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D9 football in 2019: One less team, one more co-op

Another season and one less team in District 9 football.

Senior Austin Newcomb set the district’s single-season rushing record last year at Clarion-Limestone, which is now part of a three-team cooperative program with Clarion and North Clarion. (Photo by Kyle Yates www.facebook.com/YatesPhoto)

Gone is Clarion-Limestone, as the Lions merged forces with Clarion and its existing co-operative with North Clarion. So they’ll all fly under the Clarion Bobcats flag, as 23 teams now dot the gridiron landscape across D9.

All but one team opens the season Friday night in “Week Zero” with Cameron County having a bye week to start things out.

Five coaches debut on the sideline this year as well, including the Cameron County’s’ Ryan Neyman. The other four are Curwensville’s Jim Thompson, Redbank Valley’s Blane Gold, St. Marys’ Chris Dworek and Port Allegany’s Justin Bienkowski, who begins his second tenure with the Gators.

With the loss of C-L, the second-year District 9 Football League Small School South will drop to five teams.

Elk County Catholic looks to defend its title and is joined by Curwensville, Redbank Valley, Keystone and Union/A-C Valley.

The Small School North remains at six teams with defending champion Smethport, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred, Port Allegany, Sheffield and Smethport.

The District 9 League Large School Division remains at 10 teams with defending champion Ridgway, Clarion, Brookville, Bradford, Brockway, Karns City, Punxsutawney, Moniteau, Kane and St. Marys.

DuBois and Clearfield, the lone teams not in the D9 League setup, are back in the same spots they were last year with the Beavers in District 10 Region 7 with General McLane, Warren, Franklin, Oil City, Fort LeBoeuf and Meadville. Clearfield returns to defend its Mountain League title. Other teams in the league are Penns Valley, Central-Martinsburg, Huntingdon, Bellefonte, Tyrone, Bald Eagle Area, Philipsburg-Osceola and Bishop Carroll.

And once again, the Beavers and Bison open the season with a non-league matchup. It’s the 107th meeting between the teams at the Bison Sports Complex.

In the other games across the D9 League, the Large School gets going with five divisional games as Ridgway hosts St. Marys, Punxsutawney hosts Clarion, Brookville travels to Bradford, Kane visits Moniteau and Karns City goes to Brockway.

Two Small School South games have Redbank Valley at home against Keystone (on the exploreClarion/D9Sports.com Game of the Week) and Curwensville traveling to Elk County Catholic. The non-divisional game has Coudersport hosting Union/A-C Valley while in the Small School North, Port Allegany hosts Otto-Eldred and Smethport hosts Sheffield.

All games are Friday night with 7 p.m. kickoffs with the exception of Brockway’s starting time set for 7:30 p.m.

In addition to preview information below, check out the team video camp preview segments here.

Playoff format/calendar

It’s the second year of the PIAA cycle, meaning everything is in place as it was last year with the classification setup among the now 23 D9 teams. Because of how the PIAA counts numbers of students in co-operative setups, the new Clarion, C-L and North Clarion combination continues to keep that program in Class 2A. All of D9 is in Class 4A or lower:

CLASS 1A

Teams in field (10): Coudersport, Redbank Valley, Curwensville, Otto-Eldred, Smethport, Sheffield, Port Allegany, Union/ACV, Elk Co. Catholic, Cameron County.

Maximum amount of teams in playoff bracket: Eight. PIAA Ranking system will determine seeding.

Playoff schedule: Quarterfinals, Nov. 1-2; Semifinals, Nov. 8-9; Final, Nov. 15-16; PIAA Quarterfinals vs. District 5 or 10, Nov. 22-23; PIAA semifinal, Nov. 29-30; PIAA Championship, Dec. 5-7.

The Skinny: Coudersport avenged three regular-season losses on its way to a district title last year in what was believed to be a wide-open field. So while the Falcons are defending champions, it feels like a similar setup this year. Expect the Falcons to be strong out of the north, but so could be Otto-Eldred with Redbank Valley, Elk County and Curwensville figuring to battle for the South Division title.

CLASS 2A

Teams in field (8): Kane, Brookville, Moniteau, Brockway, Karns City, Ridgway, Clarion, Keystone.

Maximum amount of teams in playoff bracket: All eight. PIAA Ranking system will determine seeding.

Playoff schedule: Quarterfinals, Nov. 1-2; Semifinals, Nov. 8-9; Final, Nov. 15-16; PIAA Quarterfinals vs. District 5 or 10, Nov. 22-23; PIAA semifinal, Nov. 29-30; PIAA Championship, Dec. 5-7.

The Skinny: The new Clarion, C-L and North Clarion co-op appears to give the new-look Bobcats the edge as the favorites, perhaps heavy favorite, but don’t sell short defending champion Ridgway or even Brookville and Brockway. Karns City should be better than last year’s playoff-less season, so once again Class 2A should be an interesting race.

CLASS 3A (D9-5-8 Sub-Regional)

Teams in field (6): Punxsutawney and St. Marys from D9, Somerset and Bedford from D5, and Westinghouse and Perry from D8.

Maximum amount of teams in playoff bracket: Four. PIAA Ranking system will determine seeding.

Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Nov. 1-2; Final, Nov. 8-9; Regional matchup vs. District 6, Nov. 15-16; PIAA quarterfinals vs. District 10, Nov. 22-23; PIAA semifinals vs. WPIAL, Nov. 29-30; PIAA Championship, Dec. 5-7.

The Skinny: Bedford is the defending champion as just three teams made up last year’s bracket with runner-up Westinghouse and Somerset. Bedford’s 6-6 mark was the best record of the six teams in the sub-regional while D9 teams Punxsutawney (2-8) and St. Marys (0-10) stayed up for the playoffs. This is another up-for-grabs playoff run.

CLASS 4A (D9 and D6)

Teams in field (6): DuBois, Clearfield and Bradford from D9, and Bellefonte, Johnstown and Juniata from D6.

Maximum amount of teams in playoff bracket: Four. PIAA Ranking system will determine seeding.

Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Nov. 1-2; Final, Nov. 8-9; Regional matchup vs. District 8/10 winner, Nov. 15-16; PIAA quarterfinals vs. WPIAL, Nov. 22-23; PIAA semifinals vs. District 3, Nov. 29-30; PIAA Championship, Dec. 5-7.

The Skinny: Clearfield is the defending champion after beating Bellefonte, 49-21, in the final. Clearfield dumped No. 4 seed DuBois while Bellefonte routed Bradford in the semifinals. Call the Bison the favorites again and Bellefonte returns running back C.J. Funk, who ran for almost 1,500 yards and 19 TDs last year. So the bracket could have a similar feel again this postseason.

TEAM-BY-TEAM REPORTS

LARGE SCHOOL

Bradford

Head coach: Jeff Puglio (11th season, 43-58)

What’s the Skinny? The Owls are younger this year but do return their starting quarterback Caleb Nuzzo (299 yards, 5 TDs) and third-leading rusher Derek Sunafrank (374 yards, 1 TD). 

5-Year-Trend

2018: 6-5

2017: 7-3

2016: 4-6

2015: 1-9

2014: 2-8

Brockway

Head coach: Tom Weaver (2nd season, 10-3)

What’s the Skinny? Senior Jon Wood is the top returner for the Rovers after rushing for 647 yards and seven TDs and catching 33 passes for 489 yards and seven more TDs while on defense picking off four passes. Junior Conner Ford caught 22 passes for 250 yards.

5-Year Trend

2018: 10-3, Class 2A runner-up

2017: 6-4

2016: 8-2

2015: 10-3, Class 1A runner-up

2014: 7-6, Class 1A runner-up

Brookville

Head coach: Scott Park (5th season, 20-21; 9th overall, 9-34 at Sheffield)

What’s the Skinny? The Raiders are looking for a healthy year from junior quarterback Jack Krug, who threw for 930 yards and 14 touchdowns against zero interceptions despite playing just seven quarters of football last year and missing the rest with a broken collarbone injury. The Raiders look to replace two all-state receivers lost to graduation in Bryan Dworek and Cabe Park.

