While there’s always excitement to start the high school football season, Bellefonte’s Duffy Besch and Bald Eagle Area’s Jack Tobias say they’ve noticed an extra spring in their players’ steps this week.
That happens when you face your biggest rival right out of the gate.
Bellefonte will travel to Bald Eagle Area at 7 p.m. tonight, the first of two matchups between the Centre County rivals this season.
Thanks to openings on both team’s schedules, the schools decided to play each other twice this season. The Eagles host tonight’s non-Mountain League clash before traveling to Rogers Stadium on Oct. 26 for the annual Curtin Bowl game.
Both Besch and Jack Tobias have played and coached in the annual clash and know the meaning when the two squads square off.
“It’s kind of taken a whole new edge to the beginning of the season,” said Besch, “… Having this game has extra special meaning. Every time you get to line up and play Bald Eagle, with the kids there’s another level of awareness to it.”
“There’s a lot more focus than usual,” Tobias said. “The kids are fired up obviously playing a rival school. They know the kids. It’s the same thing it comes down to at the end of the year with the Curtin Bowl — they want those bragging rights.”
The contest will provide an interesting kickoff to the season for two teams which are coming off of losing campaigns. The Eagles were 4-6 a year ago, while Bellefonte, a playoff team in 2010, stumbled to 1-9.
Bald Eagle Area has held the bragging rights since last November, winning the season finale 28- 6. That contest was a tight 7-6 game at the half, but the Eagles pounded the Red Raiders into submission on the ground, racking up more than 260 yards rushing.
Besch expects the Eagles to try more of the same tonight. Bruising fullback Nate Sharkey will carry the ball and join an experienced offensive line looking to open running lanes Dakota Bart-ley and Dion Barnard.
“Coach Tobias is keeping with what Bald Eagle is known for — establishing a good hard running game and having a passing game that can balance that out,” Besch said. “They’re going to do what they do and for as long as I’ve been around Bald Eagle wants to establish the run. When you go back to last season, why wouldn’t he? He was able to run the ball all over the field against us.”
Tobias said his team, which features a strong offensive line, has moved the ball on the ground in its scrimmages.
“We have been able to move the ball effectively on the ground and mix it up throwing the ball,” Tobias said. “It was pretty balanced. We are where we expected to be right now.”
Besch also wants to get a ground game going. The Red Raiders’ primary weapon last season was the arm of quarterback Jordan Fye, a senior this fall.
“We have to establish the run, control the line of scrimmage and make sure we’re in control of the tempo of the game,” Besch said. “If we’re able to come out and get some things moving offensively and get the run going the way that we have the potential to do I think we can have some good things happen.”
Nunu Buey, a sophomore, brings speed at tailback. “He really has come along in the past week or two and is getting the feel for running the football,” said Besch, who added he has depth at several skill positions.
Both coaches will get to see how long summer workouts and the last 2 1/2 weeks of camp have paid off.
And getting a chance at beating your rival isn’t a bad way to start.
“We always say the records don’t even matter,” Tobias said. “It’s Bellefonte-Bald Eagle. All of that stuff can go right out the window. It’s that backyard brawl where the kids are itching to go, are excited for the game and play at a whole different level.”
“I think it’s a great way for the communities to start the season,” Besch added. “A lot of time we end up playing in November when it’s freezing cold or it might be raining and spitting and stuff. It sounds like we’re going to get a beautiful night for the start of the football season.
“Having been a part of this and having been somebody who grew up in this rivalry and this scenario, man, there’s nothing like it to me. I think that Coach Tobias would say the same thing. It’s a special game for a lot of reasons. It’s a very neat opportunity to begin our seasons this way.”
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt