(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald and Erie Times-News)
WEEK ONE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Until late August, it seemed unlikely that high school sports would be played this fall in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the vast majority of school districts in central and western Pennsylvania have gone forward with interscholastic sports. Golf and tennis matches have been underway for over a week and the other sports are ramping up this week.
For the first time since 2013, the Mercer County area will have 13 schools fielding varsity football programs as Kennedy Catholic returns to the field. The Golden Eagles will play their first varsity game in seven years Saturday night at Mercer. That's one of four Saturday night games in the area. In Class 2A, Farrell visits Sharpsville while Wilmington hosts Greenville. Lakeview will host Cambridge Springs in Region 4 action.
Six area teams will be in action Friday night. In Class 1A, West Middlesex hosts Reynolds. All four Class 3A teams are in action as Grove City heads to Hickory while Slippery Rock hosts Sharon.
This weekend's action starts a six-game regular season for all local teams. There will be exactly seven games involving Mercer County area teams each week, barring unforeseen circumstances.
Grove City at Hickory, 7:00 p.m.
For the first time since 1949, Grove City and Hickory will meet in the season opener when the two Class 3A squads meet Friday night in Hermitage. It is a rematch of last year's District 10 semifinals. Grove City eliminated Hickory from the playoffs last year, 34-13, after dropping a 21-19 decision at Hickory in the regular season.
This season, both teams return a senior starter at quarterback. Each team has four returning starters on the offensive line. Both Grove City and Hickory will also be breaking in new starters at the running back position Friday night.
The two returning quarterbacks in Friday night's game each accounted for over 2,000 total offensive yards last season. Grove City's Logan Breese threw for 2,244 yards and 20 touchdowns last year. He led the county in completion percentage, hitting on 63.9 percent of his attempts. Meanwhile, Hickory's Michael Henwood accumulated 1,822 passing yards and 24 passing touchdowns. The fleet-footed Henwood also led Hickory with 622 rushing yards and seven touchdown runs.
The two quarterbacks will receive snaps from senior centers, who both rank among District 10's best. Grove City's Matt Howard anchors a junior-laden line while Hickory's Michael Trinchese leads the Hornets' veteran front.
One major difference, however, is that Henwood will be working with several of his top targets from 2019 while Grove City features several newcomers at wide receiver. Hickory junior Ramarion Whitehead caught 30 passes for 742 yards and led the county with a 24.7 yards per catch average. Senior Matthew Cannone added 29 receptions last year and is expected to be a key element of the passing game.
Graduation and transfers claimed Grove City's top four receivers from last year. Senior tight end Zack Martin grabbed 14 passes for the Eagles and could have an expanded role this fall, as will junior wide receiver Zach Rodgers.
The Eagles will have a first-time starter at running back in junior Curtis Hovis. However, Hovis has played extensively, having started at inside linebacker as a sophomore. He ran for 406 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. Hovis will be the focal point of Grove City's power spread offense.
Hickory has several candidates for time in the backfield, including junior Clay Wiesen, freshman Sean Kennedy and 225-pound senior Rocco Iacino, who will also start at tight end.
In last year's District 10 Class 3A semifinal meeting, Breese threw for 208 yards and four touchdowns to help lead Grove City to the win. The Eagles accumulated 397 offensive yards. Defensively, Grove City held Hickory to 72 rushing yards on 35 attempts. The Eagles also pressured Henwood into three interceptions.
Hickory held the turnover edge when the teams met in the regular season September 27 in Hermitage as the Hornets pulled out a 21-19 win. Hickory forced three Grove City turnovers while stopping the Eagles' 23-game regular season win streak. Cannone threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Whitehead on a trick play to open the scoring. Whitehead also caught a touchdown pass from Henwood, who threw for 165 yards and added 62 rushing yards.
Breese completed 20 of 32 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown for Grove City.
Hickory has won four consecutive home games against Grove City, including last year's victory. Grove City earned a 24-12 win September 29, 2006 in Hermitage. Hickory has won seven of the last nine meetings overall.
While this is the first Week One meeting for the teams in 71 years, it is one of the area's most frequently-played series. Hickory leads the series 38-30-3. The teams met every year from 1947 to 2009, often as league foes. The teams met in the season finale every year from 1950 to 1970.
It's the first time that Grove City has opened the season with a league game since 1980, when the Eagles dropped a 19-0 decision to visiting Oil City in Northwest Conference action. Hickory faced Greenville in region action to open the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Grove City will host Hickory in Week Four. That will be the third of three straight road games for Hickory.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7.
Sharon at Slippery Rock, 7:00 p.m.
For the first time ever, Sharon will open a football season in Butler County as the three-time defending District 10 champions visit Slippery Rock in Class 3A action. Sharon aims for its first official win in a season opener in 12 years (Sharon topped Struthers in the 2015 opener, 34-27, but later forfeited the game due to the use of an ineligible player) while the Rockets aim for their eighth Week One victory in the last nine years.
While Class 3A squads Grove City and Hickory feature numerous similarities, the same can be said for Sharon and Slippery Rock, the area's other 3A teams. Sharon and Slippery Rock each return three starters on the offensive line. Both teams must replace three-year starters at quarterback and several key playmakers on both sides of the ball.
For Sharon, guards Tommy Dawson and Bryce Carroll, and tackle Andrew Price comprise the veteran core up front. Slippery Rock welcomes back guards Tony Pilosi and Justin Schaeffer, along with tackle Brody Galcik.
Sharon must replace quarterback Lane Voytik, who graduated as Mercer County's all-time passing leader with 8,543 yards and 90 touchdowns. Slippery Rock featured dual-threat quarterback Vito Pilosi at the helm for much of the last three seasons. Pilosi accounted for 3,845 yards of total offense over the last two years.
One major difference, though, is that Sharon has identified its starting quarterback for this season, senior Brett Salsgiver. The mobile 6-foot-2, 185-pound lefty will lead what is expected to be more of a run-oriented attack in 2020.
Sophomore William Mokel and junior Andrew Massella have dueled throughout camp for Slippery Rock's starting quarterback nod. Mokel may have inched ahead of Massella near the end of preseason drills but both players could see time this season.
The Slippery Rock quarterback will be one of three newcomers in the backfield as running backs David Duffalo and Nathan Hyatt both graduated. Fifth-year head coach Larry Wendereusz expects Shane Montgomery, Ryan Thompson and Brett Galcik to share time at running back.
Sharon tailback Tyvell Richardson emerged during Sharon's run to the state playoffs last season. He ran for 682 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Junior wide receiver Ja'On Phillips is Sharon's top returning pass-catcher, having pulled in 28 passes last season. Sharon's top four pass receivers in 2019 graduated.
Slippery Rock welcomes back senior wide receiver Ethan Plesakov, who caught 20 passes for a team-high 258 yards last year. Junior Brendan Earl led the Rockets with three touchdown catches and averaged 20.8 yards on his 10 catches.
Sharon pulled out a 14-0 win September 13, 2019 over visiting Slippery Rock at Tiger Stadium. Slippery Rock executed 74 offensive plays, picked up 307 yards and 17 first downs, and did not commit a turnover. But Sharon's defense stiffened and kept Slippery Rock off the scoreboard.
Sharon has won six straight in the series. The Tigers have won 25 of the 31 all-time meetings. The teams first met September 9, 1988, with Sharon earning a 34-0 home win in Keystone Football League action.
Slippery Rock will visit Sharon in Week Four.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC. Live stats available here.
Reynolds at West Middlesex, 7:00 p.m.
Two teams that advanced to the District 10 Class 1A semifinals last season will meet in the season opener Friday night at West Middlesex. Both went 7-4 last year and are considered among the Class 1A favorites in District 10 this season.
Led by its seven-man senior class, Reynolds has its most-experienced team under eighth-year head coach Josh Mull. Seniors Rocco John-Daniello and Luke Faber anchor the offensive and defensive lines while seniors Cole Toy and Aidan Mull will lead the offensive backfield and linebacking corps. Senior Luca Tofani returns at split end and cornerback. Classmate Dreyvin Livingston returns at safety and senior Quinton Earley brings experience to the secondary and wide receiver positions.
