With Penns Valley and Bald Eagle Area fans cheering and cow bells adding to the atmosphere, Matthew Caldana expects Friday night to be a “blast.”
The Rams senior and his teammates will be running on adrenaline when they host BEA at 7 p.m. in this year’s battle for the Iron Bell trophy. Penns Valley has won the past three matchups with the Eagles (2-0), and the Rams (1-1) are motivated to keep the Iron Bell trophy in Spring Mills.
“It really pumps us up,” Penns Valley cornerback/wide receiver Cole Breon said. “We really want it.”
Bald Eagle Area wants to bring the trophy back to Wingate — but Eagles coach Jesse Nagle said the trophy is not his team’s primary concern this week. BEA has an opportunity to improve its record to 3-0, just like it did last year heading into the matchup with Penns Valley. But the Eagles failed to capitalize, falling to the Rams and then finishing the season by winning one game the rest of the way.
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This year, Nagle doesn’t want his team to be satisfied and feels it has a long way to go to reach its potential.
“I think that we can be a nice team, and I think we have a lot of potential there,” Nagle said. “Potential’s an easy word to say. It’s harder to do, so we’re going to continue to coach as hard as we can and expect kids to go as hard as they can. And hopefully they can get better, and we’ll see in four or five weeks where that puts us.”
BEA senior Derek Henry and his teammates know they can play better despite outscoring their opponents 81-13. Through two weeks last season, the Eagles didn’t run into any trouble in wins over St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy (54-0) and Philipsburg-Osceola (55-0).
But Penns Valley humbled the Rams, rolling to a 41-18 win.
In his second year at the helm, Nagle is working to keep his team focused each week.
“We’re trying to get to the point that every game’s a big game for us,” Nagle said. “We preach that all week to the kids that it doesn’t matter who’s across from you, it’s a big for us.”
Penns Valley, meanwhile, is searching for consistency.
Rams coach Martin Tobias made a change to the practice routine to focus on the team’s execution. The Rams needed to run a certain number of plays “to perfection” in various situations, from starting in the red zone to going the length of the field. If they meet their goal, they move on.
“If we haven’t, then we go back and we redo it,” Tobias said. “So it’s working as a team and a collective to be consistent throughout the play, throughout the series, throughout the drive and trying to get them to understand that it’s about the effort that they put forth.”
Going into Friday’s game, Tobias said the Eagles are much better than they were last year — they’re executing at a higher level offensively, with their quarterbacks making the right reads, and they’re using their athleticism to make plays defensively.
Caldana, a fullback and middle linebacker for the Rams, agreed with his coach.
“It will be a little bit more of a challenge,” Caldana said, “but I’m ready to stand up and fight for it.”
The Eagles will be ready to go, too, as they look to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2013 — the last year BEA beat Penns Valley. They haven’t forgotten about last season’s loss to the Rams, either.
“I think it’s pushed us harder in practice than we’ve maybe went so far this year,” Henry said. “We just want to get better.”