It’s the greatest time of the year.
Football is back! The NFL preseason games started a little over three weeks ago and college football’s season begins next week.
But, Friday marks the beginning of the regular season for all five of Centre County’s teams.
Bald Eagle Area, Philipsburg-Osceola and State College all get to stay home. Bellefonte doesn’t have to go too far as it makes a short trip up Interstate 80 to face Jersey Shore. However, Penns Valley will travel to Gettysburg to kick off its year against Fairfield.
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Here is a breakdown of each game.
Bellefonte at Jersey Shore
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: Bel. — Shannon Manning (sixth season); JS — Tom Gravish
Last meeting: Bellefonte 17-13, last season
Players to watch: Bel. — Kyle Myers, Sr., QB; JS — Kyle Tomb, Jr., RB
The skinny: For the fifth straight year, the Red Raiders begin the season by taking on the Bulldogs. It again will be on the road as Rogers Stadium gets a facelift.
Bellefonte looks to build upon last season’s 10-3 record, which is the best during Manning’s tenure. It will do so with another new face at the quarterback position. The Red Raiders turned a receiver into a quarterback last year, but this year they have a proven guy in Myers taking the snaps under center. Myers joins Bellefonte for his senior season after being part of the West Branch program the last three years. Last year with the Warriors, Myers threw for 800 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He also had a 50 percent completion rate.
For Jersey Shore, this game is going to have a little extra meaning. Not only is it the season opener, but last week a player on the team suffered a serious injury during a practice. According to the Lock Haven Express, Caleb Leone’s injury was so severe, he had to have brain surgery and was still in a coma as of Wednesday. The Bulldogs will be full of energy to play for their missing teammate and look for Tomb to carry most of that load. Last season, Tomb ran for 1,662 yards on 301 carries. He had 16 touchdowns and rushed for over 100 yards in all but two games he played.
Mifflin County at State College
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: MC — Scot Sechler; SC — Matt Lintal (fifth season)
Last meeting: State College 56-7, last season
Players to watch: SC — Keaton Ellis, Sr., WR; MC — Gage Schaeffer, Soph., RB
The skinny: The Little Lions begin the defense of their back-to-back Mid Penn Commonwealth Division titles with a familiar foe in the Huskies. They have a tall task of replacing several players who were at key positions, such as wide receiver, linebacker and defensive line.
One thing for sure is State College has several guys capable of filling those voids with a roster of close to 100 players. Ellis is one of those guys tasked with replacing the productivity at the receiver position that was overwhelmingly controlled by Brandon Clark a year ago. Ellis is looking for a breakout year after missing most of last year with an injury, and committing to play just up the road in Beaver Stadium after this year. He had just 164 yards receiving on six receptions and two touchdowns in six games played.
Mifflin County was balanced last year with its offense, but this year it could be a different story. The Huskies have their returning rusher in Schaeffer back this year. As a freshman last year, Schaeffer carried the ball 89 times for 479 yards and six scores. He might not have to carry the load all the time though as Mifflin County has a loaded backfield with another sophomore in Trey Kibe excelling, too. The backfield might be the youngest position for the Huskies but it might also be the strongest.
Penns Valley vs. Fairfield
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: PV — Martin Tobias (23rd season); F — Jason Thurston
Last meeting: First meeting
Players to watch: PV — Ryan Ripka, Sr., RB; F — Ethan Favorite, Sr., RB
The skinny: So many storylines, where to begin with this game? Let’s start with the location, the Rams will take on the Knights at Gettysburg High School’s field due to a mold issue at Fairfield’s school. This match up almost didn’t happen as the Knights’ season was in jeopardy of even occurring as it didn’t have enough to field a roster and coaching changes midway through the summer.
When things kick off Friday night, it will be a battle of the backfields. For Penns Valley, they return Ripka, who led the team in rushing with 802 yards on 159 carries. He had 10 touchdowns and three games where he went over 100 yards. He also had 203 receiving yards to top 1,000 all-purpose yards.
For the Knights, they will present a challenge that the Rams have rarely faced in the Wing-T offense. It is led by Favorite, who is a bruiser of a back and has the eye of Tobias. Tobias said his team has been working on putting bigger backs on the practice squad to get the team ready for Favorite. Favorite finished last season with 214 yards rushing with three touchdowns.
West Branch at Philipsburg-Osceola
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: WB — Kevin Hubler; P-O — Brian McGonigal (first season)
Last meeting: Philipsburg-Osceola 32-14, last season
Players to watch: WB — Derek Yingling, Sr., RB; P-O — Daniel “Bubba” Slogosky, Sr., QB
The skinny: The Mounties have won just two games in the last four years. This year could be multiple wins with some changes.
P-O has a new coach in McGonigal, who has been an assistant for years in the program. It also gets a full season on the new artificial turf field behind the high school. If the Mounties want to get things off on the right foot, they will do so against their crosstown rivals in the Warriors. P-O returns its starting quarterback in Slogosky, who threw for 1,316 yards and eight touchdowns, but he had 15 interceptions. If he can cut down the turnovers, big things could be on the horizon for the Mounties.
West Branch will look to avenge their season-opening loss to P-O from last year. It will do so without their starting quarterback from last year. However, Yingling is back for the Warriors and he finished 76 yards shy of 1,500 rushing yards for the year. All of his 19 touchdowns came on the ground. He had one game last year where he went for 290 yards and five touchdowns. Yingling is a force on the defensive side, too, with 108 tackles. He had with a game-high 18 tackles in the final game of last season.
Troy at Bald Eagle Area
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: T — Jim Smith; BEA — Jesse Nagle (third season)
Last meeting: Bald Eagle Area 33-13, last season
Players to watch: BEA — Jaden Jones, Jr., QB
The skinny: In a rematch of last year’s season opener, the Eagles will look to start their year with another victory over the Trojans. It wasn’t all easy for BEA, though, as it scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for the win.
The Eagles have plenty of experience back on the offensive side of the ball with Jones and their top running backs, Gage McClenahan and Blake Roberts, returning. Jones was the starter last year as a sophomore and one would expect him to excel even more this year. He threw for 1,211 yards with seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jones completed just over 58 percent of his passes.
The Troy Trojans, who play in the Northern Tier League’s Large School Division, did not respond to the CDT’s requests for information.