(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives, The Herald, The Butler Eagle and Erie Times-News. Coach interviews courtesy of PIC SportsLine)
WEEK NINE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
Two District 10 championship games, a PIAA first-round playoff game and a regular season game between former Northwest Conference foes comprises this weekend's four-game card. Two of Friday's three games will be held in Warren County as Eisenhower hosts Reynolds in the District 10 Class 1A title game, while Sharpsville visits Warren in regular season action.
Wilmington hosts Karns City in the Class 2A state playoffs Friday night. Saturday night, Hickory hosts Grove City in the 3A district title game.
DISTRICT 10 CLASS 1A CHAMPIONSHIP
Reynolds at Eisenhower, 7:00 p.m.
Two undefeated teams will look to end long District 10 championship droughts Friday night when Eisenhower (8-0) hosts Reynolds (7-0) for the Class 1A title in Russell, Warren County. Eisenhower aims for its first D-10 title in 27 years while Reynolds seeks its first district crown since winning Class AA in 2005.
The teams advanced to the championship game with vastly different types of home victories in the semifinals. Eisenhower earned its first trip to the championship round in 18 years by holding off West Middlesex in double overtime, 22-21. The Knights stopped West Middlesex's two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime after erasing a 15-7 deficit in the first overtime.
Meanwhile, Reynolds rolled past visiting Cambridge Springs, 40-0, in the other semifinal. The Raiders forced three turnovers and held Cambridge Springs to 74 total offensive yards. Offensively, the Raiders produced a pair of 100-yard rushers in amassing 388 rushing yards. Sophomore Jalen Wagner paced the Raiders with 134 yards on nine carries and senior Cole Toy added 110 yards on 14 attempts.
"We went out and we executed," Reynolds head coach Josh Mull said. "I challenged our offensive and defensive lines to go out and control the line of scrimmage, and they went out and they did that. I'm very proud of the way that they went out and played."
Running the ball and stopping the run have been two tenets of successful high school football programs since the sport's infancy. Reynolds has excelled in both areas this season. The Raiders lead Mercer County in rushing defense, holding opponents to 62.6 yards per game. Offensively, Reynolds averages 325.7 yards per game, the No. 2 figure in the area.
Toy ranks second in the county with 934 rushing yards and shares the county lead with 19 rushing touchdowns. Fellow senior Dreyvin Livingston ranks 10th locally with 521 yards. Wagner has added 344 yards. He ranks second in the area in yards per attempt, averaging 11.1.
Senior fullback Aidan Mull has added 244 yards and five touchdowns. He leads Reynolds with four receptions. Sophomore quarterback Brayden McCloskey has thrown for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
Reynolds averages a county-high 42.9 points per game. The Raiders have allowed a county-low 66 points this year. The Reynolds defense has forced a county-high 22 turnovers this year, helping the Raiders post a plus-14 turnover margin through seven games. Eight Reynolds players have at least one interception, led by Livingston's three picks. Toy and cornerback Clayton Rhoades both have two interceptions.
The Reynolds defense will be challenged by Eisenhower's balanced offensive attack. The Knights average 424 offensive yards and 46.5 points per game this season. Senior quarterback Owen Trumbull has thrown for 1,230 yards and 18 touchdowns this year. He threw for 86 yards on 7-of-15 accuracy last week against West Middlesex. The 6-foot-4 Trumbull also ran for 67 yards.
"Trumbull extends plays. He reminds of you of (West Middlesex quarterback) Ty Tate," Josh Mull said. "He's that same kind of quarterback. He's elusive and can get out of the pocket and make something happen. Our secondary is really going to have to be on its 'A' game. Our defensive line will have to get some rushes and contain him."
Bruising junior running back Cael Black has rushed for 863 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. He placed sixth in the 220-pound weight class at the 2020 PIAA Class AA wrestling championships. Eisenhower averages 271 rushing yards per game.
"They have a strong run game," Josh Mull said. "They're averaging 40 to 50 points a game. You don't score that many points if you don't know what you're doing."
Now in his 17th season, Eisenhower head coach Jim Penley (82-89) has one of his most experienced teams. The Knights have 11 seniors and returned all but one starter from last season. While Eisenhower High School is located in northern Warren County, Ike's style of play is reminiscent of Mercer County.
