Southeastern Conference opener requires perfection
After two weeks of preparation, high school teams are ready for some football. However, victory Friday night requires perfection, particularly in the Southeastern Conference.
Top games on tap for Aug. 29 include: Upper St. Clair visiting Penn Hills, Mt. Lebanon hosting Canon-McMillan and Woodland Hills traveling to Peters Township.
“There is not a lot of margin for error,” said USC head coach Jim Render concerning the Panthers’ season-opener. “We have to play as mistake-free as possible.”
Penn Hills, along with Woodland Hills, is among the teams looking to topple the Panthers from their perch as three-time conference champions. The Indians tied for fourth place in the league last year. They return eight starters, three of them with killer speed: Bill Kisner at quarterback, Isaiah Jones at tailback and TeShan Campbell at wide out. Kisner rushed for 1,191 yards. Jones gained 873 yards on the ground. Campbell gathered up 400 yards.
“We have to contain their speed,” explained Render.
The Panthers must also play well on special teams, ignore the hype and overcome adversity. USC will be without some key players due to medical conditions, illness and injuries. Plus, the Panthers feature many new faces.
Jesse Slinger is the only returning starter. A punter, he also started on a defense that recorded six shutouts in conference play in 2014 and allowed an average of only 7.8 points during an 11-1 season.
“Defensively, we have good prospects. Just not a lot of experience,” said Render.
USC doesn’t have a lot of experience on offense either, but the Panthers are pleased with the progress of Dan Trocano. The senior will run an offense that produced 443 points in 2013. Render has been pleased with his signal caller during camp. “He has done well. He’s an accurate passer, a good leader and he knows a lot about the offense,” Render added.
Though Marcus Galie, Andrew Bartusiak and Mike Krenn move into more prominent positions this fall, the trio, along with veteran placekicker Max Herold, know a lot about special teams, which Render says will play a critical role in the outcome against Penn Hills. “Special teams will play a part. A big part,” he stressed.
Canon-Mac AT LEBO
When the Blue Devils host Canon-McMillan at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29, Mt. Lebanon head coach Mike Melnyk expects Alex Paulina to play a pivotal part in the outcome. The Big Macs’ 6-3, 280-pound two-way lineman is a Pitt recruit.
“He is big and physical and he pushes everyone around,” said Melnyk. “Canon-McMillan will give us everything we can handle,” he added.
Expect Matt Hoffman, Eddie Jenkins and Shane Lafever to give the Big Macs all they can handle.
Hoffman is a big lineman, also. A three-year starter, he is a Penn recruit at defensive end. A junior, Eddie Jenkins returns at quarterback. After earning the position midway through last year’s dismal season (3-6), he threw for more than 700 yards in three starts. Lafever ranked among the WPIAL’s top receivers as well as best defensive backs.
Melnyk, too, stresses, his Blue Devils need to be at the top of their game to beat the Big Macs, who won one game last year. “Early season games are always decided by penalties, special teams and turnovers. Avoiding those is the key to victory.”
Melnyk added that the first game always has so many questions that will be answered.
MORE QUAD A
For Peters Township and Bethel Park the question is can they hang with the big boys, as both battle the contestants from last year’s WPIAL Quad-A championship game at Heinz Field.
The Indians host Woodlands Hills at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29. The Wolverines were district runners-up. They have won five WPIAL titles under head coach George Novak, and return many players from last year’s 10-3 squad. Among them are Penn State recruit Miles Sanders and Art Thompkins. A junior, Sanders rushed for 1,064 yards last year. Thompkins, who is bound for Toledo, had 426 yards.
The Indians lost nearly two dozen seniors from last year’s 5-5 playoff club. However, they do return Division I prospect Cory Owen at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Bethel Park plays Central Catholic at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 29 at Carnegie Mellon. Despite losing key players from last year’s WPIAL championship club, the Vikings have plenty of ammunition to repeat. For starters, Pitt, Wake Forest and Virginia are courting Johnny Petrishen, one of the top defensive backs in the district. Eric McAllister and Graham Adomitis are top linemen while Gunnar Frerotte is the quarterback.
The Hawks boast Levi Metheny. A starter since his freshman year, the junior calls the signals. His top targets are tight ends Jake Dixon and Connor McGinnis while Alex Minton and Chiante Pryor are expected to be big yardage gainers as well as key defenders.
In other action Aug. 29, Chartiers Valley hosts Hopewell at 7 p.m. in the Parkway Conference opener while Chartiers-Houston entertains Avonworth in the Black Hills Conference. Neither the Colts nor the Vikings have many experienced starters as both attempt to find a spot in a division dominated by defending WPIAL AAA champion, West Allegheny.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers find themselves contending in a division that also features the district champion. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic also won the PIAA Class A title. Spencer Terling leads the C-H attack. The sophomore rushed for 641 yards last year. Dylan Briggs returns to anchor the defense.
With 13 returning starters, Bishop Canevin also expects to make noise in the Black Hills Conference. The Crusaders kickoff the season against Riverside at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 at Dormont Stadium.
Reed Relosky returns to call the signals. He threw for more than 1,000 yards in Darren Schoppe’s offense. Giovanni DeMarzo returns as Canevin’s top receiver and defensive back. Jake Reddy is expected to anchor the defense at linebacker.