By Rich Rhoades
With the high school football season heading into Week 8, teams are either fading away or strengthening their position in the postseason race. In the Allegheny Mountain League, for instance, both division champions could be determined this week.
In the AML-North, Smethport travels to Sheffield Saturday afternoon with the winner of the game claiming the division title. Friday night, unbeaten Kane can wrap up its AML-South title with a win over Ridgway.
In the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference, it’s a crossover schedule week. Union will try to keep its Class A playoff hopes alive when it hosts Moniteau. Unbeaten Clarion travels to Punxsutawney sporting some bulky numbers.
Out in the Mountain League of District 6, the Clearfield Bison look to keep their perfect season intact when they host Bald Eagle Area.
Here is a look at this week’s 16-game schedule, which has two Saturday games on the schedule with Elk County Catholic hosting Curwensville for a night game at Dutch Country Stadium:
Smethport (5-2 overall, 4-0 AML-North) at Sheffield (4-3, 3-1)
It’s a 1:30 p.m. Saturday kickoff time in Warren County as the winner takes home a division title. Those words haven’t been said too often of late for either team, especially Sheffield. The Wolverines haven’t won a division title since way back in 1964 when they won the old Mountain League crown. The Hubbers last won the AML-North in 2001.
Sheffield is led by running back Jereke Jackson, who rushed for 138 yards in last week’s loss to Port Allegany. He’s gained 577 yards on the ground this year while quarterback Adam Higby has passed for 778 yards.
Smethport quarterback Dustin Zetwick has passed for 446 yards and rushed for 329 yards. Ryan Nielson leads the Hubbers with 443 yards rushing while Ryan Stratton has 423 yards rushing.
Saturday’s winner lands in the AML Championship game in Week 10 against the AML-South champion.
Cameron County (2-5, 1-3) at Port Allegany (2-5, 1-3)
Can the Red Raiders play in another close game? They’ve lost games by 3, 1 and 7 points and won games by 6 and 1 point. Last week, they won a close game as Erin Garrigan scored late in the fourth quarter, capping a solid 126-yard rushing day.
Port Allegany’s Tyler Shaffer was the hero in the Gators’ win at Sheffield, returning a kickoff late in the game for a score. He ran for 142 yards as well and leads the team with 744 yards for the season.
Coudersport (4-3, 2-2) at Otto-Eldred (1-6, 1-3)
Will it be another close game for the Terrors, who have two 1-point losses and a 6-point loss along with leading possible AML-North champion Sheffield at halftime? Sam Colebert is close to reaching 1,000 yards rushing, sitting at 824 going into Friday’s game with the Falcons.
Ethan Hite is close to four digits as well for the Falcons, but in passing yardage with 822. Coy Hoffman leads the team with 653 yards rushing and 385 yards receiving on 25 catches.
Ridgway (3-4 overall, 2-1) at Kane (7-0, 3-0)
A Wolves win at home over Ridgway gets them the division title. If the Elkers beat the Wolves and Curwensville loses to Elk County Catholic Saturday night, Ridgway wins the division. Otherwise, the tiebreaker criteria in the case of the three-way between Ridgway, Kane and Curwensville would go to best overall record. The PIAA power point system and then a coin flip follow as tiebreakers if needed.
Kane continues to roll as quarterback Kevin Cleer has rolled up remarkably efficient passing numbers. He’s completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,212 yards with 23 touchdowns and just one interception. His top receiver is Jeff Kocjancic (36 catches, 574 yards, 13 TDs).
The Wolves have been stingy defensively as well, their 10.6 points allowed per game ranking second only to Clarion.
Ridgway quarterback Ben MacDonald has passed for 744 yards and rushed for a team-best 433 yards. Cameron Grumley (18 catches, 388 yards) is the top receiving target and Sam Delhunty has rushed for 406 yards.
Curwensville (6-1, 2-1) at Elk County Catholic (0-7, 0-3)
Talk about a workhorse. Curwensville senior Zach Tibbens is coming off a 47-carry game in which he rushed for 271 yards in last week’s win over Ridgway. That’s seven less than the number of passes that the run-heavy Golden Tide have attempted all season.
For the season, Tibbens averages 29.2 carries per game, but it’s still not as high as former Tide workhorse Alex Holland who had 32.8 carries per game in 2011. He finished with 5,754 yards in three seasons, which is second on the team’s all-time list behind district all-time leader Nick Sipes’ 5,963 yards.
Tibbens didn’t have a varsity carry until last year and he’s already at 403 carries in 17 games. He’s closing in on the 3,000-yard milestone at 2,799 and he trails Brookville’s Zach Vroman for the season leader in the district by just four yards, 1,343 to 1,339.
Meanwhile in St. Marys, the Crusaders are closing in on their first winless season since 1985.
Clarion (7-0) at Punxsutawney (3-4)
Where do you want to start with the Bobcats? They’ve given up four touchdowns all year, three of them to Keystone, with five shutouts in seven games. Clarion has spun four straight shutouts, but their impressive16-quarter scoreless streak is still six quarters shy of tying the Bobcats’ 22-quarter scoreless stretch in 2000.
Statewide, the Bobcats rank No. 1 in points per game (56.9), points allowed per game (2.9) and point differential per game (54.0). And by the way, they’ve won 17 straight regular season games and 21 straight conference games.
The Bobcats running game averages 312 yards per game with Damien Slike leading the way with 808 yards and 18 touchdowns. They can pass too as John Katis is completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,031 yards with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. Cody Hearst (28 catches, 577 yards, 4 TDs) is the top receiver.
The Chucks’ Christian Falgout has rushed for 810 yards and eight touchdowns.