"They're fundamentally sound," Coach Mull said. "(Coach Penley) is someone who has a 'Mercer County' philosophy. He wants to keep things as simple and as basic for his kids, and not change week in and week out.
"We need to make sure that we're doing the same things, being fundamental on defense and offense, and executing our game plan."
Reynolds leads the all-time series 3-2. The Raiders have defeated Eisenhower three times in the last two seasons. Reynolds earned a 41-6 home win over Eisenhower last season in Week Seven, then earned a 43-7 win in the D-10 quarterfinals. Toy ran for 103 yards and three touchdowns in the first victory. Rhoades returned an interception for a touchdown, helping the Raiders bolt to a 37-0 halftime lead.
Reynolds trailed 6-0 in the postseason meeting before scoring 43 unanswered points. The Raiders rolled up 284 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Toy scored three times and finished with 120 yards.
Two years ago, Reynolds pulled out a 6-0 win at Eisenhower in Week Seven of the regular season. Aidan Mull caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to break a scoreless tie.
Eisenhower blanked visiting Reynolds, 12-0, in the 2006 opener. In 2007, Eisenhower picked up a 15-0 win at Reynolds.
Eisenhower played for the District 10 Class A title every year from 1990 to 1995, winning the crown in 1992 and 1993. Ike is 10-14 all-time in the D-10 playoffs, including a 2-4 mark in title games.
Reynolds is 15-8 all-time in District 10 playoff action, having won four of six title games. Reynolds won Division II titles in both 1986 and 1987. The Raiders won the Class AAA title in 1989 and the "AA" crown in 2005. Reynolds fell to Northwestern in the 1985 Division II title game. Hickory defeated Reynolds in the 1988 D-II title game. Reynolds played for the District 10 title in each of the first five years of playoffs, which started in 1985.
Reynolds looks to join Grove City (AA, AAA, AAAAA) as the only D-10 teams to win district titles in three difference classifications. D-10 shifted from divisions to classes in 1989.
The winner will play either Northern Bedford or Redbank Valley in the PIAA Class 1A quarterfinals next weekend. Those teams will play Saturday afternoon at Windber.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7. Live stats available here.
PIAA CLASS 2A FIRST ROUND
Karns City at Wilmington, 7:00 p.m.
Two of western Pennsylvania's top small school football programs will meet Friday night in the opening round of the Class 2A state playoffs as District 10 champion Wilmington (7-0) hosts District 9 champion Karns City (6-2).
Wilmington earned its fifth consecutive trip to the state playoffs with a 19-14 win over visiting Farrell in the D-10 title game last Saturday night. Meanwhile, Karns City shocked previously-undefeated Brookville in the District 9 title game, 16-14. Karns City lost 44-0 at Brookville in the regular season.
One week after winning the district title on its home field, Wilmington now hosts a state playoff game due to PIAA concerns over COVID-19. The Greyhounds have won 23 straight home games.
"It may be the only silver lining to come out of these COVID times as it pertains to high school football," third-year Wilmington head coach Brandon Phillian said of playing at home. "But it's a silver lining nonetheless. It's home-field advantage for a reason.
"We feel very fortunate that we were able to earn the right to have the District 10 championship at home. It's definitely an advantage and an incredible opportunity to play back-to-back playoff games at home. It's certainly something that we're very excited about and looking forward to."
Wilmington's "Hounds Hammer" defense forced a pair of critical turnovers in last week's win over Farrell. Senior cornerback Mason Reed gave Wilmington a 13-0 lead with a 27-yard interception return for touchdown. In the fourth quarter, senior defensive tackle Jake Chimiak stripped Farrell quarterback Christian Hartley and fellow senior tackle Connor Vass-Gal recovered the fumble to help clinch the win.
Senior halfback Ethan Susen led Wilmington with 163 rushing yards, along with three catches for 21 yards and a score. Senior fullback Darren Miller added 70 yards and junior halfback Luke Edwards opened the scoring with a four-yard touchdown run in the first period.
Susen ranks third in Mercer County with 860 rushing yards. He also ranks third in all-purpose yards (1,121). Miller is ninth with 580 rushing yards. He has rushed for 10 touchdowns. Edwards has added 298 yards and six touchdowns while senior quarterback Caelan Bender has 253 yards.
