds needed a late touchdown to pull out a 40-33 victory over Chestnut Ridge at Slippery Rock University.
Wilmington will play its third consecutive postseason game at home this Friday night. After defeating Farrell in the District 10 title game two weeks ago, the Greyhounds opened state tournament play last Friday night with a 42-14 win over District 9 champion Karns City. Meanwhile, Chestnut Ridge (7-2) earned its third straight District 5 Class 2A title by rallying past previously-undefeated Berlin Brothersvalley, 21-17.
"We know that we have an outstanding opponent coming in here Friday night in Chestnut Ridge," Wilmington head coach Brandon Phillian said.
Wilmington senior quarterback Caelan Bender ran for three touchdowns and threw for a fourth score in the win over Karns City, a win that extended Wilmington's home win streak to 24 games. Bender ran for 90 yards and also threw for 108 yards on 3-of-7 passing.
Senior fullback Darren Miller added 86 yards and a touchdown. Senior halfback Ethan Susen caught two passes for 103 yards and a score. Senior split end Mason Reed returned the second-half kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown to help the Greyhounds break open the game.
Susen ranks second locally with 1,297 all-purpose yards. He leads Wilmington with 890 rushing yards, 10 receptions, 254 receiving yards and 12 total scores. Miller has rushed for 666 yards and a team-high 11 rushing touchdowns. Bender has both seven rushing touchdowns and seven passing touchdowns. He has rushed for 343 yards and has thrown for 428 yards.
The Greyhounds average a county-leading 333.8 rushing yards per game. Wilmington has a Mercer County-low four turnovers this season.
Defensively, Wilmington allows 11.0 points per game. The "Hounds Hammer" defense will face a strong test Friday night, however, as Chestnut Ridge features three-year starter Logan Pfister at quarterback. Pfister has accounted for 7,689 career total offensive yards, along with 80 total touchdowns. He has 5,115 passing yards, 36 passing touchdowns, 2,547 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns.
This year, Pfister has thrown for 1,348 yards and nine touchdowns. He leads the Lions with 744 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Last year, Pfister threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns against Wilmington. Two years ago, he threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns against the Greyhounds. He also ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in Wilmington's narrow victory.
Pfister completed 15 of 25 passes for 157 yards against Berlin Brothersvalley. He also ran for a team-high 46 yards and a score. Pfister ran for 163 yards and four touchdowns in the Lions' 28-22 win over Windber in the District 5 semifinals.
"Logan Pfister is a very, very talented quarterback," Phillian said. "He can beat you throwing the ball and he can beat you running the ball. He's a true dual threat."
Junior Matt Whysong leads Chestnut Ridge with 40 receptions for 719 yards and six touchdowns. He had eight receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown last year against Wilmington. Junior Trevor Weyandt has 32 catches for 441 yards this season.
"(Pfister) has a nice complement of receivers that he distributes the football to," Phillian said. "They have a great offense. Coach (Max) Shoemaker and his staff do a tremendous job there.
"We have to find that balance on defending Pfister, both as a runner and as a passer," Phillian continued. "If you over-commit to him on the run, you're very vulnerable to getting beat on the pass."
Last year, Wilmington held Chestnut Ridge to 42 rushing yards on 19 attempts. Wilmington ran for 283 yards in the win, led by Miller's 172-yard outing. Bender completed 8 of 11 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns. He also had an interception defensively.
Wilmington owns a 22-14 record in the state playoffs. Chestnut Ridge is 0-8 all-time in PIAA tournament play. The Lions' two losses this season are to Class 3A quarterfinalist Bedford and Class 1A quarterfinalist Bishop Guilfoyle. Guilfoyle plays Homer Center for the District 6 Class 1A title Friday night.
The winner will play the District 7 champion, either Beaver Falls or Sto-Rox, in the state semifinals next weekend.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC.
CLASS 1A PIAA QUARTERFINAL
Reynolds vs. Redbank Valley, at Brockway, 4:00 p.m.
Coming off consecutive shutouts in the District 10 Class 1A playoffs, Reynolds (8-0) will play District 9 kingpin Redbank Valley (7-0) in the state quarterfinals late Saturday afternoon.
"I think this is going to be a heavyweight battle," Reynolds head coach Josh Mull said.
Both teams used suffocating defensive performances last week in earning berths in the quarterfinals. Reynolds held previously-undefeated Eisenhower to 59 total yards in the District 10 Class 1A title game as the Raiders earned a 27-0 road win. Redbank Valley forced six turnovers, recorded four sacks and held Northern Bedford County to minus-20 rushing yards on the way to a 28-15 win in the PIAA Class 1A opening round. That marked Redbank Valley's first-ever state playoff victory.
