Having served as a coordinator last fall for Farrell High’s football state championship team, new Head Coach Anthony Pegues said there’s no pressure on him personally. However, the Steelers’ expectations are as lofty as ever.
So as the season’s second trimester commences this evening, expect improvement and focus from Pegues’ Steelers, who welcome West Middlesex in the Region 1 opener. Kickoff at Anthony J. Paulekas Stadium/Lou Falconi Field is 7 p.m.
Following last weekend’s myriad of mismatched cross-over contests, the second season – region play – begins tonight for Class 1A and 2A Mercer County contingents. Farrell and Wilmington are defending District 10 titlists, as is Sharon (Region 3).
West Middlesex (2-1) at Farrell (1-2)
Replicating last season’s Steelers’ success – the first undefeated (15-0) football state championship in area annals – would be next to impossible, especially considering the talent that graduated. But Pegues is pleased with the improved play he saw in last week’s shutout of Union City (35-0).
“We definitely showed some signs there. We have a new quarterback (Raymond Raver Jr.) working in, and he played really well last week,” assessed Pegues, himself a former Steelers’ signal-caller.
Raver ran for 35 yards, including a 1-yard TD, and completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 70 yards including a 2-yard TD to Brian Hilton and a subsequent 2-point PAT. Farrell finished with 304 total yards.
“We’re not where we need to be. We have to find some continuity at certain positions – we have some new guys in different spots (senior lineman Markel Talley has been lost for the season to a knee injury),” Pegues related. “But once we get guys settled in we’ll be much improved. We’re still improving. We had a good week last week, but we can get better.”
Regarding pressure to perform, Pegues said, “I was a coordinator here last year ... I’ve been here a long time (as the quarterback, then assistant coach for PIAA championship teams), so I don’t feel there’s added pressure on me. But there’s always expectations – especially at Farrell – to do well. Especially with the team we had last year. People (fans, media) expect that it’s still gonna be the same, but when you lose guys like that ...
“But,” Pegues emphasized, “the goals are still the same. We’re just a young group getting over those hurdles each game, knowing that we’ll get better and better each week.”
These programs met for last year’s D-10 Class 1A championship. While Farrell finished atop the PIAA pedestal, West Middlesex mustered 9 wins. This year has been challenging in its own way for each.
The Big Reds had rolled to a pair of season-opening routs before Maplewood’s Tigers mauled Middlesex during the 2nd half (39-12) at Big Reds Stadium. Injuries of various forms reduced the Big Reds to just 25 players in uniform, though Middlesex mentor Mark Means made no alibi; instead, paraphrasing Pittsburgh Steelers’ Coach Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” philosophy.
“Their kids are playin’ pretty good, and they’re gonna be up for us, bring everything they’ve got,” Pegues said regarding the Big Reds, adding, “They’re a good team.”
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM).
Mercer (2-1) at Reynolds (3-0)
Two squads’ somewhat surprising successful starts to the season square off in the Region 1 opener. This will be Mercer’s first road game, while the Raiders already have a trio of triumphs in Transfer.
The Raiders have rolled to an average of 404.4 yards and 42.4 points per game; conversely, the Steads have been outscored (54-34).
Reynolds has rushed for 800 yards (Cole Toy and Sean O’Hara are averaging 8.3 and 6.4 yards/carry), while Mercer has permitted 147.7 yards rushing/game. Also, Reynolds senior signal-caller Bryce McCloskey has completed 80 percent of his pass attempts for 435 yards and 4 TDs without an interception.
Defensively, Reynolds has yielded just 20 second-half points; Mercer has been outscored after intermission, 27-12. But Mercer has made the most of 6 opponents’ miscues, and the Mustangs have won a pair of close contests (Cochranton, Eisenhower) – the latter by scoring 12 fourth-period points. Aiden Bright boasts 7.1 yards/carry for the county-seaters.
Sharpsville (2-1) at Greenville (2-1)
A region opener that features Mercer County’s current longest-tenured head coaches – Sharpsville skipper Paul Piccirilli (25th season, 209-74) and Trojans’ taskmaster Brian Herrick (13th, 88-52).
Last season under the pines the Blue Devils bludgeoned Greenville (61-6). Two years ago the Trojans tallied a D-10 tourney semifinals shocker over Sharpsville (28-14), avenging a regular-season shutout (21-0). In 2016 (33-14) and ‘15 (34-13) Sharpsville prevailed, while in 2014, Greenville garnered the regular-season finale (42-27).
Sharpsville has surrendered only 26 points and an average of 150.7 yards/game, while Greenville has given up 16.4 points and 277 yards/game. Levi Swartz (236) and Isaac Sasala (190) give Greenville’s ground game some giddy-up.
Wilmington (3-0) at Lakeview (0-3)
The Greyhounds’ gridders have outscored (108-28) and out-gained (1,015-419) opponents, almost the complete converse of Lakeview (outscored 135-16; out-gained 1,149-242).
Ethan Susen and Darren Miller make 7.3 and 7.1 yards/carry, respectively, for the Greyhounds’ ground game.
In last week’s win over Northwestern (42-14), Wilmington – just to give opposing defensive coordinators something to ponder at 2 a.m. – QB Caelan Bender brokered a 10-for-19, 150-yard, 3-TD passing performance. He had attempted only 8 aerials during the first 2 weeks.
Slippery Rock (0-0, 2-1) at Sharon (0-1, 1-2)
A pair of senior signal-callers should settle – and possibly shine – on center stage for their respective squads.
Lane Voytik vaulted yet another Mercer County milestone (career passing TDs, 68), and with a big night could surpass former Mercer standout Logan Clarke for the second time in as many weeks. Clarke concluded his career with 6,178 yards passing; Herald archives have Voytik perched at 6,077.
In the lexicon of 2019, Slippery Rock’s Vito Pilosi personifies the trendy RPO (run-pass option). Last week he out-dueled another D-10 gunslinger – Franklin’s record-setting Ian Haynes. Pilosi produced a trio of TDs (2 rushing, 1 passing) in the Rockets’ rout of the Knights (35-6).
In actuality, perhaps Pilosi was upstaged by his own defense. Despite surrendering 332 total yards Slippery Rock yielded just a pair of field goals. Coach Larry Wendereusz’s Rockets’ run game was able to keep Haynes harnessed, as David Duffalo (151), Nathan Hyatt (74) and Pilosi (62) garnered 342 ground yards, compared with 71 for Franklin.
In last week’s rout of Fairview, Sharon scored more points (42) than its first 2 games combined (35). That enabled new Tigers’ taskmaster Jason McElhaney to enjoy his initial triumph at the helm.
The game will be broadcast on SportsRadio 967 (WLLF FM).
Hickory (1-0, 3-0) at CASH (0-0, 2-1)
Last week CASH crushed North East (52-12) as Tanner Niemann notched 359 total yards (229 passing, including 5 TDs and 130 rushing, plus a TD). Niemann’s go-to guy was receiver Noah Richardson, who hauled in 6 passes for 108 yards and a trio of touchdowns.
According to The (Meadville) Tribune, the Eagles enjoyed the game’s initial score, a touchdown run by junior Kyle Fischer, who has been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
“It was fantastic!” CASH Coach Pat Gould told The Tribune’s Pete Chiodo. “The student body was in the corner of the end zone and they were all cheering for him. The kids love him! He’s one of us. ... It was a great night for Kyle Fischer.
“It brought tears to me eyes, I know that, for sure.”
CASH collected 534 total yards (293 rushing, 241 passing) against winless North East.
The Region 5 roadie will be a test for Coach Bill Dungee’s Hornets, who have yet had to venture out of Mercer County.
Stingers’ signal-caller Michael Henwood is making every football field he takes resemble Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium – site of the annual PIAA Track & Field Championships. Henwood has sprinted for 69-, 57- and 50-yard scores from scrimmage, plus an 80-yard kickoff return in last week’s win over Mercyhurst Prep (46-26). Led by Henwood, who also tossed a TD to Jackson Pryts, and Hunter Stoots (25- and 61-yard TD runs) Hickory harvested a season-best 436 total yards.
In spite of its offensive prowess, Hickory has permitted 17.7 points and 273.7 yards per game.
After a season-opening setback to Oil City (28-24), Conneaut Area crushed MASH (Meadville Area Senior High, 40-7) and then beat North East (52-12).
Grove City (3-0) at Brashear (0-3)
This does not bode well for the Bulls, blanked by both Beaver (30-0) and Albert Gallatin (14-0), sandwiched by a setback to Perry Traditional Academy (26-6).
By comparison, Grove City has gotten better with each successive week with wins over Fort LeBoeuf, Greenville and Corry, outscoring (100-27) and out-gaining them (392-231 on average).
Grovers’ ground-gainer Colby Nelson leads the area in rushing (6.1 yards/carry, 6 TDs), while QB Logan Breese is the 2nd-ranked passer (470 yards, 6 TDs) and Jake Reddick (21.4 yards/catch on 9 receptions, including a trio of TDs) is the 2nd-rated receiver for Coach Sam Mowery.
Brookfield (1-1) at United Local (1-1)
Brookfield boasted a 483-464 total-offense edge, but nonetheless lost to Springfield Local (49-28) last week. But Brookfield – trailing 21-14 at intermission – yielded 21 third-period points.
Brookfield’s Tyler Briggs and Hayden Gibson gained 122 and 137 yards rushing (58-, 6-yard TDs), respectively, and Gibson passed for 209, almost evenly dividing targets to Connor Filipovich (6), Ryan Logan (5) and Gage Emery (4). Emery was on the end of a 16-yard scoring strike from Gibson.
United upended Minerva (28-22) in its opener, but lost last week to Salem (22-14).
Herald Sports Writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview.