5 things to watch in Week 2: Seneca Valley among 7 teams ready for delayed openers

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Friday, September 18, 2020 | 8:00 AM


Tired of making each other black and blue, Seneca Valley’s football players want to hit somebody not wearing blue and black.

After enduring a summer longer than expected, the Raiders and six other WPIAL teams can make their season debuts this week. Covid-19 cancellations kept them idle in Week 1, but Elizabeth Forward, Kiski Area, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township, Serra Catholic and Steel Valley also can kick off after a one-week delay.

Players probably couldn’t have waited much longer.

“They’re a little bit edgy,” Seneca Valley coach Ron Butschle said. “We had more fights in practice this week than I can remember, but in a good way. Guys are ready to have another color (uniform) in front of them.”

Seneca Valley visits Hempfield at 7 p.m.

The Raiders had their scrimmage and season opener canceled in late August after a player was possibly exposed to coronavirus, the school announced. The team was one day into heat acclimatization when the shutdown order came. It was the second time this summer Butschle’s players started and stopped.

“They’re like a yo-yo,” he said. “It’s been difficult, but this week was about as normal as it’s been.”

Coaches tried to take a creative approach to these extra weeks of practice. Butschle mixed in more film study and weight room workouts to lessen the physical wear and tear. On Fridays, Seneca Valley mimicked game days with intrasquad scrimmages.

Mostly, though, their goal was to pace themselves.

“What we really were trying to do is practice smart,” Butschle said. “If you beat each other up for four straight weeks, you’re going to limp into Week 1. The staff did a good job of getting them to peak at the right time. We’re healthy. We have everybody ready to roll. That’s a plus.”

Butschle’s team also adopted a new mindset about covid-19. High school athletes can’t quarantine in a “bubble” or be tested often like professional players, but Butschle said his guys are determined to avoid any unnecessary activities that might expose them to the virus.

That mindset wasn’t there a few months ago.

“I don’t think at first it was real to them until we had to take a break,” Butschle said. “And then all of a sudden it was, ‘Oh man, we’d better figure this out.’ This senior class is really a tight-knit ground of guys. They really took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to do this, we need to do this together.’ ”

On Friday, Mt. Lebanon visits Canon-McMillon, Elizabeth Forward hosts Brownsville, Serra Catholic visits Seton LaSalle, Peters Township hosts Penn-Trafford and Steel Valley visits Keystone Oaks.

Kiski Area makes its debut Monday at Connellsville.

Their opponents will already have a game in hand, but Butschle doesn’t think that matters much.

“You’ll have your first-game jitters,” he said. “I think our kids are going to overcome that pretty quickly. We’ve been preparing three weeks for this game.”

Run for the Hills

Get ready for Penn Hills vs. Woodland Hills for the 30th time.

After four years apart, the two championship programs renew their football rivalry Friday night when they meet for a nonconference game at the Wolvarena. Beginning when the Woodland Hills football team was formed in 1987, the two teams played 29 years in a row in the regular season.

That streak ended in 2016.

Woodland Hills leads the regular-season series 17-12, but they evenly split their last 10 games. The Wolverines won 31-13 at Penn Hills in 2015. When they last met at the Wolvarena in 2014, Penn Hills won 22-15.

Magic numbers?

Statistically speaking, Mars running back Teddy Ruffner and Highlands quarterback Chandler Thimons had remarkably similar Week 1 numbers: 261 yards, four touchdowns.

Sure, they earned them in different ways.

Ruffner collected his on the ground. Thimons’ came through the air.

Now, their contrasting offensive styles share the field Friday when Mars visits Highlands in the Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference. Ruffner enters as the WPIAL’s leading rusher after one week, and Thimons ranks seventh-best among WPIAL passers.

Getting a head start

Week 2 featured the first Thursday game of the season, but it won’t be the last this fall. The WPIAL is facing a shortage of officials, so it asked teams before the season to consider moving games away from Fridays.

Neshannock defeated visiting Mohawk, 37-22.

“It definitely throws off your schedule,” Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio said. “You’ve got to make Monday a Tuesday and Tuesday a Wednesday. You’ve got to be careful not to overwork the kids, because you’re still close to the previous game. You’ve got to give them time to heal up from Friday. It’s a little bit touchy but very manageable.”

Staying close to home

The WPIAL revamped the way it assigned nonconference games this season in an attempt to either increase competitiveness or shorten travel. There are a few matchups this week almost within walking distance.

Among the shortest, Sto-Rox has an eight-mile drive over the McKees Rocks bridge to Avonworth.

Others are even shorter. South Fayette and Chartiers Valley are separated by six miles. Ambridge has a four-mile bus ride over to Aliquippa.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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