Central (5-2) at Bellefonte (2-5)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: C – Dave Baker; B – Duffy Besch
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Last meeting: Central 34, 27, last season
Key players: C — Austin Cunningham, RB; B — Nick Leiter, WR
The skinny: Bellefonte head coach Duffy Besch, can still remember the homecoming bonfire and parade from his own playing days in the 1980s.
“The parade starts down at the elementary school, down on Allegheny Street, then it comes up through town, past the courthouse,” Besch said. “Then onto Bishop Street and then it finishes at the school and as long as the weather holds out we’ll do a bonfire and pep rally to celebrate homecoming and prepare for the game Friday night.”
Lately, there hasn’t been much to celebrate for the Red Raiders. They’ve been outscored 189-45 in their last four games — all loses. And with Central coming in after putting up 74 points against Philipsburg-Osceola, Bellefonte will need to play its best to keep it close.
“We have to play some ball control on offense,” Besch said. “I think when you look at Central you have a host of players that you have to be concerned about offensively. So if we can come out and control the ball and limit their big plays — then we’re gonna give ourselves a chance to be there at the end.”
Last week, Penns Valley racked up over 500 yards of offense against the Red Raiders, and three Rams rushed for 100 yards each. This week, Central running back Austin Cunningham is just as dangerous. He scored on a punt return, kick return and in the running game in their win over the Mounties.
“It boils down to just playing solid special teams,” Besch said. “We work very hard on our special teams. That’s the one aspect of our team that has been consistent and solid. I say that kinda knocking on wood.”
If the Red Raiders play well on special teams and get a few defensive stops, their hot passing attack might be able to keep them in the game.
Quarterback Jordan Fye and wide receiver Nick Leiter hooked up for what Besch thinks might have been a school record 13 catches last week. The pair at one point combined for seven straight.
“It’s a situation where we found a rhythm,” Besch said. “Jordan found a thythm in throwing the ball and Nick has stepped himself up throughout the course of the season.”
Besch said his team has proven that they can hang in there with almost any team but they haven’t put together a full 48 minutes of football. It’s something they’ve been struggling with all season.
In Week 4, the Red Raiders trailed Central Mountain just 17-14 at halftime but collapsed in the second half en route to a 50-14 loss. In Week 5 against Tyrone, Bellefonte took a 10-6 lead into intermission before another second half letdown saw them lose 48-10.
While the letdowns are disappointing, Besch said the lessons his team has learned could pay dividends later.
“I keep telling the guys I know this isn’t the season that we all looked for, but we’re also gaining a lot of valuable experience,” Besch said. “The younger kids are realizing that and the older kids are pushing them. I have a great group of seniors in so many ways and I feel for them because we can’t seem to get over that hump. They want to leave their mark on the program and leave it better than when they entered, and I think they’ve done that. It may not show in wins and losses, it may not show on the scoreboard, but I think they’re leaving a good mark.”
Huntingdon (0-7) at Philipsburg-Osceola (0-7)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: H – Mike Hudy; P-O – Jeff Vroman
Last meeting: Huntingdon 34-27, last season
Key players: H — Devon Claar, QB; P-O — Curtis Matsko, QB
The skinny: The season has gotten away from the winless Mounties. After an 8-2 record last season, head coach Jeff Vroman is at a loss.
“This year’s been just ... I couldn’t write a story like this,” Vroman said. “I’ve coached for 23 years I couldn’t even write a book (like this).”
It hasn’t been just one thing. Turnovers have strangled drives, while injuries have decimated depth charts.
“Seventeen kids in street clothes?” said a frustrated Vroman. “And they’re legitimate doctor’s excuses. Nobody’s being held out because mommy doesn’t want their fingernails to get broken. ... I mean, some of these injuries are from gym class or whatever. ... It’s coming from all angles.”
But Vroman won’t let his team give up on what’s left of the season.
“It’s like I tell them, ‘we got three games left guys. We gotta battle,’ Vroman said. “It’s Senior Night this week. The last night senior football players will ever step foot on that field. I told them, ‘The next time you’ll step out there is if you have a football player of your own.”
Last week, the Mounties were defenseless against a potent Central offense that cruised to a 74-20 victory. Central’s Austin Cunningham scored on a punt return, a kickoff return and in the running game.
“We just didn’t tackle anybody,” Vroman said. “There wasn’t anything else, we just didn’t tackle anybody. It didn’t matter what they did. ... It could have been five or six (of their) players ... when you don’t tackle anybody it doesn’t matter.”
It won’t get any easier this week.
The Bearcats will also be looking for their first win of the season.
Their quarterback, Devon Claar, rushed for 116 yards during their homecoming loss last week to Bald Eagle Area 36-26. He also passed for 92 yards.
Vroman described the Bearcats as a dangerous team that did a good job blocking BEA inside the tackles. But they also have their own problems against the run.
“I think there are some things that we can take advantage of,” Vroman said. “But it comes down to consistency with us. It hasn’t been that we can’t move the football, it’s us being consistent with it.”
Vroman was happy with the quarterback play of Curtis Matsko last week. He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Skyler Shuey in the second quarter in just his second week as a starter.
Vroman said he wants to ensure his offensive attack is balanced, so a decent passing attack is essential.
“We need to keep them off balance," Vroman said. "Using the wing-T ... making sure that we have all four ball carriers involved in the game ... keeping them wondering whose gonna carry it next."
It’s been a long season for the Mounties and Vroman hopes he can send his seniors out with a win.
“You want them to go out and have some success,” Vroman said. “(We) have (seniors) that played 7 through 12 and were part of a very successful program last year. But it would certainly be nice for them to have some success here in their last home football game.”
Penns Valley (4-2) at Bucktail (4-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: PV — Martin Tobias; B — Bruce Ransom
Key players: PV — Dom Hook, RB; B — Ryan Bratton, QB
The skinny: Shortly after last week’s 42-7 throttling of Bellefonte, Penns Valley head coach Martin Tobias was informed three of his rushers went over 100 yards.
“Really?” Tobias said. “I didn’t know that was necessarily the case. I knew that we had done a good job up front.”
The Rams got their third win in a row last week, but this week Tobias is a little nervous about what he doesn’t know.
“Bucktail’s a school we haven’t played in a number of years,” Tobias said. “It used to be a traditional game for us. ... There are a lot of unknowns that go along with this week because we don’t have a lot of information or a lot of tape on them. ... So we are really limited.”
What the Rams do know is that they are on a roll.
Last week, Dom Hook (146), Taylor Collison (145) and Cameron Tobias (113) each rushed for over 100 hundred yards as the Rams amassed over 500 yards of total offense.
After losing their first four games of the season, Tobias wants to ensure his team isn’t satisfied with their recent success.
“We can’t get complacent,” Tobias said. “We have to keep improving ... and I know that gets harder as the season goes along. Typically you see a plateau ... but so far we’ve been able to continue to improve.”
The challenge this week for the Rams is their lack of information on Bucktail.
Tobias knows they have some fast kids and good team speed in general along with some solid coaching.
“They seem to make some big plays and you can see that they're playing with a lot of confidence,” Tobias said, “and I assume that comes from the success they’ve been having this year.”
If they are going to get their fourth win in a row, the Rams will have to focus on what they do well and not what they don’t know about Bucktail.
“We’ve been really trying to strive to get even better at the things that we’re doing, so that we can continue that upward climb and hopefully that equates into success with a victory Friday night.”
State College (5-2) at Carlisle (0-7)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: SC — Al Wolski, ; C — Josh Oswalt
Last meeting: State College 38-28, last season at Carlisle
Key players: SC — Patrick Irwin, QB; C — Max Breschi, WR
The skinny: Sometimes games against winless teams can be dangerous.
When Al Wolski’s Little Lions face a winless Carlisle team this week, the coach says they have some past experiences to rely on.
“We’ve played 0-7 teams in the past ... and they came out (tough) and we had to win in the final minute ... and so we reminded them of that,” Wolski said.
Last week, State College used a steady dose of rushing to subdue Central Dauphin East 21-7. The Little Lions ran 41 times for 178 yards and one touchdown, but Wolski wasn’t satisfied.
“We would have liked to have done more,” Wolski said. “We figure if we’re gonna rush 41 times we’d like to be well over 200 yards. So, we did well in the first half, but couldn’t sustain a drive in the second half ... so we’ve gotta look at a way to sustain drives and that’s one of our goals this week.”
Defensively, the Little Lions will have to work shorthanded and continue to get quality performances from unexpected personnel.
Wolski has a lot of players out with injuries and to be able to win through that, he said he’d need more performances like that of Carter Hardy last week.
Hardy was part of a defense that came up big in the second half last week as Central Dauphin East was stymied at the four-yard line in a 14-7 game.
“This time of year it happens just about every week but somebody’s gotta step in. We had a kid get hurt in the opening kickoff and now all of a sudden (Hardy’s) the starting outside linebacker. ... He came in and did a nice job for a kid that wasn’t expected to play.
The Little Lion defense will have to step up again this week because Carlisle may be winless but its offense is still be dangerous and the Little Lions gave up over 200 yards rushing last week.
“They’re an 0-7 team that still put some points on the board and they’ve changed what they do offensively,” Wolski said. “What they did the first five games wasn’t really working and they changed to a more open passing, running attack from shotgun and they seem to be putting up some points.”
The Little Lions might be banged up, but injuries or not, Wolski said his team will have to be ready if they want to get the win and keep pace in the Mid-Penn.
“We realize this isn’t a week to take off, this is a week to work at getting better and show up,” Wolski said. “Whether they will or not ... we’ve prepared all week and talked to them about it. You don’t want to be the first win for an 0-7 team. We’re gonna try and prevent that and get to 6-2.”