Of course, it’s something new. It’s 2020, so why not?
District 9’s opening week of football season has just six games on the docket as the preseason posturing of how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic led to a swath of northern district schools to follow the Intermediate Unit 9’s mandate that limited traveling outside its geographic area to play games.
The Bubble Teams don’t play until next week.
This week, the Non-Bubble programs or District 9 Southern Large School and Small School Division teams along with Clearfield’s Mountain League opener make up the schedule.
The Large School matchups: DuBois at Brookville, Punxsutawney at Central Clarion County (at Clarion-Limestone) and Karns City at Moniteau.
Small School games: Curwensville at Redbank Valley, Union/A-C Valley at Brockway and Keystone at Sheffield Saturday afternoon.
The IU9 Bubble teams all start next week — Port Allegany, Cameron County, Otto-Eldred, Smethport, Coudersport and Elk County Catholic in the Small School Division, and Kane, St. Marys, Bradford and Ridgway in the Large School Division.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s games:
DuBois at Brookville
It’s the first District 9 League game that the Beavers get to play since moving into the league in the offseason. But this won’t exactly be the schedule the Beavers were expecting, although all of the games on the readjusted COVID-19 plan does include all Large School teams.
It’s the third straight year the Beavers and Raiders meet, the last two non-conference matchups that were split with the Raiders winning 35-25 last year in Brookville and the Beavers winning 16-7 in 2018.
While Raiders coach Scott Park enters his fifth season, the Beavers have a new coach in former assistant T.J. Wingard. The Beavers were winless on the field last year at 0-10, but got a forfeit win because of Erie High’s use of an ineligible player.
The Raiders were 8-3 last year and return a big group of seniors, including quarterback Jack Krug, Nathan Taylor, Robert Keth, Elliot Park and Kyle MacBeth. Krug, with 5,993 passing yards, needs seven to become the eighth D9 passer to reach the 6,000-yard milestone. He’s thrown 77 TD passes, which already rank fifth in D9 history and he trails Clearfield’s Isaac Rumery (78) and Chad Kroell (79) on that list.
Keth is the top returning receiver after catching 50 passes for 688 yards and 7 TDs. Taylor was last year’s Large School Division MVP at linebacker and joined Park and Keth as the top three tacklers on the unit. MacBeth, who caught 48 passes for 619 yards and 5 TDs, intercepted eight passes at cornerback.
The Beavers’ Ruben Estrada (58-211, 2 TDs) is the leading returning rusher while seniors Zach Shilala (40-382, 5 TDS) and Dale Kot (23-332, 3 TDs) are the top returning receivers. Senior Tyler Christner is the top returning tackler on the defensive side of the ball.
Punxsutawney at Central Clarion Co.
Alan Nichol is the new coach for the Chucks, who head to the C-L Sports Complex for a matchup with the Wildcats, who debut their new name from the same co-operative that was started last year with Clarion-Limestone and North Clarion.
Larry Wiser enters his 32nd season as a head coach with 233 wins. He’ll have some playmakers back led by senior quarterback Cal German (2,349 yards, 32 TDs), senior running back Cutter Boggess (91-624, 4 TDs and team-high 99 tackles on defense) and senior receiver Ethan Burford (39-1,179, 17 TDs).
Nichol enters his second tenure as Chucks head coach. He directed his alma mater from 2009-14 before stepping down. He replaces Brad Wright who was the coach since then.
Senior quarterback Kameron Falgout shared passing duties with sophomore Peyton Hetrick (516 yards, 3 TDs) and threw for 289 yards and two TDs. He’s also the leading returning rusher with 682 yards and 8 TDs. Senior Josh Miller is the top returning tackler on defense.
Karns City at Moniteau
It’s a Butler County rivalry matchup right out of the gate for the Gremlins and Warriors in West Sunbury.
The Gremlins bounced back from a losing season in 2018 to go 8-4, which included a 21-6 win over the Warriors. They’ll look to replace do-it-all graduated quarterback Anthony Kamenski, who ran for over 1,000 yards. Senior Brayden Christie looks to be the new signal-caller while junior fullback Luke Garing (571 yards, 11 TDs) is the top returning rusher. Senior tight end Nathan Waltman leads the line as well as the defense where he racked up a team-high 93 tackles.
For Moniteau, senior J.D. Dessicino is back after leading the team in rushing (141-738, 5 TDs). Seniors Brady Thompson (268 yards, 1 TD) and David Stamm (204 yards, 1 TD) shared quarterback duties last year. Dessicino is also the team’s top returning tackler on defense.
Curwensville at Redbank Valley
The Bulldogs, last year’s Class 1A runner-up to Coudersport, open with the Golden Tide at home. Last year, they blanked the Tide at home, 39-0.
The Bulldogs have much back from a 9-3 season. Junior quarterback Gunner Mangiantini passed for 754 yards and ran for 388 yards before missing the final 4 1/2 games because of a broken collarbone. Also back is the team’s top rusher in junior Ray Shreckengost (125-768, 10 TDs), and seniors Hudson Martz (70-391, 6 TDs) and Kobe Bonanno (69-444, 10 TDs). Junior Joe Mansfield led the defense with 80 tackles and finished with 11 sacks.
Curwensville, 1-8 last year, returns its quarterback in sophomore Dan McGarry (399 yards, 2 TDs) and leading rusher in senior Duane Brady (127-491, 4 TDs) along with top receiver senior Jake McCracken (21-269, 2 TDs). Brady also led the defense with 73 tackles.
Union/ACV at Brockway
The Falcon Knights, 7-4, last year head north to face Brockway at the Rovers’ refurbished Varischetti Field.
Union/ACV will have a new quarterback with senior Tanner Merwin, who moves from receiver where he caught 28 passes for 564 yards and 6 TDs. He’ll now look for last year’s top receiver in junior Caden Rainey (38-564, 4 TDs). Senior Kyler Culbertson (73-480, 4 TDs) was the leading rusher in a committee approach. Defensively, junior Carter Terwint is the top returning tackler with 59 stops. Merwin intercepted five passes, returning two for TDs.
The Rovers, 3-7 last year, have a new head coach in Jake Heigel. Seniors Connor Ford (524 yards rushing, 462 yards passing) and Ben Glasl (32 catches, 409 yards) lead the way on offense.
Clearfield at Penns Valley
The Bison, 9-3 last year, head to Spring Mills to face the Rams, who they beat 56-49 in a shootout early last season. It’s Clearfield coach Tim Janocko’s 35th season, which has him at 284 wins.
Clearfield has high hopes this year, which will be a move down to Class 3A for at least the next two seasons. Junior quarterback Oliver Billotte is back after throwing for 1,903 yards and 17 TDs while rushing for 400 yards and 14 more TDs. Seniors Jake Lezzer (40-619, 4 TDs in seven games) and Matt Pallo (26-488, 6 TDs) are his top returning targets. Defensively, senior Nick Domico made over 80 tackles to lead the Bison.
The Rams, who didn’t lose again last year until the second round of the District 6 Class 2A playoffs and finished 10-2, lost most of their big playmakers to graduation including senior quarterback Aaron Tobias and his 3,500 passing yards. Seth Baney (77-477, 3 TDs) is the team’s top returning rusher.
Keystone at Sheffield, 1:30 p.m.
The Panthers head north to Warren County to take on the Wolverines, who fell to the Panthers 57-0 last year in Knox.
Keystone, 9-2 last year, bring back its top two rushers from last year with seniors Nick Weaver (128-1,140, 16 TDs) and Taylar Altman (125-914, 7 TDs). Altman and junior Caleb Nellis are the top returning tacklers with 65 and 57 stops respectively.
The Wolverines won’t have any Abraxas players on the roster this fall and they’ll look to Michael Mihalic to run the offense at quarterback. Other players leading the way are linemen Jake Davidson and Cyrus Sears and Garret Waters.