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2006 Monday Morning Ramblings

Monday Morning Ramblings #1

One short school/work week and the regular season is upon us! (I know the kids don't go back until after Labor Day, but just humor me!)

This is the third year of wall-to-wall coverage from Trojan Nation and we are putting it in overdrive. All our regular features are back, some with new additions and we have some new wrinkles, too. While our tagline might sound boastful to some, I think you'll see without a shadow of a doubt that we are truly the premier independent source for all things Trojans.

For those of you new to the party, just know that being independent means you get the good and the bad with us. Although we'll NEVER call out a player individually (to do so would be HIGHLY unprofessional and go against just about everything we stand for) we do offer opinion and analysis of things going on. If this means being critical of a coaching decision, so be it. However, you will never see personal attacks on any player or coach in this web space. If that is what you're looking for you're going to be greatly disappointed. We do our best to be as fair as possible with all our thoughts, analysis and writing, but keep in mind: we are not employees of the school district. This site is not officially sanctioned by the school. For us simply to be "cheerleaders" and positive 100% of the time would be unbecoming of us. You the viewer deserve and should expect better than that.

Now, for the ramble, I'd like to speak to four main points to kick off the season.

First, let's address the landscape of the LHAC this year. There is a buzz this year. Call it what you want; some are saying it's a down year due to the quality players that have been lost across the league to graduation. Others are saying it's parity and it's a good thing. Still others feel that some of the traditional powers are going to have down years. Let me tackle each of these issues.

There is no denying that many great high school players will no longer be blessing the fields across the LHAC. Bishop Carroll no longer has Paul Forcellini, Brock Lauer and Jeff Minemyer. Bishop McCort is without Mike Sheridan and much of their offensive line from a year ago. Although Forest Hills has Travis Rearick, probably the conference's best quarterback, returning, they lose targets Adam Trout, Jake Oswalt and RB Will Lazaration. We in the Trojan Nation also were bitten by the graduation bug as Xavier Thomas, Scott Corson and Mike Kush have all moved on.

If this means parity, hey, I'm all for that. I have been saying for years that this league has been run by a few teams and it seems like things pretty much stay static. I have complained that competition isn't there. If this the year some programs turn the corner, that's great. Early reports out of Richland's camp have them being much improved. Also, don't sleep on Penn Cambria; Ernie Fetzer has pretty much everyone back from a squad that surprised a lot of people outside of Cresson last year. There has also been scuttlebutt that Central Cambria will be a tough team this year as well. I am all for this. There are 12 teams in the LHAC, the more that can improve the better.

However, I really don't think these schools are getting better at the expense of the powerhouse programs. Why you ask? Simple numbers and history. Until Forest Hills, Bishop McCort or Bishop Carroll suffer through a losing season, then let me just say: "I'll believe it when I see it". This is hardly the first year key cogs of Rangers, Crushers and Huskies have finished their schooling. These programs seem to be able to reload rather than rebuild. Much of this is attest to coaching. There aren't many coaches in the area, if any, that are more successful than Don Bailey. As for Ken Salem and Craig Sponsky, they are on their way as being talked about in that same light. Sponsky has coached in a state championship game. As far as District 6 goes, that puts him in elite company with Bailey and Tyrone's John Franco.

As for the numbers, since '99 the three programs have a combined record of 203-54. That's nearly an 80% winning percentage. We mentioned Carroll lost a state title game but three times in that period, the team that eliminated one of these programs from the playoffs went on to win the state title. There are nine instances of a program winning ten or more games in that timeframe and on the flipside never did one of those programs lose more than 4 games. Needless to say, I'm a skeptic of this being a "down year" for these teams. The numbers allow me to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Moving on, the PIAA has made some changes as to how the football playoff brackets will breakdown. The last few years it has been the District 6-AAA champion taking on their counterpart from District 4. This pretty much meant that we followed the Selinsgrove program from afar since they have been the cream of that crop for some time now (and probably will be again this year). However, we'll have a new District to follow this year: District 8. Also known as the Pittsburgh City League, the district currently has nine members that compete in football. Four are AAAA while five are AAA. With such a small number of schools in the league, there is just one champion and classification has nothing to do with it, just record. This leads to an odd event as many years a AAAA team might not even advance to the league final but will advance to the PIAA playoffs because the district sends a rep from both AAA and AAAA.

Unfortunately for District 6, the juggernaut for some time now in the City has been Perry Traditional Academy, a AAA school. They are 79-13 in the last seven seasons. In that time period, they only faced off against a District 6 opponent once. In 1999 they beat Bellefonte 42-7 in a playoff game. The Commodores won the state title in AAA in 1989 and were runners-up in 1997 with Rod Rutherford at quarterback. They have won the City League title the last six seasons in a row. The other team to watch in the city this year is another AAA squad, up and coming Peabody.

