It is not a stretch to suggest Mercer County dominated PIAA Class AA football during the decade of 2000.
Beginning with Grove City High’s school-standard surge to the ’04 title tilt, followed a year later by Reynolds’ record-setting run to the western regional championship game, and culminating in Wilmington’s ’08 commonwealth crown, the county can claim the caliber of success which only a few of its 66 county counterparts can.
That AA dominance could be duplicated in 2012, considering defending District 10 Class AAA champion Grove City has dropped down a rung on the enrollment ladder, joining with Wilmington and reigning D-10 AA kingpin Hickory.
Tonight, the Keystone State — specifically area aficionados — will get a potential postseason precursor as the Eagles entertain Wilmington at Forker Field in the Region 3-AA lidlifter.
Season-opening region rivalries prevail throughout tonight’s slate.
(All games begin 7 p.m.)
Wilmington (1-0) at Grove City (1-0)
The 2011 Eagles edition matched the ’04 contingent’s school single-season standard 11 wins en route to the district championship and a PIAA playoff berth.
Both launching and lending legitimacy to Grove City’s great season was a Week-6, 17-0 whitewashing in New Wilmington. That proved to be the Greyhound gridders’ lone loss until the D-10 tournament semifinals.
It was Grove City’s 2nd straight success in a series otherwise dominated by Wilmington (see related box) in recent annals. Interestingly, one of Wilmington’s 10 District 10 titles came at Grove City’s expense.
Grove City is rated 5th in the latest Pennsylvania Football News poll, while Wilmington is only honorably mentioned, which — publicly — would not resonate with venerable Terry Verrelli. The Greyhounds’ headmaster has his sights set on longer-term ambitions.
Now in his 34th season, Verrelli (263-110-3) continues his climb toward the D-10 career coaching wins mark. And while he’s been at the Hounds’ helm about twice as long as his Grove City counterpart Jeff Bell (102-55), the latter has elevated the Eagles’ program to the elite during his tenure.
The names change, but the uniforms connote competitive clubs on an annual basis for both. Tonight should not detract from that.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Ryan Briggs and Chris Burtch calling the action.
Hickory (1-0) at Greenville (0-1)
Until last season Hickory had not won a District 10 title since 1991 — 21-20 over Greenville. And during the last 2-plus decades the Trojans have tallied an 11-7 edge in the series history.
Following that setback at Sharon High’s Tiger stadium 2-plus decades ago, Greenville gridders won 5 consecutive meetings (1992-2002) before Hickory halted that skein with 3 straight wins (2003-05). Greenville garnered 4 more victories, including a 41-0 rout in ’09.
Tonight Greenville, however, will have to hope Stewart Field’s sod will be somewhat soggy to slow speedster DeShawn Coleman. In last season’s 39-6 Stingers’ success Coleman collected an 18-carry, 240-yard, 2-TD rushing performance.
Hickory stands 6th in this week’s PFN poll.
Greenville’s ground game is no longer its calling card, but ball control might serve the Trojans’ defense well in attempting to contain Coleman & Co.
Mercer (1-0) at Sharpsville (1-0)
Right out of the gate, this could prove to be one of the key contests in the Region 1-A regular season — just as it was last year when the Blue Devils outlasted Mercer 34-33 in the County Seat. Ultimately, the Blue Devils advanced to the PIAA Final Four.
Particularly since Pat McClearn became Mercer’s mentor, this has evolved into a good rivalry. In the ’06 finale, Sharpsville secured a 23-15 in New Wilmington, aborting Mercer’s playoff aspirations.
The Mustangs mustered back-to-back blankings of the Blue Devils in ’07 (14-0) and ’08 (21-0), but Sharpsville salvaged a measure of vindication in ’09 via a 10-7 D-10 playoff victory, negating Mercer’s 28-14 regular-season win. Sharpsville surged to a rout in 2010 (52-0).
Last week, Sharpsville’s speed was too much for Moniteau, while the Blue Devils’ defense yielded just 81 yards. Similarly, the Mustangs stampeded Eisenhower, 369-169.
Sharpsville’s speed, particularly at cozy James McCracken Field, presents problems for most opposing defenses. And even if the ’Stangs can stymie Sharpsville’s wing-T run game, who will match up with athletic wide-out Tyler Luchey when O-coordinator Lenny Grandy opts to stretch the field?
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Kennedy Catholic (0-1) at Farrell (1-0)
The Steelers secured a season-opening Steel Bowl win over Sharon in skipper Jarrett Samuels’ return to the sidelines — in spite of a myriad of mistakes. But human nature being what it is, in competitive athletics winning is the perfect antidote to penalties, turnovers and risky play-calling.
But Joe Goudy gunned a pair of TD tosses, one to versatile Dewayne Burns, while newcomer Ray Johnson contributed a different dimension, blending power and open-field elusiveness.
During his previous 4-year foray into Farrell football fortunes, Samuels’ Steelers sprinted past Kennedy by a composite 207-6 margin.
Farrell flew past the Golden Eagles (36-21) last season at Butala Stadium in a game deceptively closer than the final score indicated, owing to KC quarterback Brennan Wassil and speedster Jeffrey Thompkins, both of whom return.
Kennedy Catholic’s last claim to success over the Steelers occurred in ’06 (41-0).
Lakeview (1-0) at Conneaut (1-0)
Sailors’ scatback Blake Reddick roared to a near record in last week’s 30-8 Sailors’ success over Union City. Reddick recorded a 33-carry, 365-yard, 3-touchdown performance that placed him in the top 10 in all-time D-10 history according to the Erie Times-News.
In ’05, former Harbor Creek standout (and Youngstown State placekicker) Stephen Blose burst for a 28-carry, 488-yard outing against Fort LeBoeuf. According to The Times-News, Reddick rests in 9th place.
Conneaut — a confluence of the former Linesville, Conneaut Lake and Conneaut Valley school districts — commenced the campaign rallying from a 16-7 halftime deficit at Girard to post a program-first 36-16 win. According to The (Meadville) Tribune, the Eagles’ Elijah Anderton annexed a game-high 151 yards rushing and a score and quarterback Jon Onderko added 97 yards and a trio of touchdowns, including 25- and 11-yard 2nd-half scoring sprints.
Sharon (0-1) Saegertown (0-1)
The Tigers turned over the ball a half-dozen times, but still took Farrell to double-OT in the annual Steel Bowl.
Quarterback Jesse Rodgers’ grit and 59-yard scoring sprint and Wanya Smith-Austin’s goal line-to-goal line interception return almost enabled Sharon to surge back from a 14-point 2nd-half deficit.
Versatile, athletic quarterbacks may victimize Saegertown. According to The Times-News, Saegertown could not stop Devin Walker, who threw a 42-yard TD toss to Kristofer Silbaugh and also sprinted 45 yards for another score.
Sharon skipper Bob Fromm alternated between the spread and I-formations last week with some success. Cambridge Springs’ Colton Noble notched 143 yards rushing against Saegertown, so perhaps Michael Bonner and Jarrell Lampkins will get more totes for the Tigers.
Titusville (1-0) at Reynolds (1-0)
Following their 44-0 season-opening rout of Maplewood, coach Jerry Pacifico’s Raiders are seeking the program’s 1st 2-0 start since that aforementioned ’05 season. Reynolds won a school single-season standard 11 games that year in advancing to the state’s Final Four.
Reynolds’ run game included the troika of Kellen Gursky, Austin Matthews and Mike Millero, who accounted for 188 yards and a handful of touchdowns.
Titusville toppled Franklin, rallying from a 13-12 halftime deficit and nudging the Knights to that program’s 13th consecutive setback.
According to Penny Weichel’s website, the Rockets rushing game amassed 435 yards, led by Xavier Rose’s 11-carry, 136-yard outing, complemented by Ehrin Lee (19-126) and Jayce Corklin (13-122). Titusville totalled 541 yards as Corklin uncorked a 38-yard 3rd-quarter TD toss to Armand Rickerson for the go-ahead score. Corklin later returned a punt 59 yards for another score.
Campbell Memorial (1-1) at Brookfield (2-0)
After last week’s transformer malfunction at Addison Field, OHSAA officials had not yet determined where this game will be played, according to Youngstown-area TV station WFMJ sports director Dana Balash.
Led by Jeremy Quinlan and Ryan Mosora, the Warriors have overwhelmed a pair of opponents for an area-best 54 points and 434 yards per game for coach Randy Clark.
The Red Devils defeated perennial playoff staple South Range (29-7) last week after dropping their opener (27-20) at Struthers. During the latter, Campbell came back from a 21-point 3rd-period deficit, according to The (Warren) Tribune-Chronicle.
Campbell QB Brandon Reyes recorded a 21-for-30, 266-yard, 2-TD performance in last week’s win. But the pass-happy Red Devils of coach Mickey Sikora attempted only 13 rushes for 57 yards. In the opening-week loss, Reyes rifled TDs ot 34 and 18 yards, respectively, to speedsters D.J. Harrison and Braylen Wigfall. Reyes passed for 154 yards and rushed for another 50; however, Campbell coughed up 352 yards to Struthers, according to The (Youngstown) Vindicator.
Last season Brookfield bested Campbell Memorial, 26-20 in OT.
Moniteau (0-1) at West Middlesex (0-1)
Though no consolation in losing, the Big Reds’ performance last week in New Wilmington could be a confidence-booster. A unique twist for opposing defensive coordinators is the use of both Trey Staunch and Jeremy Jansco both running and passing the ball.
Coming of a District 9 championship season, Moniteau was manhandled at Sharpsville, though the Warriors were embroiled in an off-field incident that may have hampered their personnel and depth.
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Jeff Wimer and Scott Clary calling the action.
Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview.