By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
While West Middlesex High’s football program is enjoying unprecedented success this season, it’s no surprise Sharpsville will be the Big Reds’ rival in Friday night’s District 10 Class A championship game.
Both Sharpsville and Wilmington — which will face Fairview in the D-10 AA title tilt Saturday night — will seek their respective programs’ seventh since the 6-county district-wide tourney commenced in 1985.
Eleventh-year Sharpsville skipper Paul Piccirilli has produced 5 D-10 titles during his Blue Devils’ decade-long dominance. Meanwhile, third-year West Middlesex mentor Brian Hoffman has taken his teams from 3 wins in ’04, to 7 last season, to a single-season school standard 12 thus far this fall.
However Hoffman (22-11) emphasized he has not effected a turnabout during his Big Reds’ regime; rather, he has continued the success begun by his predecessor Rick Resatar. Resatar’s Reds won the ’02-03 D-10 championships en route to a pair of 9-win seasons.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see it as turning the program around. It was left in good hands from coach Resatar, and we had some good seasons — 2002 and 2003. So it wasn’t like a total rebuilding of a project,” Hoffman said. “The foundation was there, and the new staff just kind of took the project and went with it.”
In addition to the Big Reds’ back-to-back banners, Sharpsville has secured D-10 titles in ’86, ’97, ’99, ’00, ’01 and ’04, including the last handful under Piccirilli (101-30). Mercer County has claimed 9 consecutive Class A crowns.
Wilmington, under 28th-year veteran Terry Verrelli (203-98-3), won 4 consecutive AA crowns (’94-97), then added AAA titles in ’00-01. The area aggregation (including former Mercer County Athletic Conference members Wilmington and Slippery Rock) has annexed the last dozen D-10 AA titles.
West Middlesex (12-0) vs. Sharpsville (9-3)
West Middlesex has not trailed thus far this season. Back on Sept. 16 at Sharpsville’s McCracken Field the Big Reds were deadlocked with the Blue Devils at 20 before parlaying a muffed punt into the game-winning score with 73 seconds remaining.
In last week’s semifinal-round win over Kennedy Catholic (38-19), Middlesex maintained a 23-19 margin midway through the third quarter.
“That was ‘gut-check’ time for us,” Hoffman related. “At that part of the game I felt like Kennedy was gaining some momentum — especially on the offensive end — and we really needed to step up at that point of the game. There were some guys out there that were making plays when we needed them, and as coaches you can’t ask for more than that.”
The state-ranked Reds (5th Harrisburg Patriot-News; 7th SPORTSfever magazine) are outscoring and outgaining opponents 36 to 6.9 and 344.9 to 166.75, respectively, as quarterback Kolten Hoffman has passed (108 of 173 attempts, 62.4 percent, 1,867 yards, 18 touchdowns) and rushed (112 carries, 561 yards, 5 yards/carry, 19 TDs) as triggerman for the overwhelming offense.
According to available Herald records and information submitted by West Middlesex’s coaching staff, Hoffman (4,520) is primed to surpass former Sharpsville signal-caller John Napotnik (4,597) as Mercer County’s career yards passing leader.
The trio of Josh Brown (81-590, 7.2, 6), Steve Andrusky (102-578, 5.6, 12) and Lucas Allen (79-513, 6.2, 2) lend balance to the backfield, and Allen (30 catches, 590 yards, 19.6 yards/catch, 5 TDs), Brown (27-513, 19.0, 5), Tyler Barris (20-338, 16.9, 3) and Andrusky (19-218, 11.4, 3) add an aerial assault. Brown has booted 36 conversions and added a field goal, also.
Although the Blue Devils have not been as dominant, Sharpsville similarly has outscored (22.9 to 18) and outgained (264.1 to 231.1) opponents led by Hoffman’s alter-ego, Jarryd Summers who has passed (48-120, 556, 6), rushed (71-390, 5.4, 6) and place-kicked (19 PATs, 2 field goals) when not punting and — as Hoffman — serving as a free safety on defense.
Not unlike West Middlesex, Sharpsville’s wing-T offense boasts a bountiful backfield of Aaron Reddix (143-790, 5.5, 9), Tim Siege (151-753, 4.9, 7) and Joshua Taylor (90-500, 5.5, 7). The latter also has emerged as the Blue Devils’ leading receiver (19-246, 12.9, 2), while David Gill and Ryan Maurice are other options.
In that earlier meeting West Middlesex mustered a margin of 339-245 in total yards, including 302-201 on the ground as Hoffman ran for 3 scores — including the game-winner — and Summers 2. Both teams committed 2 turnovers.
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Joe Klimchak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Wilmington (12-0) vs.
Just mere miles down Route 18 resides the only area 11 that has been as dominant this season as West Middlesex. Wilmington has whipped opponents by outscoring (36.01 to 6.75) and outgaining (344.9 to 146.91) them with its multi-dimensional wing-T offense and Hounds Hammer defense led by Lou Campbell, Clint DeRose, Forrest Minteer and Nate Reynolds.
Wilmington is rated 5th by both The Patriot-News and SPORTSfever polls.
As with Hoffman and Summers, Jake Reiber’s running (59-307, 5.2, 8) and passing (58-104, 936, 12) has given the Greyhounds balance, while backfield buddies Chris Burns (131-1,100, 8.3, 20), David Bruno (94-585, 6.2, 7) and Minteer (73-504, 6.9, 7) generate the ground game that is complemented by the aerial antics of Jeremy Beatty (27-435, 16.1, 3), Burns (13-230, 17.6, 3) and Reynolds (12-149, 12.4, 3). Also, the area’s leading placekicker, Nick Riggall (46 PATs, 5 field goals, 61 points) lends another dimension.
Burns is the area’s second-leading scorer (24 TDs, 148 points), just ahead of Hoffman (20, 122), Brown (13, 119) and Andrusky (15, 90).
Fairview has forged 8 consecutive wins since its lone loss (26-12 to Seneca in Week 3). The Tigers have tamed teams, allowing only 103 total points (9.3 ppg.) while pitching a pair of shutouts (Girard and Corry, back-to-back).
Conversely, the offense — according to MaxPreps Recruiting Network — averages 26.8 points per game, led by Gary Corbin’s passing (48-95, 50.5 percent, 725, 11), Jack McCann’s rushing 268-1,260, 4.7, 8), and Corbin’s collaborations with wideout Justin Haney (17-272, 16.0, 2) and tight end Jake Lightner (10-191, 19.1, 6). Corbin (52-307, 5.9, 7) complements McCann on the ground, as does Tyler Sargent (57-305, 5.35, 7).
Pat Michael (52 solos, 97 assists, 149 total), Corbin (90), Sargent (51) and Lightner (50) lead coach Jerry Lightner’s Tigers in tackles, while Matt Michael has mustered a half-dozen sacks, two more than Pat Michael. Sargent has picked off 4 passes, and the Tigers have tallied 11 interceptions and forced 9 fumble recoveries (E.J. Kruse 2).
Justin Haney has fueled Fairview’s special teams as both a kickoff- (9-211, 23.44) and punt-returer (15-241, 16.07), and placekicker Zane Meeder has converted 22 of 26 PATs.
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Notes: Both games begin 7 p.m. at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium. ... Pregame and postgame shows, hosted by Gary Swanson, will begin at 5:15 and 9:30 p.m., respectively, on Friday. ... Longtime West Middlesex fan Mrs. Gretchen Campman Wilson wrote recently, “Since my father was one of the original Big Reds, I have always been interested in our football history.” According to the 77-year-old Mrs. Wilson’s research, West Middlesex High played football from 1919-29, then the sport was discontinued until 1963 when it was revived by legendary coach Jim Marcolivio.
Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview.
By Ed Farrell