It’s the best time of year for high school football fans.
Four of Centre County’s teams kick off their seasons Friday night, while Bald Eagle Area gets its season underway Saturday.
The Rams and Red Raiders will be the only county teams at home in Week 1. Penns Valley hosts Fairfield, and Bellefonte will face off against Jersey Shore.
The Mounties and Little Lions don’t have too far to travel. P-O takes on cross-town rival West Branch, while State College opens the year with a replay of last season’s District 6 Class 6A title game against Mifflin County.
The Eagles will have nearly a two-hour bus ride northeast to their final destination of Troy High School in Bradford County on Saturday.
Here’s a look at all the matchups:
Fairfield (0-0) at Penns Valley (0-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: F -- Jason Thurston; PV -- Martin Tobias (24th season)
Last meeting: Penns Valley 49-6, last season
Players to watch: F -- Garrett Stadler, RB; PV -- Aaron Tobias, QB
The skinny: The Rams are coming off one of their better seasons in program history, where they finished one round shy of the District 6 Class 2A title game. They have QB Aaron Tobias to thank. Tobias returns again this season after throwing for nearly 3,100 yards. He also accounted for 34 passing and five rushing touchdowns.
Tobias only threw for 165 yards against the Knights in last season’s matchup, but had three scores. He could have another tough time yardage-wise as Fairfield returns a very experienced secondary.
Fairfield RB Garrett Stadler will be the focal point for Penns Valley’s defense. He returns for his senior season to spearhead the Knights’ hybrid Wing-T offense and is projected to carry most of the load. Last season, Stadler finished with 274 yards on the ground with 210 yards receiving and five touchdowns. The downside for Fairfield? It graduated most of its experienced players and will have to travel 2.5 hours for the game.
Jersey Shore (0-0) at Bellefonte (0-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: JS -- Tom Gravish; B -- Shanon Manning (seventh season)
Last meeting: Bellefonte 17-14, last season
Players to watch: JS -- Tanner Lorson, QB; B -- CJ Funk, RB
The skinny: These teams have been the openers for each other the past six seasons. As of late, the games have been nail-biters.
Last season, the Red Raiders used a field goal at the buzzer to kick things off on the right foot in a year that saw them fall in the District 6 Class 4A title game. The Bulldogs played the game with a heavy heart as they were without Caleb Leone, who suffered a serious injury during offseason practice.
Bellefonte RB CJ Funk was instrumental in last season’s victory and will likely play a key role again this year. The senior had 110 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game. He finished the year 25 yards shy of 1,500 and had 20 total touchdowns — 19 on the ground.
Tanner Lorson was the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs and tied the game up with just less eight minutes to go in last year’s game. He finished the season with 1,694 yards passing with 14 touchdowns. He added another 308 yards on the ground with three rushing touchdowns. Lorson eclipsed the 200-yard passing mark four times last season, too.
Philipsburg-Osceola (0-0) at West Branch (0-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: P-O -- Brian McGonigal (second season); WB -- Kevin Hubler
Last meeting: West Branch 32-14, last season
Players to watch: P-O -- Jeremy Whitehead, DL; WB -- Ayden Gutierrez, QB
The skinny: The Mounties are coming off a 1-9 season, which means first-year coach Brian McGonigal has a lot of work to do. Yes, P-O’s program has been on a downward trend, but this year could be different.
The saying goes, “Winning cures everything.” Well, the Mounties could get that first win early this year in a matchup of super-young teams.
Jeremy Whitehead, who is only a sophomore, can be key for this P-O squad on the defensive line. Last year, he had 2.5 sacks as a freshman. Whitehead has the potential to wreck Warriors’ offense, which has just two starters returning on their offensive line.
West Branch will rely on the arm of Ayden Gutierrez, who was the starter last season. He finished 78-of-199 passing for 1,192 yards and nine touchdowns. He also added another six scores on the ground. But because this is a young squad, that line may not give Gutierrez enough time to do anything through the air.
State College (0-0) at Mifflin County (0-0)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: SC -- Matt Lintal (sixth season); MC -- Scot Sechler
Last meeting: State College 42-7, last season, District 6 Class 6A Championship
Players to watch: SC -- Dresyn Green & Isaiah Edwards, RB; MC -- Gage Schaeffer, RB
The skinny: This game could very well be decided by which team can run the ball better. And, if that’s the case, the Little Lions would be favored as they have a two-headed monster in Dresyn Green and Isaiah Edwards.
Yes, State College relied on the arm of Tommy Friberg and the speed of receivers Cohen Russell and Keaton Ellis last year. However, this season may be a different story with Green and Edwards running the team to victories.
Green and Edwards complement each other in a thunder and lightning-type aspect. Edwards is a bigger back listed at 6-foot and 210 pounds. Green is a smaller at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.
The duo combined for just more than 1,800 yards rushing last year with Green leading the way with 1,012. Edwards led the scoring mark with 15 rushing touchdowns as the pair has 28 total on the ground.
Schaeffer has led the Huskies in rushing the past two seasons. He’s done nothing but double his production. Last year, he came up 64 yards shy of 1,000 on 161 carries. He had 10 total touchdowns, with nine of them coming on the ground. Look for the junior to carry much of the load this season, as the next-closest returning ball-carrier had just 168 yards on 36 carries.
Bald Eagle Area (0-0) at Troy (0-0)
Time: 5 p.m.
Coaches: BEA -- Jesse Nagle (fifth season); T -- Jim Smith
Last meeting: Bald Eagle Area 50-6, last season
Players to watch: BEA -- Gage McClenahan, RB; T -- Jack Imbt, DT
The skinny: The Eagles are coming off one of their best seasons, which saw them go 11-3 and claim their first District 6 crown in 30 years. They also came up one win shy of reaching the PIAA semifinals in Class 3A.
One thing that hurt BEA last year was injuries. Gage McClenahan was one of those players to suffer from the injury bug.
In the seventh game of the season, McClenahan went down with a knee injury, which cost him the rest of the season and his wrestling year, too. However, the senior is back and poised to lead his team to another District 6 crown.
Before suffering the injury, McClenahan amassed nearly 800 yards of total offense — including 411 receiving yards. He was also an impact player for the Eagles’ secondary as a lockdown corner.
Jack Imbt will aim to be a run stuffer as a defensive tackle for the Trojans, which are returning a lot of their players from last year’s squad. He has been on the radar of FCS programs like Bucknell and St. Francis.