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2004 Helmets and Sweats

Helmets and Sweats #4

For this week’s “Helmets and Sweats” we actually have a JHS match-up worthy of mention and analysis. Not necessarily because the Johnstown-Somerset game is a classic “one for the ages” but because there are playoff implications. The Golden Eagles are the first and only Class AAA opponent the Trojans will face in the regular season this year. It is imperative that they win and get the points associated with such a victory.

The top four of the seven District 6-AAA teams qualify for the playoffs. Currently the Trojans and Central Mountain are tied for first place with Huntingdon and Somerset tied for the second spot. The Trojans and the Wildcats have 230 points each while the Bearcats and Golden Eagles both have 160. Central Mountain are newcomers to the party as this is their first season in Class AAA as they previously were the bottom feeders of the District 6-AAAA group. The school, located in Mill Hall and a consolidation of the former Lock Haven and Bald Eagle Nittany High Schools, has an advantage in that they play more opponents in higher classifications than JHS or Somerset. A glance at their remaining schedule shows us that they only have 1 AA opponent left, 3 AAA and 2 AAAA. Also, wins over Class AAA Red Land and an extremely weak AAAA Erie Central squad have helped them nicely at this stage of the season.

A look ahead at both Johnstown and Somerset’s schedule shows nothing but AA and A opponents as is the norm with the LHAC. Both teams are in a situation where they have to continue to win and hope that Central Mountain loses. Things could get shuffled even more as the Wildcats could open the gap this week with a win over Class AAAA Williamsport. This is definitely a case of independent scheduling helping out a squad.

I would not worry too much, Central Mountain plays some tough teams late in its schedule including defending Class AAA PIAA champion Manheim Central. Don’t sleep on the defending district champs Huntingdon either. Playing in the MAC gives them an advantage of having more opportunities to play higher classification teams as well. They have already beaten AAA Lewistown and still have District 9-AAA reps Punxsutawney and Clearfield on their docket as well as Indian Valley and District 1-AAAA representative Glen Mills.

So, not only does playing in the weak LHAC not let JHS gauge how good it is against completion, it actually harms it in the postseason picture. Johnstown, Huntingdon and Central Mountain win out (which is possible as none of these teams play each other in the regular season) JHS would not get a high seed.

But the fact of the matter is Central Mountain will most likely cool off, the last three games on Somerset’s schedule are brutal (at Bishop Carroll, at Central Cambria and Bedford) and Huntingdon is not the team it was a year ago. JHS cannot afford to slack though, it needs as worse case scenario to split with Bishop McCort and Bishop Carroll. They cannot afford to drop both, especially that they have the improved Central Cambria Red Devils closing out their regular season schedule.

But hey, first things first, let’s give Ernie Fetzer and his Golden Eagles fits all night in their house.

Let’s take a quick peek at what is going on in the rest of the conference:

Bedford at Central Cambria

By far, best game LHAC has to offer this week. The Bisons, led by the Harris Brothers look to stay undefeated but “not so fast” says the right arm of CC QB Matt Mesaros who is coming off of a four touchdown performance against Cambria Heights.

Westmont at Bishop Carroll

The Hilltoppers have won two in row against Class AAA LHAC foes Johnstown and Somerset and are on the bubble of playoff qualifying in the very strong District 6-AA group. The Huskies have had great leadership from Paul Forcellini and Joel Takacs all year.

Bishop McCort @ Richland

Look for the Rams homecoming to be spoiled something fierce by this very athletic Crusher squad. Ken Salem’s suffered their first loss last week to Bishop Carroll. It will be the second week in a row that the Rams will play whipping boy for a team coming off a tough loss. Let’s just hope the girls get nice weather for the parade and ceremony. Mud stains can be terribly difficult to get out of those formal gowns!

Forest Hills @ Cambria Heights

The General, Don Bailey, leads his boys in Packer green and gold into Patton Stadium. The Ranger faithful will most likely pack the wooden bleachers and watch they team do them proud. I would be surprised to not see FH scoring 50 on the Highlanders.

