Big Game Hunting – Week One
By: Don Rebel
Thursday, August 31, 2017 | 8:10 PM
We know how fast this goes from previous experience, so we won’t be surprised when the playoff pairings show jumps on us real fast. How many week one games will be the difference between teams being part of that show and teams being on the outside looking in? Only time will tell and it is not much time at all. I know that in the past I used to start week one by always featuring the defending champions on this page, but, with the tragic passing of my friend Mark Schaas, things are never going to be the same here at “The Network”, and so things will never be the same again in BGH. Week one is here and it is our first opportunity to go Big Game Hunting.
6A Southeastern Conference
Hempfield Spartans (1-0)(0-0) at Canon-MacMillan Big Macs (1-0)(0-0) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Big Mac Stadium in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WJPA FM 95.3 by Mark Uriah and Bill Dukett
Last year this week one match-up provided the difference at the end of the season as a 35-12 win by Hempfield put them into the playoffs and left the Big Macs out in the cold.
Canon-Mac came from behind late to knock off Kiski 17-10 in week zero on the road when John Quinque hooked up with Drew Engel on a 13 yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes to play. Cuyler Rancher had one of three Canon-Mac interceptions in the game and, returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. Anthony Sacco led Canon-Mac on the ground with 45 yards rushing in the win. The Big Mac defense, despite the three picks, did allow Kiski to throw for 218 yards in the game. That could be significant as the Hempfield passing game was sharp in their week zero win.
Spartans quarterback Justin Sliwoski completed 15 of 23 passes for 281 yards in Hempfield’s 49-21 win over rival Greensburg Salem in week zero. Tight end Braden Brose caught eight of those passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
The way the Southeastern Conference shakes out is of course very much still up in the air but not many folks would be surprised if the same thing that occurred last year occurs this year, so indeed this week one game might end up being a battle for a playoff spot in 6A.
5 A Allegheny Nine Conference
Upper Saint Clair Panthers (0-1)(0-0) at North Hills Indians (1-0)(0-0) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Martorelli Stadium in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania broadcast on the MSA Sports Network and WJAS AM 1320 by Sean Meyers and Cory Campano
The Panthers took the trip to Steubenville and got rolled by the “Big Red” last week 37-7. North Hills had no troubles in a win over Shaler 45-17. Last year USC went 64 before falling in the first round of the playoffs to McKeesport. Included in the Panthers six wins was a 28-7 win over North Hills. The Indians also made the post season last year finishing at 6-5 and also falling in the first round. The fell victim to West Allegheny.
In USC’s opening week loss Jack Hansberry completed six of twelve passes for 89 yards and a score. The struggle for the Panthers was in the ground game, Colin McLinden was their leading rusher with 35 yards on nine attempts. The rest of the team netted 15 yards rushing for the game. That is not what a Jim Render coached football team wants to do. Look for a re-dedication to the run attack for a Panther team that a lot of people have expectations of in this game.
North Hills had a dominant running attack in their victory, Melvin Blanks rushed for 195 yards, he also scored three touchdowns. Will Hirt had a solid day throwing when needed completing seven of eleven passes for 99 yards and a score. John Hodnik is the go-to receiver for Hirt, he had three grabs last week. Kam Taylor is a playmaker for the Indians who can catch the ball and/or run with the ball.
4 A Northwest Nine Conference
South Fayette Lions (1-0)(0-0) at Mars Planets (1-0)(0-0) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Mars Athletic Center in Mars, Pennsylvania Friday September 1st broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Sam Hall and Brandon Showers
The Lions blanked Central Valley in week “zero” 20-0, serving notice to the rest of 4 A that once again they will be one of the teams to be reckoned with. Drew Saxton completed 11 of 22 passes for 151 yards and a pair of scores in the win. Johnny Beck rushed for 57 yards in the win. Noah Plack had a pair of catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. Ben Coyne anchored a Lions defense that piled up nine sacks including seven for Coyne on the night. It was the first time the Warriors have ever been shut out in their history.
Garrett Reinke returns in the backfield for Scott Heinaure and the Planets after rushing for nearly a thousand yards last year and he already appears to be the engine that makes the Planets go in 2017. Reinke rushed for three scores in Mars’ week “zero” 27-14 win over Hampton.
Both these clubs could not hold on to 2nd half leads in the 1st round of the WPIAL Playoffs last year with Mars falling to Ringgold and South Fayette to New Castle.
The “look at” battle here will be can the Planets run the ball against the Lions defense, and can the Lions throw the ball against the Planets secondary. Mars returns three of the four starting secondary players from last season.
The Lions won this game in McDonald last year 35-14.
3 A Interstate Conference
Derry Trojans (1-0)(0-0) at Elizabeth-Forward Warriors (0-0)(0-0) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Warrior Stadium on the campus of Elizabeth-Forward high school
The Trojans picked up where they left off last year despite significant losses to graduation. Derry got a week “zero” win over Latrobe 29-14. Last year Derry was the darling story of the WPIAL going 11-1 and getting knocked out in the semis by Aliquippa. With Tyler Balega graduated it was Shawn Broadway led the way in the rushing attack for Derry last week rushing for almost 140 yards and three touchdowns.
Ryan Polinsky returns as a starter at quarterback for the Trojans after throwing for over 800 yards last year, and Dom Deluca will anchor the defense from his linebacking position. Can the Trojans adjust after losing a bunch of starters to graduation? Remains to be seen. Derry in going undefeated for the first time in school history did knock off Elizabeth-Forward last year 27-15.
The Warriors meanwhile had a scrimmage rather than a game in week “zero”. After going 5-4 last year E-F has solid expectations coming into 2017. Zach Benedek is back at quarterback after tossing for almost 800 yards and a ‘bakers dozen’ touchdowns. E-F is hoping his experience will help him cut down on the 10 interceptions he threw last year. Watch for senior Nick Wardropper on both sided of the football, this kid is a football player’s football player. Back up front Angelo Ackerman will be a force for the Warriors.
2A Three Rivers Conference
Brentwood Spartans (1-0)(0-0) at Serra Catholic Eagles (1-0)(0-0) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Eagle Stadium in McKeesport, Pennsylvania broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Paul Paterra and Lou Rood
Brentwood rolled Carrick last week 32-8 behind four touchdown passes from returning starter at quarterback Michael Trent. Trent last year threw for nearly 1300 yards and a dozen scores and in now on a pace to improve on those numbers after completing 15 of 24 for 266 yards in week “zero”.
Trent’s main target last week was Austin Veach who caught 6 passes and scored three times, but five different receivers caught passes for the Spartans.
On the ground Evan Vickless is back after rushing for 435 yards last year, he carried 12 times for 72 yards and a score last week. Sparty appears set up to make a run at Steel Valley after going 8-3 last season and reaching the quarterfinals in 2016.
Serra had little trouble in week “zero” rolling Mapletown 30-8. Returning quarterback Evan Honick only threw for 85 yards but he did score a pair of touchdowns on the ground. Honick tossed for over 1000 yards las season.
The focus of the Serra attack though will be Khalil Smith who rushed for 1425 yards and scored 14 times last season. Smith ran for 157 yards and a score last week. As Smith goes, so go the Eagles.
The Eagles also have almost everybody back on defense after going 5-6 and losing to Neshannock in round one last year.
1 A Eastern Conference
Imani Christian Saints (1-0)(0-0) at Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions (1-0)(0-0) ) Friday September 1st @ 7:00 PM at Centurion Stadium in Greensburg, Pennsylvania broadcast on the MSA Sports Network by Matt Vandriak and Rennie Detore
GCC took a long ride in week “zero” heading to Ohio to beat Tuscarawas Central Catholic 26-13, while they did that on the ground they served notice in the win that they plan to use the air as a means of travel on the field in 2017. Max Pisula taking over for the departed Dom Eisaman at quarterback completed 23 of 40 passes in the win for 257 yards and a score. James Rice and Luke Mazowiecke combined for 12 catches and 108 yards. Tom Voelker rushed for 100 yards for the Centurions who look for a bounce back year after going 2-8 in 2016 and missing the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
One of those wins was a week one win 23-20 over Imani Christian. The Saints finished 5-6 in 2016 losing in the quarterfinals to Rochester.
Imani lost maybe the best athlete in their school history when Kenny Robinson graduated, but they have gotten a couple transfers and a couple young stars in the making that might be ready to step into the limelight. In fact a lot of pundits are thinking they will be making a whole lot of noise in One A this season. Plus they have done an amazing job of shining up “Historic Graham Field” in Wilkinsburg where they will play their home games.
Junior transfer Rahmon Hart Jr. will be a big-time playmaker on both sides of the ball, the Saints will try to get him as many touches as possible.
The Saints rolled over Union Rimersburg in week “zero” 50-22. The Eastern Conference will not be for the ‘faint of heart’ this season. With teams like Clairton and Jeannette looming on everyone’s schedule you have to make your hay when you can. That makes this game huge for both of these teams.
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.