A new six-classification format, one less team in District 9, Bradford is back and yes, the season begins with Week 0. That’s Zero.
District 9 football starts this Friday night with most of the district’s 24 teams playing games that count. Eight teams will be in what was the traditional second week of scrimmages, but PIAA changes this year led to the creation of Week 0 and the option of starting the regular season this week. Yes, Week Zero.
While the offseason was filled with plenty of maneuvering and negotiating on how to navigate the new six-classification setup from the PIAA, the conferences basically remained the same with the exception of Bradford.
The now-Class 4A Owls are members of the Allegheny Mountain League’s South Division, putting the AML back at two six-team divisions. Since the disbanding of the District 9 League after the 2007 season, the Owls have played their regular season in District 10 conferences while still trying to qualify for the District 9 playoffs.
Another change is one less team in the district with the co-operative agreement between Union and A-C Valley. Now, it’s the Union/A-C Valley Falcon-Knights with a roster at this point featuring 20 players from A-C Valley and 19 from Union in grades 10 through 12.
With that being said, Week 0 has nine games on the D9 schedule, including seven Friday night and two Saturday. The AML has Friday crossover games — Bradford at Smethport, Otto-Eldred at Brockway, Cameron County at Curwensville, Coudersport at Ridgway and Kane at Port Allegany — with Karns City hosting Armstrong out of the WPIAL. Saturday’s games have Elk County Catholic at Sheffield in an AML crossover game and Keystone traveling to JFK Catholic in Warren, Ohio.
The headline game of the week features one of the oldest rivarlies in the district when Clearfield travels to DuBois for the 104th meeting between the teams and their first matchup since 2009. At stake is the King of the Mountain trophy, which was established prior to their 2008 game. The Beavers lead the all-time series 69-29-5.
While you can check out team preview videos here, here’s more to look at for the upcoming season, by class and team-by-team:
While the PIAA expanded from four to six classifications, District 9’s teams landed in the bottom four classes. Here’s a look at the breakdown:
Total Teams: 13 (Union/A-C Valley, Sheffield, Ridgway, Redbank Valley, Curwensville, Keystone, Smethport, Clarion-Limestone, Coudersport, Otto-Eldred, Elk County Catholic, Port Allegany, Cameron County).
Maximum number of teams in playoffs: 8
Selection process: The AML will have four teams guaranteed playoff berths and the KSAC-Small School Division gets two automatic berths. Two teams will receive “at-large” berths. The teams and following seeding of the eight teams will be determined by the PIAA power rating system.
Playoff schedule: First Round, Nov. 4-5; Semifinals, Nov. 11-12; Championship, Nov. 18-19. Winner advances to state playoffs in quarterfinals against the District 5 vs. District 10 winner Nov. 25-26. The winner of that game advances to the state semifinals against the WPIAL champion, Dec. 2-3.
The Skinny: Kane won the Class A title last year, but the Wolves are now Class AA as is Brockway and Clarion. Any debate on how or how many teams from the KSAC or AML should qualify should end with the realistic point of taking eight of 13 teams to the postseason won’t leave any deserving team out. Here’s guessing that there won’t be eight teams with a .500 or better record anyway, leaving open the possibility that we won’t have a perfect eight-team bracket as teams are allowed to not go to the playoffs. Who’s the favorite? Pick from Curwensville, Elk County Catholic, Ridgway and Redbank Valley at this point.
Total Teams: 5 (Brookville, Moniteau, Kane, Brockway and Clarion)
Maximum number of teams in playoffs: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system.
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Nov. 4-5; Championship, Nov. 11-12. D9 champion meets District 5-8 champion in regional matchup, Nov. 18-19. That winner advances to the PIAA quarterfinals against the District 10 champion Nov. 25-26 with the WPIAL champion awaiting in the state semifinals, Dec. 2-3.
The Skinny: Defending champion Karns City has bumped up Class AAA while Brockway, Clarion and Kane moved up from Class A. At the very least, just one team misses the cut for the postseason. This could be an interesting bracket considering Kane and Brockway are coming off their classic district final last year won in the final minute by the Wolves. Never count out Clarion as well, but the likely final here is probably a rematch of last year’s Class A championship.
Class AAA (District 8-9)
Total Teams: It’s a sub-regional setup with Punxsutawney, St. Marys and Karns City from District 9 joined by Perry from the Pittsburgh City League.
Maximum number of teams in sub-regional playoff: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Nov. 4-5; Championship, Nov. 11-12. Winner advances to play the District 10 champion in a regional game Nov. 18-19 with that winner advancing to the PIAA quarterfinals against the District 5-6 champion Nov. 25-26. The WPIAL champion awaits in the state semifinals, Dec. 2-3.
The Skinny: It’s a new look in this class as well with last year’s Class AA champion Karns City moving up and last year’s regional runner-up Clearfield going up to Class 4A. Paint the Gremlins the favorite in this small field where all four teams could advance to the playoffs. Perry, obviously, is the wild card.
Class AAAA (District 5-6-9)
Total Teams: It’s a six-team field that includes DuBois, Clearfield and Bradford from District 9, Somerset from District 5, and Bellefonte and Johnstown from District 6.
Maximum number of teams in playoffs: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system.
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Nov. 4-5; Championship, Nov. 11-12. Winner plays the District 4 champion Nov. 18-19 in a regional matchup with the winner advancing to the PIAA quarterfinals against the District 1-11 champion, Nov. 25-26.
The Skinny: It’s been a long, long time since these three D9 teams have been in the same classification, so that alone makes the postseason interesting. The uneven scheduling will be interesting to watch how the playoff race goes as well. Bradford does not play a team bigger than Class AA. This week’s matchup between Clearfield and DuBois could set the tone on how things stack up in the region as well. Expect Somerset to be a factor in this region.
Allegheny Mountain League
Head coach: Scott Burnside, first season
What’s the Skinny? The Red Raiders have both of their quarterbacks back this year with senior Derek Rieder and junior Adam Streich, although Rieder will move to tight end this year. Senior Tristan Reed ran for 243 yards. Junior linebacker Jared Whitling is the leading returning tackler. The Red Raiders appear to have some size up front with at least three players over 270 pounds. A former Red Raiders assistant and the only new head coach in the district, Burnside will try to get the Red Raiders over .500 for the first time since 2010. Interestingly, the Red Raiders are the smallest school in the state to field a varsity team without a co-op.
2014: 4-6, AML runner-up
Head coach: Ben Cary (2nd year, 5-5)
What’s the Skinny? The Falcons got back to .500 for the first time since 2011, so Cary’s second year as head coach will try to get them to the top of the AML-North. Senior Aaron Wolfinger (352 yards, 3 TDs) is the leading returning rusher while junior Jared Green caught 27 passes for 406 yards and 5 TDs, although the Falcons will be looking for a new quarterback. Green and Wolfinger ranked 1-2 in tackles on defense with 85 and 73 stops respectively.
Head coach: Nick LaBella (2nd year, 2-8)
What’s the Skinny? Seniors Seth Drummond and Damen Palmer, and junior Sawyer Drummond lead the way for the Terrors. Palmer is the leading returning rusher (422 yards, 1 TD) while Sawyer Drummond threw for 457 yards and 3 TDs. Seth Drummond ran for 305 yards in just five games. Senior linebacker Grant West led the team with 79 tackles.
Head coach: Justin Bienkowski (3rd year, 9-11)
What’s the Skinny? The Gators have just four starters back from last year’s AML-North champion team. Just about all of the significant offensive statistics were compiled by graduated players. Senior Dan Jordan will be the quarterback while four linemen — seniors TyDel Green, Clark Barber and Jesse Rush, and junior Jake Kallenborn — are returning starters. Green is the leading returning tackler on defense with 52 stops.
2015: 6-5, AML-North champion, AML runner-up
2012: 13-1, D9 Class A champion, AML champion
2011: 12-1, D9 Class A champion, AML champion
Head coach: Dave Fitch (5th season, 16-22)
What’s the Skinny? The Wolverines return their starting quarterback Cale Albaugh, who threw for 704 yards and seven TDs.
Head coach: Jim Berlin (5th year, 16-22)
What’s the Skinny? The Hubbers have 11 returning starters with returning quarterback Kevin Long moving to receiver with sophomores Austin Speedy and Grant Ognen vying for the QB duties. Senior Devon Brown (177 yards, 1 TD) is the leading returning rusher. Speedy is the leading returning tackler with 57 stops as a freshman a year ago.
Head coach: Jeff Puglio (8th year, 26-44)
What’s the Skinny? The Owls are back in a District 9 conference and just might make a strong AML-South some depth. Junior John Eakin (1,167 yards, 8 TDs) is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and he led the defense with 79 tackles. Senior quarterback Kyle Kirk threw for 748 yards and 9 TDs. Senior Mitchell Vleminckx (252 yards rushing, 3 TDs) led the defense with three interceptions.
2012: 4-6, D9 Class AAA runner-up
Head coach: Frank Zocco (5th year, 33-17)
What’s the Skinny? Last year’s Class A runner-up returns plenty of talent in the skill positions, starting with senior quarterback Hunter Miller (1,177 yards passing, 12 TDs; 769 yards rushing, 5 TDs), senior running back Mark Latuska (1,024 yards rushing, 16 TDs) and senior receivers Jake Gorham (28 receptions, 322 yards) and Andrew Trunzo (25 catches, 305 yards, 2 TDs). Latuska (86 tackles), senior Quinn Lundberg (84 tackles) and senior Hunter Antonuccio (79 tackles) were the top three tacklers last year.
2015: 10-3, D9 Class A runner-up
2014: 7-6, D9 Class A runner-up
2011: 8-4, AML South champion, AML champion
Head coach: Andy Evanko (17th year, 128-51)
What’s the Skinny? Junior Nick Stewart is back after running for 1,872 yards and 24 touchdowns last year for the Golden Tide and with two years to go he’s sitting at 3,504 career yards and 42 touchdowns. What they do around him offensively is the question. Senior Eli Jacobs (101 tackles) led the defense in tackles while junior Stephen McClure made 63 stops.
Elk County Catholic
Head coach: Tony Gerg (4th year, 15-15)
What’s the Skinny? Senior quarterback Nate DaCanal returns after passing for 966 yards and 6 TDs while rushing for 230 yards and 5 TDs. Others back are seniors Jared Braun (214 yards rushing, 3 TDs), Dan Stauffer (19 receptions, 141 yards, 2 TDs), Eric Gerber (16 receptions, 318 yards, 3 TDs) and Brad Dippold (11 receptions, 191 yards, 2 TDs). Stauffer is the leading returning tackler with 55 tackles.
Head coach: Todd Silfies (5th year, 39-10)
What’s the Skinny? The Wolves have played for a district title in Silfies’ first four seasons and if No. 5 happens, it’ll be in a new classification as the Wolves play in Class AA this year. They’ll have plenty of yards to replace with the loss of Shane and Tyler Rolick to graduation. Junior Erik Delong ran for 888 yards and 7 TDs as the Wolves’ third running option while junior Reed Williams threw for 293 yards and 7 TDs. Junior Ray Maze (15 receptions, 167 yards, 3 TDs). Junior Ange Costanzo (81 tackles) and Delong (75) were the top two tacklers.
2015: 12-1, AML-South champion, AML champion, D9 Class A champion
2013: 11-1, D9 Class AA runner-up
2012: 7-4, D9 Class AA runner-up
Head coach: Mark Heindl (9th year, 33-48)
What’s the Skinny? Junior Johnny Mitchell (371 yards passing, 3 TDs) is back at quarterback along with three of the Elkers’ top four rushers in junior Neil MacDonald (282 yards, 5 TDs), senior James Winslow (251 yards, 1 TD) and junior Joey Elinski (203 yards). MacDonald (118) and senior Justin Kasmierski (106) were the second- and third-leading tacklers.
2014: 9-2, AML South champion, AML Champion
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference
Large School Division
Head coach: Scott Park (2nd year, 2-8)
What’s the Skinny? The Raiders return their starting quarterback Seth Ray (723 yards, 4 TDs) and top two rushers in juniors Brandon McGranor (324 yards, 2 TDs) and John Frank (298 yards, 2 TDs).
Head coach: Ed Conto (17th year at Karns City, 150-44; 29th overall, 186-118-3).
What’s the Skinny? The now-Class AAA Gremlins will try to win a fifth straight district title and certainly have a good shot to do that with some key players back. One of the team’s quarterbacks last year, senior Cullen Williams (500 yards, 7 TDs), will move to running back while senior Jacob King (634 yards, 8 TDs passing) takes over as the starting QB. Also back is the team’s second-leading rusher in senior Chandler Turner (853 yards, 13 TDs). Senior Jimmy Thompson is the leading returning tackler with 65 stops.
2015: 12-1, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
2014: 11-2, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
2013: 12-2, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
2012: 10-4, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
2011: 8-4, D9 Class AA runner-up
Head coach: Wade Vogan (3rd year, 10-13)
What’s the Skinny? Senior receiver Dalton Anderson (31 receptions, 519 yards, 3 TDs) is the most significant returning skill position player back for a team that graduated all but 23 carries and 31 receptions. Defensively, sophomore James Parenti (54 tackles) and Anderson (40) are the leading returning tacklers.
2011: 12-1, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
Head coach: Brad Wright (2nd year at Punxsutawney, 3-7; 24-29 in 5 seasons at Warren)
What’s the Skinny? Seniors Joey Dipietro (217 yards, 1 TD rushing) and senior receivers Devin Kelly (25 receptions, 281 yards, 1 TD) and Jacob Weaver (21 receptions, 297 yards, 2 TDs) are the top returning skill position players back for the Chucks. Senior lineman Blake Bizousky and Dipietro (team-high 92 tackles) lead the defense.
Head coach: Tony Defilippi (8th at St. Marys, 3nd in 2nd stint, 27-46; 12th overall, 59-60)
What’s the Skinny? The Flying Dutchmen have their starting quarterback returning in senior Pat Schlimm (960 yards, 9 TDs) and top two rushers back in senior Christian Steffan (821 yards, 6 TDs) and Matt Marconi (644 yards, 8 TDs) to lead the offense. Senior D.J. Mertz had seven sacks to help lead the Dutch defense.
2014: 8-4, D9 Class AA runner-up
2011: 5-5, D9 Class AAA runner-up
Small School Division
Head coach: Larry Wiser (28th year overall, 196-91-1)
What’s the Skinny? Since the KSAC split into two divisions, the Bobcats had won every Small School title, until last year. So Wiser’s crew will try to get back on top of the pile and contend in Class AA this year and get him at least four wins to get to the 200-win milestone. The team’s leading rusher in junior Colton Rapp (670 yards, 8 TDs) is back while junior Spencer Miller takes over the quarterbacking chores. Senior Kyle Patterson (108 tackles) and Rapp (101) were the second- and third-leading tacklers on defense.
2014: 10-2, KSAC Small School champion
2013: 14-1, KSAC Small School champion, D9 Class A champion
2012: 12-1, KSAC Small School champion, D9 Class A runner-up
2011: 8-5, KSAC Small School champion, D9 Class A runner-up
Head coach: Dave Eggleton (4th year, 7-21)
What’s the Skinny? The Lions nearly made the playoffs and won their most games in a season since 2005, so Eggleton’s team will certainly look to build off that. They’ll be working with a new quarterback this year in junior Brendan Makray. Senior Mike Macefe led the Lions in rushing (385 yards, 4 TDs) and tackles (108). Senior Sam Leadbetter (19 catches, 318 yards) is the leading returning receiver, who led the team with five interceptions.
Head coach: Dan Reed (11th year overall, 3rd in second stint, 46-49)
What’s the Skinny? The Panthers lost most of their production to graduation. Austin Ion is back with some quarterback experience along with senior Tanner Wilson (22 catches, 255 yards) the leading returning receiver and tackler for the defense with 70 stops.
Head coach: Ed Wasilowski (17th season overall, 45th in second stint, 90-64)
What’s the Skinny? The defending KSAC-Small champions will head into a second straight season with a new starting quarterback in sophomore Keaton Kahle. Seniors Colten and Curtis Mohney (363 yards and 258 yards) are the leading returning rushers while junior Brock Barrett (11 catches, 125 yards) is the top returning receiver. Seniors Pat Crawford and Scott Toth, and junior Logan Minich anchor the offensive line. Crawford is the top returning tackler with 42 stops.
2015: 8-3, KSAC Small School champion
2013: 8-4, D9 Class A runner-up
Head coach: Dave Louder (7th year, 35-30 with Union)
What’s the Skinny? The new Falcon-Knights will try to make a new-found quantity and turn it into quality as half the team from A-C Valley has never experienced a win in a varsity game. The Knights’ quarterback in junior Lucas Bowser (556 yards, 6 TDs passing; 7 TDs rushing) will run the offense with senior Lane Chalmers (357 yards, 2 TDs) of A-C Valley looking to be the leading ballcarrier out of the backfield. Junior Jeffrey Ginn was A-C Valley’s quarterback last year and he looks to be going at fullback. Defensively, senior Gavin Hawk (70 tackles) is the leading returning tackler from Union while Chalmers (80) is the leader back from the Falcons.
5-year-trend (Union and then ACV)
Head coach: Frank Varischetti (6th season, 35-19; 0th overall, 65-35)
What’s the Skinny? The high-scoring Beavers put up 39 points per game, but gave up almost 46 a contest not to mention a historic 107 in a 107-90 loss to Meadville last year. Certainly, the Beavers look to improve defensively while continuing their high-paced offensive attack. Junior Matt Miller (3,620 yards, 32 TDs), last year’s The Rehab Centre Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year is back at quarterback, but an offseason knee injury will have him out for at least this week’s opener against Clearfield. Senior Braden Paulinelli (869 yards, 13 TDs), the team’s leading rusher, will open at QB in the meantime. Their top two returning receivers are senior Colin Read (42 receptions, 856 yards, 8 TDs) and junior Kyle Hopson (37 receptions, 587 yards).
Head coach: Tim Janocko (32nd season, 247-101-3)
What’s the Skinny? The Bison, now in 4A, have enough ammunition back to make a run in the postseason. They’ll be trying to get their longtime coach to the 250-win milestone as well as extend their streak of nine wins or more in a season to seven years. Senior Seth Caldwell (1,345 yards, 13 TDs) heads into his final season with 3,140 career rushing yards. Senior Ryan Lezzer (618 yards, 10 TDs rushing; 33 receptions, 555 yards, 5 TDs) gives first-year starting quarterback in sophomore Isaac Rumery at least two weapons to use. Senior linebacker Matt Collins (167 tackles), last year’s The Rehab Center Defensive Player of the Year, anchors the defense along with Lezzer (5 interceptions), Steven Sawyer (47 tackles), Caldwell (43) and junior Micah Heichel (42).
2015: 9-2, D9 Class AAA champion, Mountain League champion
2014: 9-3, D9 Class AAA champion, D6-8-9 Class AAA runner-up
2013: 13-1, D9 Class AAA champion, D6-8-9 Class AAA champion, Mountain League champion
2012: 11-1, D9 Class AAA champion, D5-6-8-9 Class AAA runner-up, Mountain League champion
2011: 11-2, D9 Class AAA champion, Mountain League-Allegheny Division champion