5-Year Trend

2018: 6-5

2017: 9-2

2016: 3-6

2015: 2-8

2014: 2-8

Clarion

Head coach: Larry Wiser (31st season, 223-99-1)

What’s the Skinny? The Bobcats were 6-5 last year, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by Moniteau. But this isn’t your same-old Bobcats as in years past. They’ve hooked up with Clarion-Limestone, making it a three-school co-operative and their 37-man roster consists of 17 from Clarion, 14 from C-L and six from North Clarion. C-L senior Austin Newcomb will be wearing orange and black this year after setting the D9 single-season rushing record with 2,627 yards. Senior Ben Smith was the Small School South Offensive Lineman of the year for C-L, so he’ll be a key returner for the team. On the Clarion side, junior Cutter Boggess (326 yards) is the leading returning rusher with junior Ethan Burford (19 catches, 289 yards, 6 TDs) the top returning receiver.

Kane

Head coach: Jim Hillman (2nd season, 2-8)

What’s the Skinny? It was a transitional year for sure last year as the Wolves lost more games, 8, than the previous four seasons combined (7). Top players back for the Wolves are senior Jake Alcorn, and juniors Zuke Smith and Reese Novosel, 

5-Year Trend

2018: 2-8

2017: 11-1, AML champion, Class 2A runner-up

2016: 13-1, AML champion, Class 2A champion, PIAA quarterfinals

2015: 12-1, AML champion, Class 1A champion

2014: 9-4

Karns City

Head coach: Joe Sherwin (2nd season, 4-6)

What’s the Skinny? The Gremlins missed the playoffs for the first since 2010 and lost four games by seven or less points, so expect them to be back in the mix to some extent as they return their third-year starting quarterback Anthony Kamenski (702 yards passing, 294 yards rushing). Seniors Kamenski, Mitchell Kelsea and Hunter Rowe, Riley Davis, and junior Nathan Waltman are returning two-way starters. 

5-Year Trend

2018: 4-6

2017: 7-5, D8-9 Class 3A champion

2016: 10-3, KSAC Large School champion, D8-9 Class 3A champion

2015: 12-1, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class 2A champion

2014: 11-2, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class 2A champion

Moniteau

Head coach: Bob Rottman (2nd season, 7-5)

What’s the Skinny? The Warriors lost a lot to graduation. The lone two-way returning starter back is senior Nick Martino, who rushed for 376 yards and six TDs and was the second-leading tackler on defense. Junior Trent Kelly intercepted four passes and had three sacks.

5-Year Trend

2018: 7-5

2017: 3-6

2016: 3-7

2015: 5-7

2014: 5-6

Punxsutawney

Head coach: Brad Wright (5th season, 11-29; 9th overall, 24-29 at Warren)

What’s the Skinny? The Chucks return seven two-way starters, but must replace most of their skill position players. Senior Max London caught 23 passes for 335 yards and five TDs. He and junior Brandon Ishman were the third- and fourth-leading tacklers on defense.

5-Year Trend

2018: 2-8

2017: 4-7, D8-9 Class 3A runner-up

2016: 2-7

2015: 3-7

2014: 6-5

Ridgway

Head coach: Mark Heindl (12th season, 63-57)

What’s the Skinny? The defending division and Class 2A champion Elkers have some key players back, including senior quarterback Paul Gresco (1,379 yards passing, 11 TDs) and their top two rushers Gabe Watts (747 yards, 10 TDs) and senior Jake Wickett (534 yards, 9 TDs), and second-leading receiver in senior Austin Green (22 catches, 289 yards, 5 TDs). Senior Robert Briggs and Damon Kelley were their No. 2 and 3 tacklers on defense.

