RIMERSBURG, Pa. (EYT/D9) — For the Union/A-C Valley football team, it’s always a numbers game.
With razor-thin roster sizes, despite a co-op, the top priority every season is the same.
“Stay healthy,” said Falcon Knights’ coach Brad Dittman. “That’s our MO every year. We’ve got some talented guys. We’ve got some smart football players. We’ve got guys who have all the tools. But the key year in and year out is keep these guys healthy.”
(Above Photo, Union/A-C Valley senior linebacker/offensive guard Carter Terwint will be a key contributor for the Falcon Knights this season).
Union/A-C Valley will enter the 2021 campaign with 25 on its roster. But for Dittman, it isn’t always about the raw number, but the quality within those ranks.
He sees a lot of quality.
The Falcon Knights have been consistently building since the co-op between Union and A-C Valley began in 2016. The team went 4-7 in 2018, 7-4 in 2019 and 5-2 last year with those two defeats coming by a combined five points to Redbank Valley and Smethport — two teams that played in the District 9 Class A title game.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” Dittman said. “We want to build off of last year. We were a couple of plays away — five points away — from a really good season and maybe heading to the D9 championship. We want to figure out what we need to do to get over that hump.”
One of the keys has been the relatively seamless integration of the players between the two schools. This year’s team is almost a dead split — 13 from Union and 12 from A-C Valley.
“We’re one family,” Dittman said. “We don’t talk Union and A-C other than logistics.”
“You go from being rivals to having a friendship,” said senior Caden Rainey. “We have each other’s backs on and off the field. We all have one goal in mind: win football games.”
To do that this year, Union/A-C Valley will have to rely on a few new faces.
One of them is Bailey Crissman at quarterback.
Crissman, a 6-foot-5, 208-pound junior, was the backup behind Tanner Merwin last season and gives the Knight Falcons’ a different look.
“(Crissman has been) looking pretty good coming in this summer,” Dittman said. “Caden has been running some quarterback, too, believe it or not. So, I think we’re going to be OK.
“The quick passing game, we weren’t really good at it last year,” Dittman added. “If Bailey ends up being that quarterback, our quick passing game takes off. We’re able to get the ball out and get it to guys like Rainey and (Skyler) Roxbury, to the players who can make plays. We need to work hard on doing that.”
Union/A-C Valley does have a wealth of weapons, starting with Rainey, who is dangerous both as a runner and a receiver.
Roxbury, a 6-foot junior, has speed to burn. Junior Ryan Cooper and Mike Card at fullback also figure to be offensive threats for the Falcon Knights.
The offensive line has three returning starters anchoring it in senior Carter Terwint, senior Colton Murray and junior Landon Chalmers.
“We have a couple holes to fill,” Dittman said. “We have kids who played last year: Peter Hardy, Braxton Marsh, Andrew Verostek, who played a ton last year. We’re trying to come up with that best five right now. The good part about it is we have eight, nine, 10 guys who can play. We’re going to play all nine or 10.”
On defense, it all starts with Terwint at middle linebacker.
Terwint was a force for Union/A-C Valley last year.
“He’s a heck of an anchor, I know that,” Dittman said, smiling. “We’re fortunate to have him. He worked really hard this summer. He looks even better than last year at this point right now. A kid like him, he’s a leader. He leads by example. He has all the tools. I’m looking forward to seeing him play some football.”
The defensive line of Murray, Chalmers and Card gives Terwint the freedom to make plays. Union/A-C Valley also has some depth on the defensive front.
“Murray, Chalmers, Card — those guys, I think, you’re going to hear a little bit about this year,” Dittman said. “Again, on the defensive line, we have nine or 10 guys who can play football.”
It’s the flip-side of a small roster. Everyone plays. Everyone gets experience.
“If that’s the plus in it, yeah, that’s the plus in it,” Dittman said with a wry smile. “There were times last year when we suited 18 kids, 17 kids, and that’s been that way for the past few years. We may not have a lot of kids, but we’ve been fortunate enough to have the right kids. We can play them all. We have some athletes. We have some tough kids. We have gentlemen. They make for a great program.”
COACH: Brad Dittman
LAST YEAR: 5-2, lost in the first round of the District 9 Class A playoffs to Sheffield, 12-10
STRENGTHS: The Falcon Knights are blessed with solid players at the skill positions and experience coming back on the interior of the offensive line. … Senior MLB Carter Terwint is a force in the middle of the defense. … Senior Caden Rainey is a threat wherever he lines up on offense and is a ball-hawk on defense.
WEAKNESSES: As is always the case with Union/A-C Valley, numbers may be an issue. The Falcon Knights have 25 players on the roster and must stay healthy to compete.
OUTLOOK: Coaches picked Union/A-C Valley to finish second in the District 9 Small School South Division behind Redbank Valley in the coaches poll. There’s reason to believe that if the Falcon Knights stay healthy they will be in the playoff mix at season’s end.