After excelling at linebacker in his first two seasons, Toy emerged as a primary offensive threat in 2019. He ranked fourth in Mercer County with 1,215 rushing yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. He also caught 12 passes. Meanwhile Aidan Mull caught 13 passes from his fullback position.
John-Daniello, Faber, Tofani and Toy all earned All-Region on defense last year as the Raiders ranked third out of 12 area teams in rushing defense.
Reynolds will have a new starting quarterback this season as sophomore Brayden McCloskey takes over for graduated older brother Bryce McCloskey.
Conversely, West Middlesex returns its starting quarterback in senior Ty Tate. A dual-threat quarterback, Tate's strong arm and legs will be integral to the success of West Middlesex's double-slot option attack. Last year, he threw for 388 yards and seven touchdowns in nine total games.
Junior fullback Ian Smith (303 rushing yards) and senior wingback Alex Rea (256 rushing yards, eight total touchdowns) also return in the Big Reds' backfield. Rea will also be a threat as a receiver and return specialist.
West Middlesex must replace its top two rushers from last season, Zeb Rubaker (832) and Jason Davis (672), however.
Reynolds rallied from a 14-13 halftime deficit to earn a 28-14 win September 27, 2019 at West Middlesex. Tofani recovered a fourth quarter fumble in the end zone to seal the victory. The Reynolds defense held West Middlesex to 71 rushing yards. Reynolds also forced three turnovers.
Toy led the Raiders with 123 rushing yards and a touchdown. Current senior Eddie Lowe caught three passes for 79 yards and a touchdown for the Big Reds. Tate missed the game due to injury.
Two years ago, West Middlesex earned a 42-6 win at Reynolds. Reynolds leads the all-time series 12-4. The teams first met October 3, 1964, with Reynolds earning a 27-6 win at West Middlesex.
Reynolds has won seven of its last eight openers. This is the first time that Reynolds has faced a Mercer County-based school in the opener since 2005, when the Raiders won at Kennedy Catholic, 14-7. West Middlesex defeated Eisenhower in the 2018 and 2019 season openers.
The teams will meet again October 2 at Reynolds, in Week Four.
Greenville at Wilmington, 7:00 p.m.
It's a rematch of the 2019 District 10 Class 2A championship game Saturday night as defending state semifinalist Wilmington hosts a veteran Greenville squad. It will be the ninth meeting between the teams since October 2016. The teams have played in the regular season and the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, with Wilmington owning an eight-game win streak in the series.
Wilmington returns eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters from a 12-1 effort last season. Up front, decorated seniors Jake Chimiak, Weston Phanco, Connor Vass-Gal and Morgan Whiting return to lead the offensive and defensive lines.
Senior quarterback Caelan Bender returns after earning All-State honors in his first season as a starter. Bender threw for 1,342 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. His only interception in 126 attempts came on a jump ball into the end zone before halftime of the state semifinal against Avonworth. Bender also ran for 465 yards and nine scores in 2019.
Senior halfback Darren Miller emerged last year by rushing for 1,444 yards and 18 scores. Fellow senior Ethan Susen added 882 rushing yards, despite missing three full games due to injury. Susan ran for 883 yards as a sophomore in 2018.
Like Wilmington, Greenville returns a quartet of experienced linemen and its top two rushers from last season. Senior Lane Fry returns at center while senior Griffin Richardson returns at guard. Greenville also welcomes back senior tackles Garrett Hillard and Brayden DiFrischia as starters. In the backfield, junior Levi Swartz led the Trojans with 675 rushing yards last year while senior Isaac Sasala added 550 yards rushing.
Unlike Wilmington, Greenville will have a first-time starting quarterback Saturday night. Junior Jalen Ritzert won a preseason battle with sophomore Jase Herrick for the starting spot. Ritzert completed 3 of 5 passes for 26 yards in limited action last year.
Susen scored on a six-yard run, a 61-yard punt return and a 36-yard pass reception to help Wilmington earn a 45-7 win over Greenville in last year's District 10 title game. The "Hounds Hammer" defense held Greenville to 79 total yards and five first downs.
Wilmington pulled away for a 45-0 home win September 27 in last year's regular season meeting. The Greyhounds held a 479-54 edge in total offense. Bender completed 5 of 12 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns. Miller ran for 127 yards and a score.
Wilmington leads the all-time series, 20-5. The teams first met October 16, 1998, with Greenville earning a 14-0 home win. Greenville's last win at Wilmington came September 24, 2004 as the Trojans earned a 20-10 win on their way to the region championship.
Wilmington has won 19 consecutive home games. This is Greenville's first season opener in Lawrence County since August 29, 2003. That night, the visiting Trojans blanked New Castle, 12-0.
Greenville will host Wilmington in the return bout October 2.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7. Live stats available here.
Farrell at Sharpsville, 7:00 p.m.
One of Mercer County's oldest series will be renewed Saturday night when Shenango Valley adversaries Farrell and Sharpsville meet at the Blue Devils' McCracken Field. It is only the 18th meeting between the programs since World War II, however, as the teams played once between 1944 and 1982. It is also the first time that the teams will meet in the season opener.
After winning consecutive state championships in Class 1A, Farrell has been elevated to Class 2A by the PIAA's competitive balance formula. The Steelers carry a 13-game winning streak into Saturday night's opener. Sharpsville, meanwhile, will field one of the youngest teams in recent program history as the Blue Devils have only five seniors on the 2020 roster.
Farrell welcomes back a trio of All-State performers in senior center Gary Satterwhite III, senior safety Brice Butler and junior linebacker Taidon Strickland. Farrell also returns junior running back Anthony Stallworth, who led Mercer County with 1,768 rushing yards and a 9.4 yards per carry average.
The Steelers will be without senior running back Jaden Harrison due to a preseason leg injury, though. Harrison has amassed 1,723 total rushing yards over the last two seasons and has also been a favored target of Farrell quarterbacks.
Senior Christian Hartley will be Farrell's opening night starter at quarterback for the second straight season. He made eight appearances last year and completed 20 of 43 passes for 238 yards.
Butler led Farrell with 497 receiving yards and six touchdown catches. He shared the team lead with 21 receptions in 2019.
Sharpsville will break in a new starting quarterback as sophomore Stephen Tarnoci has been installed as the starter. He replaces senior Danny Henwood, who moves back to wide receiver, where he flourished in 2018. Tarnoci will work behind an offensive line that is led by seniors Devin McCurry and Noah Turuck.
Senior All-Region running back Chris Roth returns in the backfield after rushing for 341 yards and four scores last season.
Head coach Paul Piccirilli (210-79) begins his 25th season at Sharpsville. He is 18-6 in season openers, 9-3 both at home and on the road in Week One.
Since 1921, Sharpsville leads the series 19-17-4. This is the first meeting since November 28, 2015, when Farrell toppled Sharpsville in the District 10 Class A title game in overtime, 26-20. Sharpsville defeated Farrell, 26-8, in the regular season that year.
The lone meeting between 1944 and 1982 came October 22, 1977. Farrell won at Sharpsville, 3-0. The teams met each year as members of the KFL from 1982 to 1985.
The teams will meet again October 2 at Farrell.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC.
Kennedy Catholic at Mercer, 7:00 p.m.
An old Mercer County Athletic Conference small school rivalry will be rekindled Saturday night in the county seat as Mercer hosts the reborn Kennedy Catholic football program in Class 1A action. Under head coach Joe Harvey, Kennedy Catholic will play its first varsity football game since 2013.
While neither school has green among its official school colors, "green" would be an appropriate adjective to describe both squads. Mercer has three seniors on its 2020 roster while Kennedy has four seniors and only a handful of players with varsity sports experience.
Mercer does return three starters in the offensive backfield in senior halfback Aidan Bright, junior halfback Logan Turton and junior quarterback Ethan Wiley. Bright has led Mercer in rushing in each of the last two seasons. He ran for a team-leading 611 yards last year and also paced the team with 18 receptions. Turton, meanwhile, ran for 232 yards and added nine catches. Wiley threw five touchdown passes and only two interceptions in six games last year.