5-Year Trend

2018: 11-2, Class 2A champion

2017: 9-4, Class 1A champion

2016: 10-3, Class 1A champion

2015: 4-6

2014: 9-2, AML South champion, AML Champion

St. Marys

Head coach: Chris Dworek (1st season at St. Marys; 21s season – 19 at Brookville and 1 at Keystone, 111-103)

What’s the Skinny? Dworek returns to the sideline as a head coach for the first time since 2014 when he finished a 19-year run at Brookville, where he served as an assistant coach the last few years with his now offensive coordinator Frank Varischetti. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the new staff revs up a program that has lost 21 straight games dating back to the end of the 2016 season.

5-Year Trend

2018: 0-10

2017: 0-9

2016: 6-4

2015: 7-4

2014: 8-4, D9 Class AA runner-up

Small School South

Curwensville

Head coach: Jim Thompson, 1st season

What’s the Skinny? Thompson takes over a program from the late longtime coach Andy Evanko. He has three two-way returning starters with junior receiver Jake McCracken, and linemen in senior Nick Holbert and junior Curtis Caldwell. McCracken caught 25 passes for 330 yards.

5-Year Trend

2018: 7-5, Class 1A 

2017: 9-3, Class 1A runner-up

2016: 6-5

2015: 8-4

2014: 6-5

Elk County Catholic

Head coach: Tony Gerg (7th season, 32-29)

What’s the Skinny? The Crusaders return two two-way starters in senior lineman Jared Emmert and senior TE/DE Leo Gregory. Senior running back Stephen Bobby, coming off a 1,300-yard season, and quarterback Mason McAllister (836 yards passing) lead the Crusaders’ offense.

5-Year Trend

2018: 7-3, Small South champs

2017: 2-7

2016: 8-4, Class 1A runner-up

2015: 7-3

2014: 8-3

Keystone

Head coach: Ryan Smith (2nd season, 3-7)

What’s the Skinny? The Panthers have their starting quarterback returning in senior Isaak Jones, who threw for 1,354 yards and 12 TDs. They also have their leading rusher in senior Nick Weaver (371 yards, 4 TDs) and senior receiver Jayden Blazosky (24 catches, 353 yards, 3 TDs).

5-Year Trend

2018: 3-7

2017: 3-6

2016: 0-10

2015: 5-5

2014: 3-7

Redbank Valley

Head coach: Blane Gold, 1st season

What’s the Skinny? Gold replaces longtime coach Ed Wasilowski and has a couple of returning all-conference players in senior WR/DE Ethan Hetrick and senior lineman Trenton Bowersox. They’ll have a new quarterback in sophomore Gunner Mangiantini with junior Kobe Bonanno and sophomore Ray Shreckengost carrying the ball out of the backfield.

5-Year Trend

2018: 7-4

2017: 6-4, KSAC Small School champion

2016: 5-5

2015: 8-3, KSAC Small School champion

2014: 7-3

Union/A-C Valley

Head coach: Brad Dittman (2nd season, 4-7; 5th overall 7-33 overall record)

What’s the Skinny? Senior quarterback Luke Bowser (792 yards passing, 7 TDs; 149 yards rushing, 7 TDs) is back with junior Tanner Merwin (18-302) and Caden Rainey (11-244) his top receivers back.

3-Year Trend (since co-op began)

2018: 4-7

2017: 1-9

2016: 2-7

Small School North

Cameron County

Head coach: Ryan Neyman, 1st season

What’s the Skinny? Neyman takes over a team that’s won three games over the past three seasons. The Red Raiders scored three touchdowns, one of them coming from senior running back Ebon Jackson who rushed for 240 yards to lead the team.

5-Year Trend

2018: 1-8

2017: 1-8

2016: 1-8

2015: 2-7

2014: 4-6, AML runner-up

Coudersport

Head coach: Tom Storey (3rd season, 14-10)

What’s the Skinny? It was quite a run for the Falcons in their title run last year as they avenged regular-season losses to Redbank Valley, Clarion-Limestone and Smethport. They’ll bring back their starting quarterback Hayden Keck (709 yards, 8 TDs), who is also the leading returning rusher with 565 yards and 13 TDs. Senior John Minor (11 catches, 367 yards, 3 TDs) is the top returning receiver. Other key players back are seniors Tom Wilson, Jacob Pitcher, Kolby Van Why and Dan Frame, and junior Cal Ayers and Brandon Goss.