Redbank Valley aims to slow down Reynolds' powerful rushing attack. The Raiders average 319 rushing yards per game. Reynolds has also rushed for a county-high 41 touchdowns this year. Senior halfback Cole Toy has rushed for a county-high 22 touchdowns this season. He ranks second locally with 1,105 rushing yards this fall. Senior halfback Dreyvin Livingston has added 607 yards, good for 10th on the county leaderboard.
"You get a pretty good idea from watching their games what they want to do to you. They're going to run right at you," second-year Redbank Valley head coach Blane Gold said. "They're going to run some misdirection and they're going to try to get the ball in Toy's hands. Obviously, we have to do everything we can to contain that.
"It's really going to be an interesting matchup for us. Something's going to give on Saturday, whether it's us giving up rushing yards or them getting stopped."
Toy has been a focal point of opposing defenses all season. Mull knows that his team will need all of its running backs to contribute Saturday afternoon.
"We have to control the line of scrimmage. We have to run the ball," Mull said. "We have to establish the run game with our other backs, with Aidan (Mull), Jalen Wagner and Dreyvin Livingston."
This season, 352 of Reynolds' 399 offensive plays have been running plays. That ground attack could help limit Redbank Valley's pass rush, which has 27 quarterback sacks in seven games. All-State junior defensive end Joe Mansfield leads the Bulldogs with 9.5 sacks while junior Ray Shreckengost has 5.5 sacks.
Offensively, Shreckengost leads Redbank Valley with 416 rushing yards. Senior Hudson Martz has added 270 yards and four touchdown runs.
Sophomore quarterback Cam Wagner has taken over as the starter after a season-ending knee injury to junior Gunner Mangiantini. Wagner is 30 of 56 for 313 yards and six touchdowns. Mangiantini threw for 494 yards and eight scores in his six games.
Senior Dalton Bish leads Redbank Valley with 18 catches. Junior Marquese Gardlock has a team-leading 258 yards on 16 receptions. He played basketball at Sharon before moving to Redbank Valley last year. Junior Chris Marshall, Gardlock's cousin, has a team-leading four touchdown catches.
"If you look at them on paper, they're balanced," Josh Mull said. "They like to spread the field. They're not super flashy, they're not super fancy. They're big and physical. They're a lot like us."
Senior tackles Rocco John-Daniello (6-2, 270) and Luke Faber (6-4, 250) anchor the Raiders' offensive and defensive lines. Junior Mitchell Mason recorded two of Reynolds' five sacks last week at Eisenhower while junior Gavin Aley had a half-sack and blocked a punt.
"I'd say that Reynolds is the biggest team that we've played as far as the line goes," Gold said. "We know that we have to establish the run and win in the trenches. As good as they are, I'm excited for the matchup. That's what we have preached for two years: if you want to be champions, you have to stop the run."
Reynolds has a Mercer County-leading 24 takeaways this year. Livingston and Clayton Rhoades each have three interceptions. Redbank Valley has forced 17 turnovers.
Redbank Valley won the District 9 League Small School South Division this season. The Bulldogs only played four regular season games this season. Sheffield suspended its program after the first week of the season, wiping out Redbank Valley's Week Three game. COVID-19 concerns forced the cancellation of Redbank Valley's Week Six game with Curwensville.
Gold is in his second season as Redbank Valley head coach after spending six years as an assistant coach. He earned three letters as a defensive lineman and long snapper at Grove City College from 2007 to 2010. He also worked as an assistant coach at Oil City and Franklin, his high school alma mater.
Reynolds' current eight-game win streak is the program's longest since the 1992 team won its final eight games of the regular season. That year, Reynolds finished 9-1 but did not qualify for the District 10 playoffs. Reynolds last recorded a nine-game win streak during the 1990 and 1991 seasons. The Raiders won their last four games in 1990 and won the first five outings the next year. The program record is 14 consecutive wins, set during the 1987 and 1988 campaigns.
Reynolds is 3-0-1 all-time against District 9 foes, including the 2005 playoff win over Brockway. In 1963, the Raiders blanked Moniteau, 27-0. Reynolds earned a 14-0 win over DuBois in 1988. The next year, the teams played to a 12-12 tie at Reynolds.
Redbank Valley last played a Mercer County team September 20, 2013. That night, the Bulldogs fell at Farrell, 40-22. Redbank Valley fell to Hickory, 26-12, in the PIAA Class AA first round November 22, 1991 at West Middlesex. In 1992, Fairview earned a 26-18 win over Redbank Valley in a PIAA Class AA first round clash held at Punxsutawney.
The Reynolds-Redbank Valley winner will play the District 7 champion, Clairton or Jeannette, in next week's state semifinals.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.