Penn Cambria @ Central

Here’s one for the “somebody has to win file”. This match-up of fellow 0-4 teams reminds me of the days of a Vo-Tech/Shade game (with all apologies to Coach Penna!). Based on what I have seen from both teams I would have to give the nod to Central in this one. Especially since they want redemption for dropping that game to Cambria Heights in the final seconds two weeks ago.

Helmets and Sweats #6

Well, here we are, a little over 24 hours away from the biggest game of the year thus far. Bishop Carroll at Johnstown. Two 4-1 squads with extremely talented rosters. It is homecoming night at Trojan Stadium. This is the headliner match-up of the week for the LHAC. As we will touch on later, the rest of the games in the conference are pretty good this week also.

The two teams have taken slightly different paths to their identical records though. The Huskies dropped their first game of the season to Forest Hills but have rebounded to win the next four. Two of those wins however (Bishop McCort and Westmont) were come from behind in nature. The Trojans on the other hand have a loss to Westmont sandwiched in between four blowout victories over weaker opponents. That being said, these two teams are very evenly matched on both sides of the ball.

Offensively for the Trojans, they are obviously led by LaRod Stephens, who only needs 88 yards to reach the 1,000 yard plateau. It has not been all #32 this season though as the passing game led by senior quarterback Devin Carosi (27-for-49, 604 yards , 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions). Although those are not game breaking numbers by any stretch of the imagination, Devin has improved steadily by the week and not made very many mistakes. It is a high-percentage passing attack, sparked off of some nicely called play-action packages, that has taken a lot of pressure off LaRod. As we have said numerous times, for the Trojans to truly take advantage of the talents of the best running back in the area, they need to be a well-balanced offense. They have that this year.

On the offensive side of the ball for the Huskies, they are led by quarterback Joel Takacs and running back Paul Forcellini. The junior tailback has 77 carries for 722 yards and seven touchdowns. Takacs has run Coach Sponsky’s option attack to near perfection this year, accounting for seven touchdowns of his own. None of this is possible without superb line play which has become a staple of Bishop Carroll football.

On that note, the Trojans front four defensively will be facing by far, the best offensive line they have to date. They will have to get an extreme push off the ball when going against the option. Disruption the flow and timing off many of the plays is key.

For the Huskies, they will need more of the same out of Chris Kline, who has recorded 7 sacks thus far this season. If he finds his way in the backfield it could be a long night on the offensive side of the ball for the Trojans.

Expect another close, low scoring match-up between two balanced LHAC teams here. It will not be as low scoring as the 7-6 count of a year ago, but don’t expect Packers vs. Colts aerial antics either. Both squads pride themselves defensively too much to let that happen.

Now for a quick look around the conference:

There is only one game this week in the LHAC that has a good chance of being a blow out: Central at Bedford. The rest could all be close, good games. Forest Hills is taken on an upstart Central Cambria team. Bishop McCort and Westmont will meet in a very interesting Saturday afternoon matinee at Price Field and although these next two are “someone has to win” type games (Richland at Somerset and Cambria Heights at Penn Cambria) expect all four teams to come rushing out the gate mainly because they know they have a legitimate chance of winning.

So it is marquee Week Six in the LHAC with the Trojans-Huskies face-off leading the charge.

Doug Keklak can be reached at trojannation@yahoo.com.

 

 

Helmets and Sweats #7

10/14/04

A note of housekeeping: tickets for tomorrow’s game are $5 and available at the Athletic Office at the school. Yes, paying the extra dollar doesn’t seem fair but I guess McCort has to pay that lease price somehow!

Also, regarding the lease: the entire stadium is first-come, first-serve for the game. McCort does not do the reserved seating thing. Plus, it was written into the lease that Johnstown would have the home sideline. So other than the Trojans sporting their white jersey, this really will be a home game for all intents and purposes.

My advice: if you go to the game with a groups of people, have one of them get there early with blankets to save seats because the stadium is going to be packed.

Now to the game. I think this game is going to come down to a big special teams play. A missed extra-point, a long field goal, a big return on a punt or kickoff.

We also may be in store for overtimes with these teams being so evenly matched. If that is the case, give a slight edge to McCort. Barring a turnover they are pretty much guaranteed three points from the leg of Marc Domonkos. Domonkos was just short on a 58-yard attempt that would have tied the game against Bishop Carroll a few weeks ago. While Ben Landis has been excellent on PATs this year (he is 23-for-30) he has yet to make a field goal and struggles from kicking from one of the hash marks. Even in warm-ups it seems he is only consistent kicking straight ahead in the middle of the field. This puts a lot of pressure on the Trojan offense, regardless of if they get the ball first or not, to score a touchdown on their overtime possession.

That being said I like our chances with LaRod. After all, if he can score from 90 yards out or more, I am confident he can handle 15 to 20 yards.

This game is far and away the best the LHAC has to offer in quality match-ups in Week Seven. With the “Catholic High” less than 1,000 feet away from Glorious Johnstown High School, this one is for city bragging rights for one year.

As for the rest of the conference, let’s just say there are going to be a lot of running clocks in the second half as there will most likely be five lopsided victories.

In fairness and equal time, let’s look around the conference:

Bedford @ Cambria Heights: The Highlanders will have nothing for Bedford. The Bisons will remain the sole undefeated squad in the LHAC. The Harris Brothers will be way too much for Cambria Heights to handle.

Somerset @ Bishop Carroll: The Huskies will avenge their embarrassing loss to the Mighty Trojans by taking out their aggression on Ernie Fetzer’s disappointing Golden Eagles. Good win for the points table to for BC as Somerset is Class AAA.

Central Cambria @ Central: The Red Devils travel to Martinsburg to take on the Scarlet Dragons in this Section I battle. This game features two quarterbacks with the potential to put up some big numbers: Matt Mesaros of Central Cambria and Corey Hazenstab of Central.

Penn Cambria @ Forest Hills: I don’t have much to say about this game. Penn Cambria can listen to Vince McMahon’s theme song for their prospects. You know: “No chance, that’s what you got!”

Westmont @ Richland: The Rams will remain winless, especially since the Hilltoppers desperately need the win to stay alive in the playoffs.

Helmets and Sweats #8

10/21/04

Let’s be honest, the only thing Johnstown and Penn Cambria have in common is their uniforms! I really am not going to go into too much in depth analysis of what should be an easy win for the Trojans. What I am going to do is preview the biggest game in the LHAC to date, as well as some other action in the league.

 

Helmets and Sweats #10

11/4/04

There has been a lot of speculation as to how good of a team Central Mountain really is. I will stand by this, and you will see in “Tale of the Tape” what I think is going to happen: this is NOT a good football team. Sure, the Tribune-Democrat states that they play a tough schedule but really, any schedule in relation to the LHAC schedule could be considered tough.

The T-D goes on to state that Central Mountain plays “powerful teams like Williamsport, DuBois, Cedar Cliff and Manheim Central (all losses).” Yes, Manheim Central is the defending Class AAA champ (who could forget that “game of the century” against Pine-Richland last year?) but Cedar Cliff and Williamsport are both 2-7. That would hardly be considered a powerhouse. Sure, they play bigger classification schools, and are one year removed from being Class AAAA themselves. And quite frankly in the old, four-team District 6 set up, CM was always State College, Altoona and Hollidaysburg’s whipping boy. The Wildcats were 4-7 a year ago, 3-7 in 2002.

I will probably take some heat for this, but there are at least four other teams in the LHAC, aside from JHS, that could beat this team. I’d pick Bedford, Bishop McCort, Bishop Carroll and Forest Hills all to beat Central Mountain.

In other JHS news, LaRod Stephens finally has his opportunity to overtake Berlin’s Eric D’Carrion as the area’s leading rusher. Going in to this week, D’Carrion has 1,492 yards, while LaRod has 1,478. Berlin has a first round bye in the District 5 Class A playoffs so I like LaRod’s chances at getting 15 yards!

Now, we’ll take a look around the District at other playoff match-ups:

District 6-AAA: In the game for the right to play Johnstown next week, the defending district champions Huntingdon are forced to travel to Bellefonte, the #2 seed on Saturday night. I like the Red Raiders to win at home, at the “Woodshed” as this Bearcat team has been quite disappointing, especially losing to Glen Mills last week when a win would just about guarantee them a home playoff game.

District 5-6 Class AA: Top-seeded Bedford (9-0) will improve to 10-0 as they will host the #8 seed Central Cambria Friday night. Troy Harris and the Bison option attack will be too much for Matt Mesaros and the Red Devils passing game. CC was exposed last week by JHS’ defensive attack, holding Mesaros to under 100 yards passing.

Look for #2 seed Tyrone (8-1) to win easily at home against the Purchase Line Dragons (6-3) in another Friday game. John Franco’s Golden Eagles are probably the underrated team in the District 5-6 AA field, mainly because they don’t get a lot of publicity in the Johnstown area.

In the first of the Saturday match-ups, Trojan Stadium gets to host yet another Bishop McCort-Forest Hills tilt. Although the Crushers will win again, this time it will be much closer. Despite the fact that the Rangers are nowhere near as athletic as the Crushers, I cannot see a Don Bailey coached squad getting blown out two weeks in a row by the same team.

Chestnut Ridge travels to Philipsburg Osceola for the other Saturday game. This will probably be the best game in the Class AA field, expect a close one albeit different styles. CR has rode the coat tails of RB Fred Halbig and the running game while P-O is more comfortable with the pass. QB Jeff Winters and WR Lou LaFuria lead the way. P-O in a close one.

District 6-A: Undefeated Blairsville is the class of this field and will most likely cruise through the bracket on to inter-district play. Look for the #8 seed Portage to give them a game, but the Bobcats’ talent will be too much in the end.

On Friday, Bellwood-Antis will host #7 seed Laurel Valley. Although the Blue Devils will beat the Rams, look for Gerry Page’s crew to give them a run for their money in another close game.

Even though United is the higher seed and will host LHAC’s Bishop Carroll on Saturday afternoon, look for the Huskies to prevail. The Lions are helped by playing in the less competitive Heritage Conference.

Juniata Valley (9-0) will host Moshannon Valley (7-2). The Black Knights will be looking to avenge their embarrassing loss to JV earlier this season, 35-0 in week seven. This time it were closer, but the Green Hornets will still prevail.

District 5-A: Berlin and Northern Bedford have first round byes.

This field is an embarrassment as there are two teams that don’t deserve to be in the playoffs (North Star and Conemaugh Twp.). In any event, Windber will host and beat North Star while Rockwood will do the same to CT.

And as we continue to track our potential inter-district playoff opponent out of District 4, Selinsgrove, the Seals will finish their regular season this weekend against Mount Carmel. They are looking to enter post-season play at 9-1, their only loss coming to PIAA Class AAA powerhouse Berwick. The Bulldogs of Berwick are currently second ranked in the state by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

Doug Keklak can be reached at trojannation@yahoo.com.

 

Helmets and Sweats #12

11/18/04

Most weeks this column is on the last day of practice prior to a Friday night game, however this week’s Saturday game (only the Trojans’ second this year) offers an extra day of preparation for both teams. The smart choice of choosing the Saturday game is that the Trojans will have a good night’s rest close to Selinsgrove rather than sitting stiff on a bus and trying to get loose and play the game. Word has it that the team will leave for Selinsgrove following an 8:00 pep rally and a light workout at Trojan Stadium they’ll hit the road and find a hotel closer to Saturday’s venue. Two things on that move: 1.) If that money was in the athletic budget prior to this season, great job of budgeting. 2.) If that money was only available because of the extra revenue generated by renting the stadium out to Bishop McCort, well, I’d like to personally thank the best tenants a school could get!

One of the positives for the Trojan coaching staff would have to be looking at the film of the Shikellamy game and seeing that the Seals’ defense allowed a running back from a 5-6 team to have such a nice game. Justin Blessing carried the ball 33 times for 153 yards for the Braves in the loss. That has to bode well for the Trojans as the run game is without a doubt their bread and butter. We would be remiss if we would not mention LaRod Stephens however, don’t sleep on fullback Terrill Simms running dives between the tackles as a nice change of pace. The Seals appear to both defend the pass and pass well.

That leads in to what the Trojans can do on the defensive side of the ball. One thing is for sure, if man-to-man coverage is employed, our best guy should be on theirs. In other words, our #2 (Reggie Farrior) should be on their #19 (Ryan Schuck) at all times. Take a look at the Selinsgrove website and watch some of the plays this guy has made this year. If the Seals choose to run the ball, chances are it will go to Jason Lauver, but from the looks of his highlight clips, he doesn’t appear to be anything the Trojan defense, stingy against the run for most of the year, cannot handle. I wouldn’t expect the run too much though as most of the offensive sets that the Seals use come out of the shotgun. (Although many run packages are being run out of the gun these days.)

Just as an aside, boy it would it be nice to have highlights MPEGs on my website. I wonder if Doug Heck is out there reading!

A word of advice to the special teams coach, tell Ben Landis to punt the ball out of bounds. Schuck handles those too and actually looks more impressive returning kicks than he does at receiver in my opinion. If he gets a wall going to set up his blocks, he’ll be gone. Nothing can turn momentum around more than a big special teams play.

As far as the kicking game, Ryan Heintzelman is similar to Ben Landis as he’s very good on extra points but not too consistent on field goals attempts, albeit he has more attempts than Landis. Neither one is really a solid “gimme” in a game winning situation. It’s not that there isn’t ability with them, but neither has really been put in a big pressure situation.

All in all, we expect both teams to stick to what they do best on offense: JHS with the run, Selinsgrove with the pass. LaRod will get over 100 yards on the ground and Schuck will get over 100 receiving but neither team will give up too many big plays. After all, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, one of the most influential newspapers in the state as far as high school football goes, doesn’t have JHS ranked #9 and Selinsgrove #10 for nothing. These are two good football teams, between the two of them they only have three losses (JHS 9-2; Selinsgrove 10-1) and the average margin of defeat is only 11 points.

For anyone looking to do some advance scouting, the winner of this game will take on the winner of the Thomas Jefferson-West Mifflin WPIAL AAA final at Heinz Field Saturday at 4:30. TJ is the favorite in this one, although West Mifflin has knocked off some pretty good teams (Canon McMillan and West Allegheny) to get where they are. I just cannot see a 7-5 team winning WPIAL though.

And one last thing, although I may have ruffled some feathers in the “Seal Nation” earlier this week (yes, I’m aware Seals don’t have feathers!) with some of my commentary I must say, most e-mails directed to me were done in a respectable manner. Differences of opinion are what makes the world go around. If we didn’t have them it’d be a pretty boring place. However, the Selinsgrove faithful have been more than courteous with follow up questions about their team, driving directions, where to park and many other requests. And from looking at my website stats page, they surely have helped increase my daily page view counts so to them I say thanks. They are very supportive of their team and from the looks of some of that video footage, come out in big numbers to support their team. This means that those of us from the Trojan Nation that are choosing to make the trip will have to cheer extra loud.

High school football is about the kids, it’s about sportsmanship. Its fans can and should be every bit as passionate about the game as the followers of college or pro football. From what I’ve experienced this week I expect a hard fought game between two great teams with sportsmanship and class both on the field and in the stands.

Hoist that black and pale blue banner all the way to the Susquehanna!

Doug Keklak can be reached at trojannation@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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