Bender has thrown for 320 yards and six touchdowns. Reed and Susen each have a team-high eight catches. Edwards has caught five passes.
Defensively, Wilmington allows 100.1 rushing yards per game. The Greyhounds have not allowed a point in the third quarter this season.
Wilmington will face a Karns City offense that features several key contributors. Seven players have rushed for at least 100 yards this season. Senior Cole Coon leads the Gremlins with 350 yards while junior Luke Garing has added 316 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns. Junior Jayce Anderson has contributed 241 rushing yards.
Sophomore quarterback Eric Booher has thrown for 725 yards and seven touchdowns. Classmate Micah Rupp leads the Gremlins with 17 catches while senior Kaden Scherer has caught 13 passes.
Karns City uses the I-formation and option-heavy double-wing formations as its offensive bedrock.
"On offense, they're very sound with their fundamentals and techniques," Phillian said. "They're very balanced. They have a number of different guys who touch the ball. The key is that we don't want to give up the big play. Karns City has some playmakers. They can beat you in a number of different ways. We want to make them keep snapping the football. We want them to have to sustain drives. We don't want to get beat and give up the big play."
Kicker Owen Colwell kicked a 27-yard field goal with five seconds left last Friday night to give Karns City the win over Brookville. Scherer led Karns City with 86 rushing yards on four carries, including a 65-yard touchdown run. Coon had 65 yards and Garing added 64 rushing yards.
"Karns City is a terrific football program," Phillian said. "They're not just a good team that is having a good season. They're a great program. That's certainly on display this year. They're always very physical. They're a very physical football team."
In the District 9 semifinals, Karns City thumped Central Clarion County, 34-9. That win came two weeks after the Gremlins fell at home to Central Clarion, 43-41. Karns City will be playing in the state playoffs for the first time since 2017. This is the first time that third-year head coach Joe Sherwin has guided the Gremlins to the PIAA playoffs. Sherwin worked as an assistant coach under former head coach Ed Conto.
"They're a very worthy opponent Friday night," Phillian said. They are a team that we're taking very seriously and a team that we expect to present a great challenge Friday night."
Wilmington has committed an area-low five turnovers this season. After being penalized 18 total times in the first two weeks of the season, the Greyhounds have been flagged only 21 times in the five games since.
"We have to limit mistakes, whether it's turnovers or penalties," Phillian said. "We have to make sure to minimize those as we look to move forward in the state playoffs."
This is the second all-time meeting in the state playoffs between the programs. Twenty-three years ago, Wilmington rallied for a 22-17 win over Karns City in the PIAA Class AA first round at snow-covered Erie Veterans Stadium. Demetrius Rich caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Todd Smargiasso with 2:43 left to give the Greyhounds the lead for good.
Overall, Wilmington leads the all-time series 5-1. Wilmington also won in 1999, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Karns City defeated Wilmington in the 2008 regular season finale, 22-21, on Halloween night in New Wilmington. The Greyhounds rebounded from that defeat to win the state title.
Wilmington owns a 21-14 record in the state playoffs. Karns City is 6-14 all-time in the PIAA playoffs, including a 1-5 mark against Mercer County teams. The Gremlins earned a 35-17 win over Hickory in the 2016 PIAA Class 3A first round. In 2017, Sharon eliminated the Gremlins in the 3A first round, 67-17.
Friday night's winner will play Berlin Brothersvalley or Chestnut Ridge in the state quarterfinals next weekend. Berlin and Chestnut Ridge meet for the District 5 Class 2A title at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Windber.
The game can be heard on 790 WPIC.
Sharpsville at Warren, 7:00 p.m.
For the first time since September 6, 1980, Sharpsville will visit Warren as the Blue Devils (3-4) wrap up the regular season with a non-conference game at Warren (4-3). This matchup came together after the team's respective Week Nine opponents had to postpone due to COVID-19 concerns. Sharpsville originally planned to visit Moniteau while Warren intended to host Franklin.
Sharpsville earned its third win of the season last Friday night at Greenville, 21-0. The Blue Devils held Greenville to eight first downs and 138 total offensive yards. Offensively, senior halfback Danny Henwood helped pace Sharpsville with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Henwood leads Sharpsville with 590 rushing yards, the county's No. 8 total this season. He also has a team-leading 11 catches this season. Junior fullback Chris Roth has added 335 rushing yards. Sophomore quarterback Stephen Tarnoci returned to the lineup against Greenville, seeing action at halfback and fullback. Caullin Summers went 3 of 7 passing and scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the win at Greenville.
Warren rolled up 544 offensive yards last Saturday night in earning a 47-15 home win over Moniteau. That marked the Dragons' third straight victory. Junior quarterback Landon Douvlos completed 17 of 31 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns. Senior James Swanson caught five passes for 158 yards while senior Micah Passmore had six receptions for 121 yards. Swanson also ran for 59 yards and two scores.
Douvlos has thrown for 913 yards and seven touchdowns this season after replacing Passmore at quarterback. Swanson has rushed for 757 yards and eight touchdowns while Passmore has 272 rushing yards. Swanson leads Warren with 20 catches for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
The teams both competed in the Northwest Conference from 1971 to 1980. The teams did not meet as league foes until October 25, 1975, when Sharpsville earned a 7-0 home win over the Dragons. In 1976, Warren earned a 39-8 home win. Sharpsville secured a 19-13 home win in 1979 and then secured an 18-14 win at Warren the next year.
This is Sharpsville's first trip to Warren County since a 42-14 win at Eisenhower five seasons ago. In the 2014 opener, Sharpsville played at Otto-Eldred, in neighboring McKean County.
DISTRICT 10 CLASS 3A CHAMPIONSHIP
Grove City at Hickory, 7:00 p.m.
For the third consecutive season, the District 10 Class 3A title game will be an all-Mercer County clash. Saturday night, undefeated Hickory hosts longtime rival Grove City (4-3) in the championship round. Both teams earned shutout victories in last week's semifinal round. Grove City earned its fifth consecutive title game berth with a 30-0 win at Fort LeBoeuf. Meanwhile, Hickory advanced to its first D-10 title game since 2016 by blanking Region 3 rival Slippery Rock, 51-0.
Grove City's defense limited Fort LeBoeuf's prolific offense to 115 total yards. The Eagles also forced three turnovers and recorded four first-half quarterback sacks. Grove City recorded its first postseason shutout since a 33-0 win over Cathedral Prep in the 2011 Class AAA title game.
"We felt that we came out and played a great game," Grove City head coach Sam Mowrey said. "The defense set the tone right at the beginning of the game. The defense played lights out for all four quarters."
Hickory limited Slippery Rock to three first downs and 26 total yards in last week's semifinal. Offensively, the Hornets amassed 547 yards and 20 first downs. Senior quarterback Michael Henwood ran for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 13 of 25 passes for 179 yards and a touchdowns.
Hickory finished with 368 rushing yards as a team. Junior tailback Clay Wiesen added 146 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries while senior tight end/fullback Rocco Iacino chipped in 20 yards on five attempts.
"I think that we've gotten better running between the tackles," Hickory head coach Bill Dungee said. "We've been able to run the ball consistently on the perimeter. I know as the year goes on, you have to be able to run the ball downhill between the tackles."
Running the ball against the Hickory defense has been problematic for opponents. Hickory holds opponents to a county-low 2.5 yards per carry, along with a county-low 2.9 yards per play.
"That's a great football team, offensive and defensively," Mowrey said of Hickory. "Defensively, they match up and play fast, physical football. Those linebackers fly around, their defensive line does a good job. In the back end, their secondary does a great job in coverage."
Hickory's trio of linebackers -- Iacino, junior Jackson Pryts and senior Dalton Beatty -- serves as the heart of Hickory's 3-3-5 defense.
"It's the best group of linebackers that I've ever been around," Dungee said. "The length, the size, their athletic ability -- all of them can cover and all of them can run. They're a phenomenal group of kids."
Hickory also leads Mercer County in total offense by averaging 453.7 yards per game. Henwood has thrown for a county-best 1,686 yards. He ranks fourth in the area with 726 rushing yards. Wiesen has added 518 rushing yards.
Hickory also boasts the area's leading receiver in junior Ramarion Whitehead. He leads the county with 44 catches, 859 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. Whitehead averages a county-high 19.5 yards per reception. Senior H-back Matt Cannone has added six touchdown catches and 17 total receptions. Iacino has 18 catches, Pryts owns 13 receptions and Wiesen has collected 11 catches.
"They have weapons all over the field," Mowrey said. "It starts with Henwood. He's a special football player. For us, we want to try to get that offense off the field when we can and control the tempo on our side of the ball."
Grove City piled up 284 rushing yards at Fort LeBoeuf. Junior Curtis Hovis ran for a career-high 215 yards on 24 carries while sophomore Anthony Nemec added 73 yards on eight attempts. Both backs scored twice. Hovis leads Grove City with 708 rushing yards this season. Nemec has 298 yards.
"In football, at any level, but especially in high school football, it starts with the run game," Mowrey said. "Obviously, if you can get things going on the ground, it opens up things in other areas. That all starts up front."
Senior quarterback Logan Breese returned to the lineup last week after missing Grove City's final two games of the regular season. He completed 11 of 13 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown pass at Fort LeBoeuf. Breese has thrown for 839 yards and eight touchdowns in five games. He has completed 61 percent of his attempts.
"Logan Breese does a great job of riding his fakes and making big plays down the field," Dungee said. "You try to limit those big plays."
Junior wide receiver Anthony Pereira leads the Eagles with 33 catches for 528 yards. Senior tight end Zack Martin has 16 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
"With great teams and great coaching staffs, their teams are getting better when the playoffs come around," Dungee said. "That's obvious with Grove City and what Coach Mowrey and his staff are doing over there. They've gone through adversity. Not many teams could have finished the season like they did, losing their quarterback, losing one of their receivers (Gavin Lutz) and a lineman (Dillon Winger). They're getting healthy and they're getting better."
Hickory opened the season with a 41-21 home win over Grove City. Iacino caught five passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He also returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown. Henwood completed 18 of 26 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns. Wiesen debuted by rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
Breese completed 15 of 31 passes for 156 yards. Hovis ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Henwood threw for 303 yards and three scores in a 28-7 win at Grove City in Week Four. Whitehead had seven catches for 172 yards. Iacino and Cannone also caught touchdowns. Grove City held Hickory to 72 rushing yards on 27 carries. Hickory held Grove City to 88 rushing yards on 35 attempts. Breese threw for 109 yards but had three passes intercepted. Cannone had two picks and Whitehead also intercepted a pass.
Hickory had 10 penalties for 111 yards in that game. Last week against Slippery Rock, the Hornets had 13 penalties for 158 yards. Over the last four games, the Hornets have been flagged 39 times for 412 yards.
"I've learned that when you're aggressive as an offense and as a defense, you're going to have penalties," Dungee said. "I look less at the number of the penalties and yards and more at what type of penalties are called. The pre-snap penalties, those are the things that we want to get away from. The things I'm not happy with are the personal fouls. Those things are unacceptable."
The opportunity to play postseason games at home has provided additional motivation for the Hornets, according to Dungee. "When everything came out as far as how the playoffs would look and we saw that (home games) could be a possibility, getting to play at home for the District 10 title was something that really motivated the kids. I think that's huge. It's something that's historical but we have to finish the job."
Grove City seeks its first District 10 title since winning the 5A title in 2017. The Eagles fell to Sharon in the 3A title game in 2018 and 2019.
"Our kids have done a great job and have worked hard," Mowrey said. "We look forward to having the opportunity to play in a championship game this weekend."
The game had been scheduled for Friday night in Hermitage. However, COVID-19 precautions at Grove City halted extracurricular activities earlier in the week. District 10 moved the game back to Saturday in recognition of the situation.
Hickory has won nine of the last 11 meetings overall. Hickory leads the series 40-30-3. 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. Grove City's undefeated teams of 1961 and 1969 both closed the season with home wins over Hickory. The 1961 team defeated Hickory, 19-13, while the 1969 squad secured a 20-14 win over Hickory on Halloween night.
Hickory is 29-7 all-time in the District 10 playoffs while Grove City is 21-14. The teams have split their two previous playoff encounters. Grove City downed Hickory in last year's district semifinals, 34-13. In 2012, Hickory defeated Grove City in the Class AA semifinals, 35-13.
The winner will face Bedford or Martinsburg Central next week in the PIAA quarterfinals. Bedford faces Central at 7 p.m. Friday in Hollidaysburg.
The game will be heard on Sports Radio 96.7. Live stats available here.