Redbank Valley (4-3) at St. Marys (4-3)
It’s likely going to be the “Our top rusher is out” bowl as Redbank Valley’s Mark Strothers and St. Marys’ Alex Feldbauer both missed games last week and appear to be out again this week at Dutch Country Stadium.
Bulldogs quarterback Jake Dougherty can become the fourth quarterback in team history to reach 3,000 yards passing, needing just 116 yards.
St. Marys, even without Feldbauer who accounted for almost 60 percent of his team’s yards, managed to move the ball in last week’s loss to winless Moniteau. Sophomore running back Nate Straub ran for 101 yards and sophomore quarterback Nick Cunningham passed for 168 yards.
Moniteau (1-6) at Union (3-4)
The Knights try to keep their Class A playoff hopes going against the Warriors who are coming off their first win of the year and it’s likely they’ll be challenging for the No. 8 spot with Ridgway.
So it’s a must-win for Union, which visits one-win Keystone next week before finishing at home against a good Cambridge Springs team out of District 10. A 5-5 finish could be good enough considering Ridgway might be pushed to get two more wins in the last three weeks of the regular season — unbeaten Kane this week, Smethport next week and St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Week 10.
Union quarterback Lane Cicciarelli has passed for 1,039 yards and 13 touchdowns while Moniteau quarterback Cody Skiver has passed for 630 yards and rushed for a team-leading 509 yards.
Clarion-Limestone (2-5) at Brookville (5-2)
Zach Vroman holds a 4-yard lead over Curwensville’s Zach Tibbens for the district lead in rushing at 1,343 yards. After setting team records for rushing yards and touchdowns the last few weeks, and with 15 TDs this year, he’s two shy of tying the team season record.
Chase Alcorn has rushed for 729 yards for the Lions with quarterback Christian Bakewell passing for 1,076 yards.
District 10 Region 5
Warren (5-2 overall, 2-2 District 10 Region 5) at DuBois (4-3, 2-1)
The Beavers are still in the league title hunt, although they share second place in the loss column with Oil City, a team they lost to. Unbeaten Slippery Rock looms for the Beavers in Week 10.
The Beavers and Warren both lost to Oil City (48-41 and 41-28 respectively) while the Dragons have already played and were routed by Slippery Rock, 55-7, in Week 6.
Beavers quarterback Gabe French has passed for 1,533 yards, completing over 65 percent of his passes, with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Bryson Paulinellie has caught 38 passes for 803 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back Devin Clark is coming off his 229-yard game against Brookville and leads the team with 784 yards.
Meadville (2-5, 0-3) at Bradford (2-5, 1-4)
The Owls are struggling mightily to score and that could be an understatement with a combined losing score of 180-0 in the last three games, including a 77-0 loss last week to General McLane. They haven’t scored since the fourth quarter of Week 4’s 62-12 loss to Slippery Rock.
Meadville ended a three-game losing streak with last week’s 36-34 win over Franklin, a team that beat Bradford 44-0.
Bald Eagle Area (4-3 overall, 3-2 Mountain League) at Clearfield (7-0, 5-0)
The Bison have won 24 straight conference games and 20 straight regular season games and they’ll be favored once again to win this one against the Eagles.
In last week’s 27-26 dramatic win over Tyrone, Christian Lezzer didn’t start at quarterback nor did he throw a pass. He carried the ball 31 times for 139 yards and scored two touchdowns while catching four passes for 75 yards. For the year, he just went over 1,000 yards rushing and stands at 1,024 yards with 18 touchdowns. With Lezzer at running back, junior Erik Sellers completed 5 of 6 passes for 96 yards.
Tyler Stratton has rushed for 710 yards and 12 TDs and leads the team with eight catches and 218 yards.
Karns City (6-1) at Oil City (5-2)
It’s the first of two interesting non-conference matchups this week as the Gremlins head to Venango County to take on the Oilers. The Gremlins have won five straight games since losing 42-7 to Clarion in Week 2 by averaging 55 points per game and winning by 43.2 points per game.
Meanwhile, the Oilers have lost just one game on the field, as they had to forfeit their 49-0 win over Bradford in Week 2 because of using an ineligible player. Their only loss is a 31-21 setback to General McLane in Week 3. Since then, Oil City has scored over 40 points in its four straight wins, including a 48-41 win at DuBois in Week 4.
For the Gremlins, Tristan Rhoades leads the team with 549 yards rushing. Quarterback Tyler Kepple has passed for 900 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Brockway (4-3) at Fort Cherry (6-1)
This should be a high-scoring game as the Rovers face the Rangers of the WPIAL. Fort Cherry, led by senior running back Kolten Kobrys (1,278 yards in first six games), ranks 11th in the state in scoring at 48 points per game.
Rovers quarterback Alec Shaffer-Doan leads the district in passing with 1,632 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has two receivers in the top five in the district yardage leaders in Anthony Benson (2nd, 51 catches, 778 yards, 12 TDs) and Anthony Isabella (5th, 34 catches, 482 yards, 6 TDs).
A-C Valley (0-7) at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy (2-5)
After losing last week to Keystone, the Falcons now own the longest active losing streak in the district with nine straight losses. St. Joe’s is 1-3 vs. District 9 teams, coming off a 50-14 loss to Kane last week.
Keystone (1-6) at Mercer (5-2)
Nobody has scored more points against the Clarion Bobcats this year than the Panthers (19 of Clarion’s 26 points allowed in seven games) and not counting Clarion’s 42 posted against Karns City, only one other team has scored more points against the Gremlins (the Panthers scored 14 in Week 6) this year.