Up front, junior Colson Minshull will lead rebuilt offensive and defensive lines. Bright, Turton and cornerback Donovan Pugh are the other returning starters on defense.
Kennedy played a junior varsity schedule in 2019 and has approximately 20 men on this year's varsity roster. Sophomore quarterback Nick Ondo will lead the Golden Eagles' spread attack. He will look to take advantage of the physical gifts of three sizable targets at wide receiver. Senior Sky'Ler Thomas and junior Malachi Owens both measure 6-foot-5 and sophomore Dajaun Young is listed at 6-3.
Harvey is counting on 250-pound senior Aaron Turney to anchor the Golden Eagles at center and at middle linebacker. Turney previously played at Union (District 7) before enrolling at Kennedy.
Kennedy's last football victory came against Mercer. The Golden Eagles pulled out an 18-13 win September 14, 2012 at Mercer. Mercer leads the all-time series 14-11.
Harvey is the third Kennedy head coach to make his debut against Mercer. Jack Leipheimer won his debut September 1, 1979 as Kennedy blanked visiting Mercer, 14-0. Fifteen years and two days later, John Turco guided the Eagles to a 27-7 home win over Mercer in the 1994 lidlifter.
Mercer and Kennedy met in the season opener in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999. The teams played twice during the regular season each year from 1990 to 1993. This year's second meeting will be October 3 at Butala Stadium in Hermitage.
Cambridge Springs at Lakeview, 7:00 p.m.
It's "Back to the Future" this fall for the Lakeview Sailors, who will play in a Crawford County-centric region after District 10's realignment due to COVID-19. From 1978 to 2003, Lakeview competed in the Crawford County League (1978-79) and then the French Creek Valley Conference (1980-2003).
The reunion tour begins Saturday night when the Class 2A Sailors welcome Class 1A Cambridge Springs to town. The teams are part of Region 4, along with Cochranton, Maplewood, Northwestern and Saegertown.
Third-year Lakeview head coach Bill Hickman has 45 players on the 2020 roster. The Sailors have experienced returnees at several key positions, including senior tackle/linebacker Isaac DeVault. The 240-pound DeVault earned All-Region at middle linebacker last season and will be the quarterback of the Sailors' 3-5 defense.
Christian Barber, Lane Barber, Kiefer Guthrie and Calogano Wilkins are four veterans who will join DeVault at linebacker.
Junior quarterback Gavin Murdock returns for his second full season as the starter. He led Lakeview with five rushing touchdowns last year while also throwing for 408 yards. Lane Barber (18 receptions) and Kendall Crocker (11 receptions) are two of his top returning targets.
A longtime power in Crawford County, Cambridge Springs has gone 5-14 over the last two seasons. Former Cochranton and Fairview head coach Nathan Liberty has taken over as the Blue Devils' head coach. The Blue Devils return 6-foot-4 senior quarterback Trenton Wheeler, who threw for 798 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He also ran for a team-leading four scores.
Like Lakeview, interest and optimism are up as the Blue Devils have 40 players on this year's roster.
Cambridge Springs leads the all-time series, 20-5-2. The teams have not met since 2003. Cambridge Springs is the only former FCVC team that Lakeview has not played since District 10's original realignment in 2004.
Lakeview's only home win against Cambridge Springs came October 17, 1987 as the Sailors earned a 21-14 win. Both ties in the series came at Lakeview, a 6-6 tie in the 1981 opener and a 20-20 draw in the 1983 finale.
The teams first met September 24, 1965. Cambridge Springs defeated visiting Lakeview, 20-7, in what marked the second varsity football game in Lakeview history. Two weeks earlier, Lakeview lost 26-7 at Townville in the Sailors' maiden voyage.
Cambridge Springs is the only opponent that Lakeview will play twice this year. The teams will play October 16 at Cambridge Springs in the regular season finale. That game will not count in the region standings. Lakeview has never played the same school twice during the regular season.