It’s been so long since the Bellefonte football team has played on its home turf, that Rogers Stadium must seem like foreign soil.
So after five consecutive weeks on the road, it is a true homecoming for the Red Raiders on Friday.
Bellefonte (2-5) will play host to Central (5-2) to highlight three Centre County teams in action at home this week. Bald Eagle Area (2-5), fresh off an upset win over Huntingdon, hosts Clearfield (5-2) at Alumni Stadium and Philipsburg-Osceola (0-7) welcomes the Bearcats (3-4).
State College (3-4) travels to Central Dauphin East (6-1) in a key Mid Penn matchup. Penns Valley (2-5) looks to become the first area team to knock off Chesnut Ridge (6-1) and St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy (1-6) looks to snap a skid at Line Mountain (3-4).
All of the games are set to kick off at 7 p.m.
Bellefonte has played at home just once in the first seven weeks, a 36-0 triumph over P-O. The Red Raiders had lost 13 consecutive road games, including five this season, until pulling out a dramatic 20-12 overtime triumph at Penns Valley last Friday.
The Red Raiders had just two first downs for more than three quarters against the Rams. With running back Austin Jackson, its biggest offensive threat, on the bench in street clothes, Bellefonte drove 88 yards in the final four minutes to tie the score with eight seconds left on quarterback Chase Gardner’s one-yard sneak. Tyler Kreger’s nine-yard run on the second play of overtime was the difference.
The Bellefonte defense gave up yardage, but came up big in the red zone. Penns Valley, which hurt itself with penalties, had three trips into the red zone, but scored just once.
“No one handed it to us,” Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning said after the contest. “We had to go out and we had to physically take it. ... They’ve had some success and we haven’t. We had to dig and scrap and dig and scrap and we did.”
The Red Raiders face a stiff test for their homecoming game. Central is an explosive offensive team, having scored more 34 or more points in all but two of its games this season.
“Our team isn’t where we want to be yet,” Central coach Dave Baker said. “We need work. We need to improve ourselves.”
Like Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Area is coming off an emotional victory on the road. The Eagles, who had scored just 12 points in their previous four games, rang up 32 in a 20-point upset of Huntingdon last Friday.
Running back Mitchell Struble did most of the damage running around the left end to the tune of 252 yards and four touchdowns as the Eagle offensive line shredded the Bearcat defense.
“Our line did an amazing job,” Struble said after the career-best evening. “They really stepped up. We finally came together as a team. This is what we can do.”
That new-found excellence will be tested by Clearfield, which is coming off its biggest victory of the season. The Bison handed Tyrone its first loss of the season with a 26-14 romp in front of the the Golden Eagles’ home crowd. Clearfield has won four straight since a rough start.
Philipsburg-Osceola is looking for something positive to happen. The Mounties have lost 14 straight and are 1-26 over the past three seasons.
They’re coming off a 40-7 loss to Central, with their touchdown coming inside the final minute.
Most of the offensive damage for P-O has come through the air, but coach Michael Soyster did see progress last week. “We are running the ball a little better, but we have to keep working to get better,” he said.
Huntingdon coach Mike Hudy was deflated after watching his team lose to Bald Eagle Area on the Bearcats’ homecoming last week and drop to a tie for seventh in the race among eight teams to make the District 6 Class AA playoffs.
“We got outplayed in all phases of the game,” said Hudy. “We were not ready to play in all phases. That’s the flattest we’ve been all year.”
State College has dropped two straight heading into a key Mid Penn Commonwealth matchup. CD East is tied with Central Dauphin with 4-0 marks in Mid Penn play, while the Little Lions dropped to fourth at 2-2 with a 43-29 loss against Harrisburg.
State College rallied from a 34-16 advance to get within 34-29 before Harrisburg pulled away in the fourth quarter.
“Our coaching staff does an excellent job coming up with some creative things and our kids worked on that day in and day out and it really paid off for us there to get us back in, get that momentum back and unfortunately they got a few too many athletes for us,” State College coach Matt Lintal said of his team’s rally.
CD East has won five straight, including a 42-19 romp against Chambersburg last week. The Panthers, who employ a two-quarterback system, are very balanced. They’ve thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 10 more.
Penns Valley’s playoff hopes took a big hit with last week’s overtime loss to Bellefonte. The Rams are now 12th, 10 points behind BEA, but 180 points out of eighth.
The Rams held an edge in nearly every category against Bellefonte, except on the scoreboard.
“Anytime you get in a game like this with two backyard rivals, it’s a difficult contest,” Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said. “Whoever comes out, the winner is going to really be happy and celebrating and those who come out on the other end it’s a little more difficult.
Chestnut Ridge has cut a wide swath through District 6 and Centre County. The Lions have knocked off Bald Eagle Area, Philipsburg-Osceola, Central and St. Joseph’s in consecutive weeks. They led 38-0 at halftime and 52-0 before coasting past St. Joseph’s 52-16 last week.
St. Joseph’s has dropped six straight since a season-opening triumph.
Line Mountain has bounced back from a three-game losing streak to win two straight, including a 14-7 over Upper Dauphin last week. Upper Dauphin knocked off the Wolves 31-16 earlier this season.