By Matt Popchock
The new high school football season was to begin with a bang. However, if “Mr. High School Sports” were back in the production studio, he might have hit the button that produced the sound effect of the old man snoring.
Week 1 featured a lot of statement games for certain teams, but, with that, a lot of blowouts. There really weren’t any upsets either…only one or two that immediately jumped off the newspaper page, anyway. But with Week 2 comes an increase in the volume of conference games, and, with that, the potential for more excitement.
For example, two of the top running backs in the WPIAL are meeting under the Friday night lights of the South Hills. In addition, two more are squaring off in Beaver County, which leads into the beginning of our Week 2 preview, and sets the stage four our 93.7 The Fan Game of the Week:
GAME OF THE WEEK:
MONTOUR SPARTANS (0-0, 1-0) AT HOPEWELL VIKINGS (0-0, 1-0)
(CLASS AAA, PARKWAY CONFERENCE)
TONY DORSETT STADIUM, HOPEWELL HIGH SCHOOL
Pre-game coverage with MSA Sports’ Don Rebel begins at 6:00 on 93.7 The Fan; kickoff at 7:00 with Lanny Frattare on play-by-play, Bob Orkwis on color commentary
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Montour head coach Lou Cerro on facing the Vikings:
“Their big key is Harmatto. He’s a great athlete…he throws the ball real well…he’s a great complement to Rushel Shell, and he’s one of the players besides Rushel we have to stop to be successful. I know they’re real young up front, but [head coach] Dave [Vestal] always has them ready to go.”
Hopewell head coach Dave Vestal on facing the Spartans:
“We’ve got to control the ball, control the clock, and keep them off the field. We need to not give up big plays. We’re going to have a target on our backs because of Rushel, but all the teams [in the Parkway Conference] are going to have those targets, because they’re quality, well-coached teams.”
MONTOUR’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. Contain Shell. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the Spartans need to keep Rushel Shell from getting his motor going much like Belle Vernon did in Hopewell’s lid-lifter (at least until the fourth quarter). Historically, he loves playing this team, regardless of its championship pedigree, and Montour needs to do something about that.
2. “Ruling” in the deep. This team has greater quick-strike capability than most in Class AAA. It produced four scoring plays of over 30 yards in Week 1, including a pair of Dillon Buechel TD passes, so if the Spartans can make some of those big plays early, their defense will make it very difficult for Hopewell to stay in it.
3. Pull their weight. We talk a lot about the performance of Montour’s linemen, who, collectively, weigh in at well over 250 pounds apiece. Last week they did a good job clearing a path for Julian Durden, who lit up Chartiers Valley for 235 rushing yards and four TD’s, but Montour can’t have that necessary offensive balance without the play of its hogs.
HOPEWELL’S KEYS TO VICTORY:
1. The Shell game. When you’re up against such a difficult opponent, you simply put the ball in the hands of your best player. Rushel Shell has 782 rush yards and seven TD’s in three previous outings against the Spartans. He enters this contest with 6,913 career yards, 734 away from the WPIAL’s all-time rushing record. He could take a significant step closer in Week 2.
2. Step into the spotlight. Quarterback Nolan Harmatto put together a fine stretch run last year, and seems to have matured coming into this year. This offense moved the ball well against Montour in defeat last fall with him under center, and Harmatto, who ran for the first of the Vikings’ two TD’s last week, needs to build off that 2010 performance and step out of Shell’s shadow for Hopewell to stay in the game.
3. Speed kills. The Spartans are physically superior up front, but the Vikings have a quick and quick-witted group of linemen. Hopewell needs to out-work and out-react Montour in the trenches to make life more difficult for Julian Durden. Furthermore, the secondary needs to avoid getting beat deep against Montour’s agile receivers.
Be sure to revisit 937thefan.com tonight for our in-game blog live from Tony Dorsett Stadium!
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH:
Gateway (1-0) at Penn Hills (0-1) (7:30) – The worst that can happen to the Indians is, after this game, they could be the most respectable 0-2 squad in the WPIAL. Last week they were humbled 47-6 by St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio), the top team in the Buckeye State according to MaxPreps, and one of the top high school teams in the country, and now they host the Gators, MaxPreps’ No. 16 team in PA. Gateway is coming off an impressive 28-7 defeat of PIAA Class AAA finalist Bishop McDevitt, so it’s a battle-tested opponent. Furthermore, Penn Hills might have an equally tough time getting its offense unstuck after managing just 179 total yards in Week 1. Gateway QB Tom Woodson ran for 104 to set up three Darin Franklin TD’s last week.
Penn-Trafford (1-0) at Mount Lebanon (1-0) (7:30) – Two of the top running backs in the WPIAL, let alone Quad-A, will square off in the South Hills Friday night, and the question of whether or not the Warriors are for real may be answered, at least on a temporary basis. Penn-Trafford tailback Manny Simpson broke loose for 204 yards and three touchdowns on just ten carries in a Week 1 rout of Peters Township. Not to be outdone, Lebo’s Luke Hagy schooled Pine-Richland all by himself last Friday, scoring all five of the Blue Devils’ touchdowns, and amassing 244 yards on 19 carries, while setting all-time school rushing records for yardage and TD’s. Whoever’s offensive line can hang tough will have the edge, though Warriors QB Zach Emerick could be an x-factor; he threw for over 200 yards and a pair of scores against the Rams.
Woodland Hills (1-0) at North Hills (1-0) (7:30) – Last year when the Indians went to The Wolvarena, they stunned the Wolverines with superior team defense. Having said that, even North Hills’ defense couldn’t handle Woody High in the playoffs, once it got healthy, and now the Indians try to tame a new-look offense that meshed well in a surprisingly easy 31-7 win over Thomas Jefferson. They had a bit of trouble with dual-threat quarterback Darrell Carson of Perry despite a Week 1 victory, so they’ll have to pay extra close attention to Pat Menifee, who gained 63 all-purpose yards, threw the game-winning TD pass, and ripped off a fake punt that turned the game. Woodland Hills took away the run against TJ, so North Hills needs to either throw more efficiently or hope that Tyler Reddick, who ran for 141 yards and threw for a touchdown, gets going again.
Rochester (1-0) at Fort Cherry (1-0) (7:30) – Rochester head coach Gene Matsook manages roster turnover more effectively than most coaches in the WPIAL, but the hardest hits the Rams took in the past year were on defense. Naturally, it’ll be interesting to see how that unit stacks up against one of the most dangerous offenses in Class A, which is coming off a high-scoring, ego-boosting win last Saturday over Western Beaver, the 300th “W” in team history. Rochester stifled Serra Catholic, but containing Fort Cherry quarterback Tanner Garry is another matter. Garry was a very efficient 11-of-13 for 191 yards and three TD’s last weekend. Rochester’s defense didn’t allow any passing yards last week, and De’Andre Moon has the hot hand after three TD runs.
CLASS A EASTERN CONFERENCE:
Avonworth (0-1, 0-1) at Springdale (1-0, 1-0) (7:30) – After falling flat on their faces out of the tunnel against Bishop Canevin, the ‘Lopes need to find a way to get their confidence back in a tough environment against a tough opponent in order to avoid falling too far out of the conference title picture early. Avonworth did not defend well against the run last week, allowing over 230 yards on the ground, while Caleb Whelan racked up a game-high 163 yards and a touchdown in the Dynamos’ 14-6 win at North Catholic. Springdale’s defense did not allow a touchdown in six drives on the plus side of the field, though this week it has to face an offense with much more balance. Tailback Ricky Lawniczak is due for a big night, and Brian Vales, who threw his first TD pass of 2011 late last week, is one of the top QB’s in Class A. Avonworth won last year’s meeting 26-10.
CLASS AA MIDWESTERN CONFERENCE:
Aliquippa (1-0, 1-0) at Beaver Falls (1-0, 1-0) (7:30) – Joe Namath and the rest of the 1960 WPIAL champions will be honored when his alma mater plays host to the arch-rival Quips at Geneva College’s Reeves Stadium on a night that, like Namath himself, promises one major guarantee: this game, in all probability, will ultimately decide who wears the crown in the MAC. For that matter, this one might also be a prelude to what we see at Heinz Field, especially if tailback Trey Hall unleashes the same fury he did on Mohawk in Week 1. Hall only needed four tries to run for 148 yards and one touchdown, as the Tigers, using multiple backs, ran with ease. But he may have a much tougher time making splash plays against an Aliquippa defense that made a splash of its own by stuffing a Laurel team that runs well. The Quips will try to mix it up, and BF has to contain QB Mikal Hall, who threw for 108 yards and accounted for three TD’s in Week 1. The Quips beat BF 27-14 at “The Pit” last year.
CLASS AA INTERSTATE CONFERENCE:
Greensburg C.C. (1-0, 1-0) at Southmoreland (1-0, 1-0) (7:30) – The mission for the Scotties this season is to erase their epic playoff drought, and here they might get a real good idea of how much closer they are. The Centurions looked like their old selves, on the surface, in a 41-14 rout of Waynesburg in their opener, though they appear more vulnerable to the run. That’s a good matchup for Southmoreland quarterback Dakota Datz, who ended Week 1 with a whopping 413 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns, including 148 and one score on the ground. GCC has some position flexibility–to quote Mike Tomlin–of its own, as quarterback Bobby Noble threw for a touchdown and ran for one late in the team’s season-opening victory. Defensively the Scotties need to find an answer for Jordan McCrea, who made two huge scoring plays for GCC in Week 1.
CLASS AAA PARKWAY CONFERENCE:
New Castle (0-0, 0-1) at Ambridge (0-0, 1-0) (7:30) – It’s the toughest conference in the district, and this conference opener for both teams might indicate whether the Parkway has become a more treacherous road to Heinz Field. The Bridgers are coming off an exciting 38-30 win over Keystone Oaks, which was playing up, but is usually pretty competitive, while the Red Hurricane has the inverse of that karma hanging over its head after a 24-14 loss to Quad-A Butler. For all our talk of running backs in this conference, this game is going to be all about quarterback play. The versatile Nick Santiago scrambled for 133 of his 202 all-purpose yards on just 11 carries, along with one of his two touchdowns, to key Ambridge’s Week 1 comeback. John Matarazzo threw for two early TD’s while completing 18 of 29 passes for 162 yards for New Castle last Friday.
CLASS AAA BIG EIGHT CONFERENCE:
Trinity (0-0, 1-0) at Chartiers Valley (0-0, 0-1) (7:00) – Both these teams were put through the paces last week, and both are going to be fighting for one of the last remaining playoff spots in this conference, so whoever comes out on top here might have a real leg up going forward. The best thing the Colts can say about last week’s ugly loss to Montour is that their bell cow, Wayne Capers, stayed healthy, and actually made some impressive plays. Filling in for the out-of-commission Christian Kuntz at QB, he raced for 109 yards and a touchdown on just nine attempts. Char’ Valley needs to keep an eye on Tyler Yocca, who ran eight times for 118 yards and a score in the Hillers’ 19-18 comeback over Quad-A Canon-McMillan. Bottom line is, though, Trinity needs to protect the football better, and keep Capers off the board, or at least minimize his damage, to have a shot.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)