By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
District 10 Region 3 is one of the PIAA’s more competitive Class AA entities, something of which the Mercer County-area can be proud.
However the downside — as illustrated 4 times in the last 5 seasons — is that only one county contingent ultimately survives the district tournament, thereby qualifying for the PIAA playoffs’ meanwhile other legitimate contenders fall by the wayside by Thanksgiving.
Last year Hickory and Wilmington ousted Grove City and Greenville, respectively, in the D-10 semifinals, then the Hornets defeated the Greyhounds for the program’s 2nd straight championship.
With no rest for the weary, a quartet of those squads — all coming off season-opening, non-league wins — will collide tonight in Region 3, where every week seemingly has playoff implications.
(All games begin 7 p.m.)
Greenville (1-0) at Hickory (1-0)
These proud programs have split their last half-dozen meetings, but the Hornets have had the edge the past 3 years, including 2010 (14-10), 2011 (39-6) and a year ago (35-10). Greenville garnered wins in ’09 (41-0), ’08 (37-21) and ’07 (10-6).
One of the 2013 Hornets’ strong suits — speed, owing to its D-10 championship track & field program — has tormented the Trojans during the last 3 years, and Hornet Stadium’s synthetic surface seems well-suited to this year’s edition.
However Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick — similar to Hickory bench boss Bill Brest — is a track & field proponent as it relates to enhancing his Greenville gridders’ speed and stamina, making for an interesting matchup.
A point of interest: Since assuming the starting signal-caller’s berth at the last season’s outset, Matt Voytik has been victorious all but once for the Hornets (opening-round PIAA playoff loss to Richland).
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Grove City (1-0) at Wilmington (1-0)
While Wilmington’s Terry Verrelli continues to be the caretaker of Mercer County-area’s career coaching wins mark (272), Jeff Bell takes a backseat to no one.
Since guiding Grove City to the ’04 PIAA Class AA championship game, Bell has rung up a 79-23 composite won-lost mark, including a trio of 11-win seasons (2011, 2010, ’04).
According to available Herald archives, Bell is 111-61 in his 17th season.
Last year at Forker Field the Eagles eased to a 19-7 win, blanking the Greyhounds during the game’s final 3 quarters. Ultimately, it was only D-10 titlist Hickory (41-12 regular season; 35-13 D-10 semifinals) that Grove City could not get past.
Grove City clubbed Carrick (34-12) in last week’s opener.
Some area aficionados considered this a rebuilding year in New Wilmington; however that theory’s credibility crumbled approximately 24 minutes into last week’s lidlifter.
After building a 14-10 margin at intermission at Middlesex, the Hounds Hammer defense blanked the Big Reds during the 2nd half en route to a 28-10 win over the 2-time D-10 Class A finalists.
Interestingly, the Greyhounds’ ground game, while potent (122), did not do as much damage as quarterback Cody Llewellyn’s arm (8 of 15, 147 yards, 3 TDs, 0 interceptions).
The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch calling the action.
Conneaut Area (1-0) at Lakeview (1-0)
CASH collected a convincing 27-17 conquest of Girard, led by Hunter Merrit’s memorable 26-carry, 305-yard performance that included a pair of 80-yard scoring sprints, as well as a 52-yarder.
Such was the Eagles’ ease on the ground (361 yards, including Elijah Anderton’s 24-carry, 56-yard, 1-TD contribution), Merritt attempted only 4 passes.
Blake Reddick roared to a 10-carry, 260-yard, 5-touchdown performance against helpless Union City in the Sailors’ successful opener. It will be interesting to see how he fares against the Linesville-Conneaut Lake-Conneaut Valley confluence.
However Lakeview does not exclusively have to rely on Reddick, as Zach Bigley and Zach VanDusen also had success last week to the Sailors’ 420-yard outburst.
Brookfield (1-0) at Newton Falls (1-0)
Newton Falls annexed a near record by routing Rootstown (55-7) in its opener. According to The (Warren) Tribune-Chronicle, it was the first time the Fallsman finished with 50 or more points since ’04, and they came within a field goal of the single-game school standard (58, versus Cortland-Lakeview, Oct. 8, 1971).
Second-year head coach Joe Culp’s Tigers mauled Rootstown by rushing for 383 yards against the Rovers (435 total), led by Larry Zarlengo’s 116 yards and quarterback Brandon Fuller, who finished with 88 (2 TDs) and Derek Backherms’ 79 (23-yard TD run).
Brookfield’s balanced attack in last week’s win over Springfield Local (30-27) featured 425 total yards almost evenly divided (221 rushing; 204 passing). Augustus Necastro notched scores both throwing and running in his debut as the starter under center for Brookfield bench boss Randy Clark.
Last year at Addison, Brookfield bullied Newton Falls (59-12).
Reynolds (1-0) at Titusville (0-1)
Titusville fell to Franklin, 18-14 — Franklin’s 1st season-opening win since 2010, according to Penny Weichel’s website.
Todd Brown fueled the Rockets with a 12-carry, 92-yard rushing performance, including a 4-yard TD run, and 10-for-22 passing for another 148 yards. The Rockets registered a 351-198 edge in total yards against Franklin, but committed costly miscues — Brown fumbled on a 1st-and-goal situation from the Franklin 5 to commence the 2nd half — and they also were flagged for 94 yards in penalties.
Easton Hogue (15-55) also ran well, while Carter (4-45), Sines (3-39) and Hogue (3-18) were Brown’s aerial targets. Frosh QB Brady Corklin connected on 3 of 8 passes for 44 yards and orchestrated a scoring drive.
The Raiders ruled the Rockets (19-6) a year ago in Transfer, but Titusville could pose a stiffer test tonight at historic Carter Field for Reynolds and new mentor Josh Mull.
Saegertown (0-1) at Sharon (0-1)
While Sharon was shut out in its season-opener, Saegertown was rocked at home by Cambridge Springs, 68-0.
Colton Noble notched a game-high 163 yards rushing for the Spa, which amassed 331 total yards. Noble, after scoring sprints of 62, 22, 26, 13 and 10 yards, told The (Meadville) Tribune, “It was awesome! Definitely surreal! The first two years I played (Saegertown) we got destroyed It’s good to give it back to them for once.”
While playing respectably on defense, Sharon must shore up its offensive line play, which was guilty of yielding 9 quarterback sacks to Farrell. The Tigers turned over the ball 4 times, too.
Perhaps this will serve as the 1st of Tiger taskmaster Jim Wildman’s triumphs in his 2nd stint at Sharon. In Week 2 a year ago, Sharon slugged Saegertown (40-12).
West Middlesex (0-1) at Moniteau (0-1)
Both clubs are coming off season-opening setbacks, but the Big Reds were respectable in their home-field loss to Wilmington, while Moniteau was manhandled by a Sharpsville squad missing 4 regulars.
New head coach Ed Roberson’s Reds could secure his 1st win at the helm, though Moniteau mustered 266 yards against Sharpsville.
A year ago the Big Reds dropped their opener to Wilmington, then righted themselves at Moniteau’s expense (27-8), setting the stage for an 8-game West Middlesex win skein that ended in the District 10 Class A title tilt for the 2nd straight season.
Farrell (1-0) at Kennedy Catholic (0-1), noon
On its preseason roster, Farrell features 15 senior lettermen; Kennedy Catholic, conversely, lists 22 players on its roster.
In recent meetings, Farrell has forged a half-dozen consecutive wins by an aggregate 249-27 margin; however, last year the Steelers scored a slender 6-0 win.
The last time the Golden Eagles’ gridders of Kennedy Catholic captured a win over their backyard neighbors occurred in ’06 (41-0) — Louie Falconi’s finale as Farrell’s head coach.
Sharpsville (1-0) at Mercer (1-0), 7
While Sharpsville secured 28-14 success last season at James McCracken Field, its recent visits to the county seat in this series have been challenging.
In 2011, Sharpsville survived Mercer (34-33); 2 years previously, the Mustangs manhandled the Blue Devils (28-14) at mid-season, only to see Sharpsville stage a semifinals win (10-7) in the D-10 playoffs.
Mercer mentor Pat McClearn’s Mustangs made a statement last week in easing past Eisenhower (41-13): Anything less than a return to the postseason will not be palatable. Logan Clarke contributed 313 yards (158 rushing, 155 throwing, plus 2 TDs) to the Mustangs’ 437-yard total against Eisenhower, while Zane O’Brien tallied a trio of touchdowns.
Last week, it was the same, old Sharpsville: 374 total yards, including 360 rushing, led by Tyler Wansack’s 13-carry, 164-yard, 3-TD performance, including 46- and 65-yard scoring sprints for Sharpsville, the 2-time defending D-10 titlist.
Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview.