By Rich Rhoades
With 13 games scheduled for Friday night and one Saturday, football season begins for the 25 teams in District 9.
As has been the custom lately, the Allegheny Mountain League begins with a crossover round of scheduling and the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference has five divisional games.
Perhaps the most interesting game of the opening week is a non-conference game at the Bison Sports Complex where Clearfield takes on Fort Hill, the two-time defending Class A state champions from Maryland.
The Bison were just named the top team in the first Rankings.
In the AML, perhaps the favorites or strong contender in their respective division race each other in two matchups as Smethport travels to Brockway and Cameron County visits Kane. Also Friday, Curwensville hosts Port Allegany and Sheffield visits Ridgway. Saturday, Elk County Catholic hosts Coudersport.
In the KSAC-Large School Division, Brookville hosts Karns City while Punxsutawney hosts Moniteau. In the KSAC-Small, Clarion visits A-C Valley, Clarion-Limestone travels to Redbank Valley and Union hosts Keystone.
Three other non-conference games have DuBois hosting Mifflin County, St. Marys hosting Bradford and Otto-Eldred trekking to Sharpsville.
Four coaches make their debut with D9 teams with Scott Park in Brookville, Brad Wright in Punxsutawney, Ben Cary in Coudersport and Nick LaBella in Otto-Eldred.
Total Teams: 17 (Kane, Brockway, Ridgway, Curwensville, Clarion, Port Allegany, Keystone, Otto-Eldred, Clarion-Limestone, Redbank Valley, Coudersport, Sheffield, Smethport, A-C Valley, Elk Co. Catholic, Union, 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.
Playoff schedule: First Round, Week 11 (Nov. 13-14); Semifinals, Week 12 (Nov. 20-21); Championship, Week 13 (Nov. 27-28).
Playoff teams last year: Ridgway, Clarion, Elk Co. Catholic, Redbank Valley, Brockway, Kane, Curwensville and Union.
The Skinny: Kane made a run from the No. 6 seed to win the district title last year. Where the champion comes from this year will be interesting. Runner-up Brockway appears to have enough back to be called the preseason favorite. Expect Clarion, even though it’s a young roster, to make noise while Curwensville will be a factor as most years. Will the same eight teams go to the playoffs this year? That depends on whether the AML-North improves enough to beat someone outside the division and whether Keystone improves enough to press Union and Redbank Valley in the KSAC-South.
Total Teams: 4 (St. Marys, Brookville, Karns City and Moniteau)
Maximum number of teams in playoffs: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system.
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Week 11 (Nov. 13-14); Championship, Week 12 (Nov. 20-21). D9 champion meets District 5-8 champion in Week 13 (Nov. 27-28).
Playoff teams last year: Karns City, St. Marys and Moniteau
The Skinny: The Gremlins head into the season once again as heavy favorites. Ed Conto’s team beat St. Marys, 49-12, last year in the district final. A Gremlins-Dutch finals rematch could happen again with St. Marys having enough returning talent coming game. Have the Dutch closed that 37-point gap entirely to end a Gremlins title run? Not likely.
Total Teams: Three in D9 (Clearfield, Punxsutawney and Bradford) with two playing in district final in Week 10 (Nov. 6-7). Then in the more important District 5-6-8-9 sub-regional playoff, four teams qualify. District 5 team: Somerset. District 6 teams: Bellefonte, Johnstown. District 8 team: University Prep.
Maximum number of teams in sub-regional playoff: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Week 11 (Nov. 13-14); Championship, Week 12 (Nov. 20-21). Winner advances to play the District 4 champion Week 13 (Nov. 27-28).
Playoff teams last year: Somerset, Clearfield, Johnstown and Punxsutawney.
The Skinny: Somerset blanked the Bison, 27-0, in the sub-regional championship game. The Golden Eagles return their 1,500-yard quarterback Dylan Barnes and 1,500 rusher in Jake Heiple, so they have to be considered the team to beat. But, never underestimate the Bison.
Class AAAA (District 6-9)
Total Teams: Three from District 6 (State College, Mifflin County and Central Mountain) and DuBois from District 9.
Maximum number of teams in playoffs: 4
Selection process: PIAA ranking system.
Playoff schedule: Semifinals, Week 11 (Nov. 13-14); Championship, Week 12 (Nov. 20-21). Winner plays District 8-10 winner in Week 13 (Nov. 27-28).
Playoff teams last year: DuBois and State College.
The Skinny: Only two teams went to the playoffs last year. Mifflin County and Central Mountain are both coming off 1-9 seasons and with the Beavers re-tooling, it’s hard to consider anyone other than State College the heavy favorites to win again. The Little Lions have senior Jordan Misher back after he ran for 1,539 yards last year.
Allegheny Mountain League
Head coach: Mike Kunes (3rd year, 7-13)
What’s the Skinny? The defending North Division champions have 16 letterwinners back, including senior tailback Caleb Burnside, who rushed for 758 yards. Otherwise, the offense doesn’t return a lot of production from last year. Derek Rieder, a 6-foot-plus 240-pound junior, moves from tackle to take over at quarterback. Senior linebacker Austin Doud is the leading returning tackler.
2014: 4-6, AML runner-up
2010: 8-3, AML runner-up
Head coach: Ben Cary (1st year)
What’s the Skinny? Cary, a 2003 Coudersport graduate and former Falcons standout QB who led his team to the 2001 Class A title, takes over after coaching three years under departed Chris Fink. The Falcons have 14 returning starters combined on both sides of the ball. Senior Darren Keglovits returns to start at QB after missing all of last season with an injury. Senior Anderson Nicka (206 yards) and junior Brock Wilson (279 yards) are the top returning rushers while senior Nevada Waterman is the top receiver back.
Head coach: Nick LaBella (1st year)
What’s the Skinny? Coach LaBella, a 1998 Otto-Eldred graduate, takes over a team led by junior Seth Drummond, who ran for 1,057 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 50 tackles as a linebacker ranked second on the team. Junior Damen Palmer or sophomore Sawyer Drummond will be the quarterback.
Head coach: Justin Bienkowski (2nd year, 3-6)
What’s the Skinny? The Gators have 15 letterman, 10 starters back as quarterback Tre Garzel returns after throwing for 741 yards and running for 427 yards. While the Gators won’t have Jordan Seefeldt (342 yards rushing, top returning receiver with 17 catches, 133 yards), they’ll get back RB/S Mac Tanner, who missed last season with an injury. Senior lineman Ethan Budd is the leading returning tackler.
2012: 13-1, D9 Class A champion, AML champion
2011: 12-1, D9 Class A champion, AML champion
2010: 7-5, D9 Class A runner-up
Head coach: Dave Fitch (4th season, 9-22)
What’s the Skinny? The Wolverines lost most of their skill players to graduation. Senior Logan Connolly (16 catches, 239 yards), the leading returning receiver, moves to tailback. Sophomore Cale Albaugh will be the quarterback. Juniors Mason Albaugh and Cameron Retterer and Austin Gregorson anchor the line while senior Tanner Barr leads the defense at linebacker.
Head coach: Jim Berlin (4th year, 13-16)
What’s the Skinny? The Hubbers have been North Division runners-up for three straight seasons. Berlin will look to 16 returning lettermen and 10 starters to try to stop that trend and notch a winning season for the first time since 2004. Seniors Adam Shunk and James Duffy are three-year starters. Shunk ran for 805 yards and 10 touchdowns while Duffy gained 206 yards on the ground and led the defense in tackles at linebacker. Dylan Dinch, Brayden Hower, Brendan Dickinson and Nick Dibble are returning starters on the line. Junior Kevin Long will be the new quarterback.
Head coach: Frank Zocco (4th year, 23-14)
What’s the Skinny? The Rovers got hot at the right time and reached the Class A Championship game before falling to Kane. Senior Anthony Isabella ran for 466 yards and five touchdowns while catching 42 passes for 455 yards and five more TDs. Junior Mark Latuska ran for 463 yards and four scores. Junior Hunter Miller ended the season as the starting quarterback last year, passing for 491 yards. Three offensive linemen are back, including senior Joey Varischetti and Anthony Zocco, and junior Quade Lundberg. On defense, Lundberg, Latuska and senior Cody McClintick anchor the unit at linebacker. Also back is junior kicker Jarrett Esposito, who hit five field goals and made 42 of 43 point-after kicks.
2014: 7-6, D9 Class A runner-up
2011: 8-4, AML South champion, AML champion
2010: 12-1, D9 Class AA champion, AML champion
Head coach: Andy Evanko (16th year, 120-47)
What’s the Skinny? The Golden Tide return their top two rushers, which is significant considering the team’s traditional run-first approach. Sophomore Nick Stewart ran for 1,632 yards and 18 touchdowns as a freshman while senior Hunter Johnson gained 722 yards and ran for 12 TDs. Senior quarterback Jake Terry threw for 624 yards and six TDs. Two offensive linemen are back in seniors Seth Sloppy and Ian Barrett. Senior linebacker Ben Junod is the top returning tackler.
2010: 11-2, Class A champion
Elk County Catholic
Head coach: Tony Gerg (3rd year, 8-12)
What’s the Skinny? The Crusaders lost many of their key playmakers from last year and will start the season with a 22-man roster. Fullback Noah Werner is the top returning rusher with 536 yards. Junior Nate DaCanal will take over at quarterback while junior Brad Dippold will see action out of the backfield. Senior Kyle Huff (10 catches, 166 yards) is the top returning receiver. Junior lineman Joe Kucenski shared the team lead in tackles on defense.
Head coach: Todd Silfies (4th year, 27-9)
What’s the Skinny? The defending Class A champions will be led by twin senior brothers Shane and Tyler Rolick. Shane caught 37 passes for 353 yards while Tyler grabbed 24 balls for 439 yards. Both are back in the defensive secondary while Shane or sophomore Reed Williams will get the call at quarterback. Senior Jake Shrubb and junior Keaton Rounsville are back on the offensive line while sophomore Erik Delong, the top returning tackler on defense, moves from end to linebacker this year. Senior Tyler Weidenhoff and sophomore Ange Costanzo are also key returning players.
2013: 11-1, D9 Class AA runner-up
2012: 7-4, D9 Class AA runner-up
Head coach: Mark Heindl (8th year, 29-42)
What’s the Skinny? The defending AML-South champions will have to replace almost all of their offensive production. Junior Jacob Myers or sophomore Johnny Mitchell will be the quarterback. Senior linebacker Logan Brunner is the leading returning tackler on defense.
2014: 9-2, AML South champion, AML Champion
Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference
Large School Division
Head coach: Scott Park (1st year at Brookville; 9-38 in 5 years at Sheffield)
What’s the Skinny? Park, a 1987 Brookville graduate, returns to coach his alma mater at the varsity level after serving in the junior high ranks the past few seasons. Junior Seth Ray (401 yards, 4 TDs) will be the quarterback while sophomore John Frank (381 yards, 2 TDs) is the leading returning rusher.
2010: 9-3, D9 Class AA runner-up
Head coach: Ed Conto (16th year at Karns City, 138-43; 26th overall, 161-107-3).
What’s the Skinny? One of the dominant programs in the district guns for its fourth straight division and district title. Senior Colin Dunmyre ran for over 1,000 yards last year with a bunch of backs getting carries. Juniors Cullen Williams and Jacob King were competing for the starting quarterback job and three-year starter Reese Barger leads the line. Lineman Brad Ealy, linebacker Maverick Kelsea and Dunmyre at safety anchor the defense.
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 (2nd year, 5-6)
What’s the Skinny? Last year’s run-heavy Warriors might not be quite so ground-oriented this year with new quarterback in 6-foot, 200-pound senior Derek Boben. Senior Wyatt Ifft moves from fullback to tailback with Shonn Kline playing fullback.
2011: 12-1, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AA champion
Head coach: Brad Wright (1st year at Punxsutawney; 24-29 in 5 seasons at Warren)
What’s the Skinny? Brad Wright replaces Alan Nichol, who resigned after six successful seasons with the Chucks. Wright coached Warren from 2008-12 and brought the shotgun spread offense to the Dragons, who had three different quarterbacks break school passing records during his tenure. Senior receiver Braxton Giavedoni caught 33 passes for 754 yards last year. Junior fullback Blake Bizousky, senior linemen Brandon Douthit and Larry Yeager, and linebacker Joe DiPietro are other key returners.
2010: 10-1, KSAC Large School champion, D9 Class AAA runner-up
Head coach: Tony Defilippi (7th at St. Marys, 2nd in 2nd stint, 20-42)
What’s the Skinny? Senior fullback T.J. Hogan ran for 1,100 yards to lead last year’s Class AA runners-up. Junior quarterback Pat Schlimm (463 yards) and Brady Bauer (22 catches, 305 yards). Senior lineman Dalton Bauer had 16 ½ sacks while junior D.J. Salinas finished with eight sacks.
2014: 8-4, D9 Class AA runner-up
2011: 5-5, D9 Class AAA runner-up
Small School Division
Head coach: Brad Dittman (4th year, 3-26)
What’s the Skinny? The Falcons head into the season on a 22-game losing streak. Quarterback Zach Muhl and leading rusher Evan Redding return.
Head coach: Larry Wiser (27th year overall, 190-86-1)
What’s the Skinny? The Bobcats have won 32 straight games against the current KSAC Small School Division teams, meaning that the team’s sophomores were in third grade. This is one of veteran head coach Larry Wiser’s youngest teams with 19 sophomores. Brendan Miller will start at quarterback behind a line with four returning starters on the line. Sophomore Colton Rapp ran for 619 yards while backing up 2,000-yard back Ian Corbett last year.
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
2010: 5-6, KSAC Small School champion
Head coach: Dave Eggleton (3rd year, 3-16)
What’s the Skinny? Anthony Louder, son of Union coach Dave Louder, is the starting quarterback after passing for 568 yards last year. The Lions’ top receiver Connor Keth (24 catches, 373 yards) and second-leading rusher Mike Macefe (446 yards) are also back.
Head coach: Dan Reed (10th year overall, 2nd in second stint, 41-44)
What’s the Skinny? Jake Weaver rushed for 563 yards and had five interceptions at free safety to lead the Panthers. Senior Tyler Beal is the top lineman while Brayden Shick or Austin Ion will be the quarterback. Weaver also led the team with 28 catches for 311 yards while Chad Rogers had 20 receptions for 269 yards.
Head coach: Ed Wasilowski (16th season overall, 4th in second stint, 82-61)
What’s the Skinny? There will be a new quarterback for the Bulldogs, who had Jake Dougherty graduate with virtually every significant school passing record. Seniors Devin Schimp or Connor Shoemaker will start there this year. The Bulldogs lost just three starters on each side of the ball with Wyatt Hetrick (58 catches, 852 yards, 10 TDs) the top receiver. Connor Shoemaker caught 31 passes for 433 yards. Senior BryLee Shumaker anchors the offensive line and defense from his middle linebacker spot.
2013: 8-4, D9 Class A runner-up
Head coach: Dave Louder (6th year, 30-25)
What’s the Skinny? The district’s top returning receiver in senior Cole Morris (60 catches, 986 yards) moves to quarterback to run the Knights’ offense with the loss of 2,000-yard passer Lane Cicciarelli to graduation. Senior Dugan Gallagher ran for 850 yards and 10 TDs despite missing three games. Morris, Gallagher and senior Casey Confer are the top returning tacklers on defense.
Head coach: Jeff Puglio (7th year, 25-35)
What’s the Skinny? The Owls return seven letterwinners, including senior Alex Colosimo, who is the leading returning rusher (509 yards, 4 TDs) and tackler (47) from his linebacker spot. Junior Kyle Kirk is the quarterback. He threw for 299 yards in parts of seven games. Senior Tyler Brautigam and junior Gaige Ackley are the top returning linemen.
2012: 4-6, D9 Class AAA runner-up
Head coach: Frank Varischetti (5th season, 30-13; 8th overall, 60-29)
What’s the Skinny? The Beavers have just three starters back on offense, one of them senior Dante Dawson who caught 53 passes for 899 yards and 12 TDs. Junior Nick LaBrasca (18 catches, 251 yards) is also back. The new quarterback is sophomore Matt Miller. On defense, senior linebacker Adam Bankovich and senior Wes Russell are the leading returning tacklers, although Bankovich will miss the start of the season with an injury.
Head coach: Tim Janocko (31st season, 238-99-3)
What’s the Skinny? The Bison return enough to be considered the favorite to win a sixth straight district title. Junior Seth Caldwell ran for 995 yards and 7 TDs while senior quarterback Cody Spaid passed for 998 yards and 12 touchdowns. Junior Ryan Lezzer caught 31 passes for 599 yards and 9 TDs. Junior center Dylan Fenton anchors the line while seniors Nathan Lash, R.J. Ward, Travis Ogden and Corey Shimmel are back on a strong defensive front. Senior linebacker Christian Rumery is the top returning tackler while Lezzer, at safety, led the team with four interceptions.
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
2010: 13-1, D9 Class AAA champion, Mountain League-Allegheny Division champion