5-Year Trend

2018: 8-5, D9 Class 1A champions

2017: 6-5

2016: 5-5

2015: 5-5

2014: 1-8

Otto-Eldred

Head coach: Troy Cook, 2nd season (5-6)

What’s the Skinny? Junior quarterback Cole Sebastian (1,957 yards passing, 21 TDs), who also led the team in rushing (395 yards, 5 TDs) returns to lead the Terrors. Most of his leading receivers are back as well with Cameron Magee (29-311, 6 TDs), Colton Gietler (19-215, 3 TDs) and Ethan Smith (19-235, 2 TDs). 

5-Year Trend

2018: 5-6

2017: 6-5, AML runner-up

2016: 5-6, AML runner-up

2015: 2-8

2014: 4-6

Port Allegany

Head coach: Justin Bienkowski (1st season, second stint, 4th overall, 9-20)

What’s the Skinny? After a two-year hiatus, Bienkowski is back on the sideline for the Gators, who have won four games over the past three seasons since reaching the AML Championship game in 2015. Key players back are Josh Rees, D.J. Michelitisch, Justin Young, Dalton Distrola, Derek Kallenborn and Trey Ayers.

5-Year Trend

2018: 2-7

2017: 2-7

2016: 0-9

2015: 6-5, AML runner-up

2014: 3-6

Sheffield

Head coach: Chris Korbar (2nd season, 0-9)

What’s the Skinny? The Wolverines scored six touchdowns all season, so they’ll try to stop a 19-game losing streak dating back to the end of the 2016 season. Walker Kyler and CAden Smead are the top returning players for Korbar’s squad.

5-Year Trend

2018: 0-9

2017: 0-10

2016: 3-7

2015: 0-10

2014: 2-8

Smethport

Head coach: Adam Jack (3rd season, 14-7)

What’s the Skinny? The Hubbers ran the table on their schedule until running into a hot Coudersport team in the Class 1A title game. This year, they’ll have retool as most of the skill position players were lost to graduation. Senior Bryent and junior Braedon Johnson are the leading skill players back. Braedon caught 18 passes for 251 yards and five TDs while Braedon is the leading returning rusher (162 yards, 3 TDs) who ranked third on the defense in tackles per game.

5-Year Trend

2018: 11-1, Small School North Division champion, D9 Class 1A runner-up

2017: 3-6

2016: 3-6

2015: 3-6

2014: 4-5

OTHER 

DuBois

Head coach: Justin Marshall (3rd season, 7-14)

What’s the Skinny? The Beavers have senior quarterback Alex Kovalyak (1,024 yards, 8 TDs) back as well as one of his top targets in tight end Chase Husted (41 catches, 601 yards, 3 TDs). Other key players back are seniors Nick Dilullo and Alex O’Harah.

5-Year Trend

2018: 4-7

2017: 3-7

2016: 6-5

2015: 5-6

2014: 8-3

Clearfield

Head coach: Tim Janocko (35th season, 275-109-3)

What’s the Skinny? The Bison gear up for another season with some key parts back from last year’s district championship squad. Senior Brett Zattoni (1,062 yards, 13 TDs) ran for 1,000 yards last year while junior receiver Jake Lezzer (46 catches, 1,036, 9 TDs) went into four-digit territory as well. Their new quarterback will be sophomore Oliver Billotte, who backed up graduated Isaac Rumery last year. Senior Ian Heitsenrether led the defense with 6 1/2 sacks.

5-Year Trend

2018: 12-1, Mountain League champions, District 6-9 Class 4A champions

2017: 6-4

2016: 10-2, D5-6-9 Class 4A runner-up, Mountain League champion

2015: 9-2, D9 Class 3A champion, Mountain League champion

2014: 9-3, D9 Class 3A champion, D6-8-9 Class 3A runner-up



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