Philipsburg-Osceola (0-0) at Line Mountain (0-0)
This season, the Mounties travel to Herndon with an older group against an Eagles team with questions of its own after an 8-3 season that ended with a 28-21 loss to Southern Columbia in the 2012 PIAA Class A playoffs.
Line Mountain must replace senior quarterback Cole Rickert, who threw for 1,588 yards, 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions last year.
Junior Ryan Reed and sophomore Kurt Mace were understudies to Cole and attempted only two and six passes, respectively.
The Eagles also lost top-rusher Dillan Michael, who led the team with 677 yards and 14 touchdowns. They do, however, return No. 2 rusher Cory Warford, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound fullback who had 539 yards and six touchdowns.
Top-receivers Erik Smeltz (38 catches, 625 yards and five touchdowns) and Jeremy Renn (19 catches, 454 yards and four scores) were also lost to graduation.
Line Mountain faces relative inexperience, but new faces can at least draw upon success witnessed last season. Philipsburg-Osceola won’t have that luxury.
While there aren’t many statistics to lean on — one passing touchdown and just 10 rushing touchdowns last season — the Mounties will try to vary the attack to keep opponents guessing.
Head coach Jeff Vroman will speed up his offense to sometimes run plays within 16-18 seconds, at times without huddling.
That approach coupled with the return of senior running back Nick Gray, who led the team with 604 yards on 139 carries and three scores, could breathe life into what was an injury-depleted squad a year ago.
Second-leading rusher Dustin Shuey, a senior who had 89 carries for 439 yards and two scores, also returns.
Quarterbacks Curtis Matsko and Caleb Pepperday return as seniors. Matsko completed 28 of 76 passes while Pepperday went 12-for-50. Both threw four interceptions with Matsko tossing the team’s only touchdown pass.
Defensively, Gray also returns as the Mounties’ leading tackler, with 39 of his 50 tackles coming solo.
Takeaways could also be key after last year yielded just one interception, although P-O did recover seven fumbles.
Last year, LM’s Rickert gouged the P-O defense for 105 yards on just six carries. Warford added 76 more on six attempts. The Eagles finished with 306 yards and six rushing touchdowns overall.
Gray led P-O with 32 yards on eight carries in that meeting.
If they can get turnovers early, the Mounties might be able to slow the retooling Eagles. A positive showing could give P-O momentum as it searches for its first win in over a year.
- Aaron Carter