These changes mean the road to Hershey for our friends in District 4 also has changed. Their champ will play the champ from District 9. D9 only has four AAA teams: Bradford, Clearfield, Punxsutawney and St. Marys. The bracket then breaks down as follows: the winner of the first round game between the champs of 6-AAA and 8-AAA will take on the 10-AAA champ whereas the winner of the first round game between the champs of 4-AAA and 9-AAA will take on the WPIAL AAA winner.

That leads into the next rambling point, the WPIAL. Is there a more hypocritical district in all of the PIAA? Earlier this year, the district ruled that it was OK for Tino Sunseri to transfer to Pittsburgh Central Catholic even though he is living with his uncle while his father Sal stays in the Carolinas as a member of the Panthers' coaching staff. However, Rob Gronkowski moved to the Woodland Hills School District from Buffalo with his father and he was ruled ineligible. How is it that a kid is allowed to move from another state, live with an uncle and play for a Catholic school but a kid and his father move into an apartment within the borders of a public school district and cannot play?

I also love when I read preseason reviews of WPIAL teams and I hear coaches say "we have a chance for the playoffs". In the WPIAL, that's tantamount of saying "the sky is blue."

Finally, in closing, let me express some thoughts on message boards. There are many, many message boards out there in cyberspace. They come in all different varieties, on a number of topics. Some are moderated, some aren't. Some are very active, others aren't. Over the summer, I became a target of dismay to a small group of people who began posting on our Trojan Nation message board. You see, our message board is attached to our website. Our website is one that is a sports related so common sense would prevail (or so you would think) that the message board attached to it would also be sports related.

However, when many off-topic and questionable subjects were started, I simply tried to remind everyone to try and keep it on topic. By doing this I was told I was limiting free speech. Nothing could be further from the truth. There were threads during the season that had negative things to say about the team and some coaches. I never once deleted any post or told anyone they couldn't express such an opinion. The only minor issue that happened was that a poster called a kid out by name and I told them we wouldn't be having that. After explaining that, we never had an issue on that front again.

I also have begun to question the validity and integrity of some of the posters. It is very easy to check IP addresses and when doing this, I discovered that many people were posting under different names and to make matters worse, they were "agreeing" with their pseudonyms. (Really hard to agree with yourself!) Another style of fraudulent message boarders is that they use fake email addresses which make it tough to take conversations off-line. It is real easy to hide behind fake screen names and email address when making questionable comments.

I've gotten flack that people don't feel welcome if they didn't play sports. Look, sports was and remains to be an important part of my life and I'm not going to apologize for that. I have no ill-feelings towards people that didn't participate in sports and maybe chose to do something like band, forensics, etc. However, as our tagline suggests we are a sports related website. I don't think on Pitt's website, the fan forum there has discussions like "what was the crappiest dorm room", etc.

I will make no apologies for keeping things sports related. There are plenty of general topic message boards out there to keep posters busy. (And if anyone would like to start one, I'd be glad to show you how easy they are to start. Mine literally took minutes to get online.) One of the biggest misconceptions about message boards is that they are only good if there are a lot of posts. I disagree. I go for quality over quantity. I've been in a lot of forums that have very few posts but they are interesting to the topic at hand. I've been in good boards that have tons of posts. If that is what our board becomes, then great. But I'm not going to lose sleep if only a few dedicated posters decide to continue and stay on topic.

It is high time to let this issue go. Quite frankly it's become tiresome to see posts about "what happened to this board", etc, etc, etc. Why are people that I supposedly drove away continuing to post? If I truly drove you away, you shouldn't be around at all right?

This is my final word on the message board issues. I am looking forward to a great year of football related banner but if it doesn't come to fruition, so be it.

I know no other way to transition to closing this than saying: GO TROJANS!

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #3

9/11/06

Well, here we are heading into week three of the football season and the Trojans are sitting pretty at 2-0. JHS is one of three LHAC teams heading into section play undefeated. Richland and Bedford are the others.

What’s making this conference very tough to handicap is the fact that after this past Friday night we are posed with the question: is there truly a clear cut favorite in this race. Johnstown’s opening night win against Penn Cambria looks all the more impressed now that they had their way with perennial powerhouse Bishop Carroll this past weekend.

Sure Richland’s 2-0 may look less impressive on paper because they took care of the usual doormats of the league in Cambria Heights and Central but they have been touted as a program that is possibly on the rise.

As for Bedford, although there is nothing that impressive of beating Somerset in the fashion they did, what can you say about the moxie they showed going into downtown Johnstown and outlasting Bishop McCort in overtime.

McCort rebounded to the loss to Bedford by squeaking out a close one against Forest Hills… on the road! No easy task at all.

I have complained for quite a few years about the LHAC being an easy conference for the powers but this might be the year that parity does in fact exist and that all changes. If that is the case then I truly welcome that. There is nothing like playing games week in , week out that have big game, playoff-type atmospheres.

According to some of the local pundits, the Trojans should be 0-2 right now. The way I look at, keep picking against them because it’s working so far. One area “expert” even went to the lengths to refer to the Trojans as an undisciplined team that would be suffering from a “Lack-O-Rod”, referring to former Trojan star LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Look, LaRod may be the best running back (so could even argue all-around player) to ever suit up in the blue and black but let me just say this, do NOT sleep on Antwuan Reed. Those local pundits dwelling in the pass may be passing up the chance to really enjoy yet another great runner coming from the school.

Secondly, LaRod was gone last year too, if you’re going to dog Johnstown like so many do, at least come up with some original material!

Lastly, the crack about playing undisciplined seems unfair. Sure, Trojan teams in the past may have had those types of issues, but so far this season the penalties have been few and far between. For that matter, not too many have been of the “mental” type that would classify them with being an undisciplined team. Plus, trash talk has appeared to be minimal if non-existent. I guess this is just another label that Johnstown teams will ALWAYS have to overcome.

Two concerns going into this Westmont game, the section opener, are the health of Will Harris and Ben Landis. Harris appeared to be injured in pre-game warm-ups but did play some during the rout of Central Cambria. Landis was injured in the second half and did not return. This injuries harms the Trojans three-fold as Landis handles punts, place-kicks and kick-offs and excels at all three.

Those concerns aside, the game Friday is one the team should win. Sure, Westy is coming off a victory too but let’s be honest, everyone should beat Cambria Heights so you cannot put that much stock in that win.

As long as the team stays focused on the little things and take things one practice and game at a time, there is no doubt they should be 3-0 come late Friday evening.

I would like to close this Monday’s column with an excerpt of a Monday Morning Rambling I wrote two years ago on the third anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our nation. I figured this only fitting in this, the fifth anniversary of that horrific day. The day when time stood still, floods of tears were shed and many lives were lost. A day that a generation of people will have flashbulb memories of where they were when they heard of those unspeakable acts.

My point in this piece back in 2004 was essentially that the we won. Our lifestyle hasn’t changed that much. We still enjoy the basic freedoms that many across the globe would die for and that many of us still shamefully take for granted.

In the aftermath of the attacks in 2001, one thing that roamed through my mind was “how long was it going to be before things got back to normal?” How long would it be before we got back to our “normal lives?” How long before the television programming wouldn’t be ‘round the clock coverage of the attacks.

American culture can sometimes be preoccupied with little things. We liked to be entertained for a great majority of us, we turn to sports for that outlet. Another aspect of our culture is that our media outlets have a tendency to dwell on the negative. Sure, they have a job to do in reporting news but I contend, as you’ll see below that a lot of good gets done but is unseen to the general public.

Below is material adapted from the Monday Morning Ramblings that was published on September 13, 2004:

Things really have not changed that much have they? Sure, it is a pain to have to take your shoes off before you go through metal detectors at airports. Sure, no one wants to have to get to a game a half hour before they normally would because you have to go through security. However I would argue that 99% of our daily lives, our pleasures, our hobbies, our interests really have gone on unaffected.

Terrorists can use themselves and planes as bombs. They can do the unthinkable and take schoolchildren hostage. They can do deplorable acts over and over again but is there anything any one individual can do to stop it? Sure we can make efforts to educate our young on tolerance and acceptance but will that be 100% effective? Probably not. There will also be some small element of evil in society. It is the concept of yin and yang. Even Christianity needs it. The idea of the Christian God is a wonderful thing for those of us that believe. I would argue that His greatness is only magnified by the evil, that being Satan, that He defeats gloriously.

So, sure, bad things are bound to happen, it’s the law of averages. But no bad things can really overshadow the accomplishments of our youth. In a time when our nation is at war and divided politically our kids are going to school. They are getting good grades. They are in the National Honor Society. They volunteer. They excel at athletics, band and many other extracurricular activities.

You do not see these stories for they are not sexy. They do not sell newspapers. Channel 6 is going to win the ratings battle by leading with church youth groups picking up trash on the side of the road or visiting a shut-in or collecting money for the Salvation Army during the holidays. For every one bad story about a shooting, stabbing, robbery, etc that are countless other good deeds that go unseen to the general public.

High school football is something special. It is a microcosm of society; a melting pot if you will. As much as our society claims to be integrated, where else do we see whites and blacks together in a social setting? Think of your church, if you are white, the church you go to is probably all white and vice versa. However, high school football teaches lessons, it teaches kids of all different backgrounds, family incomes, religion, neighborhoods to work together as a team. Skills that someday, those that chose to play will be very happy they learned at a young age.

High school football is everything good about America. It is competition. It is exciting. It is diverse. It is challenging. It is memory-making. It is physical, mental and emotional.

No matter what the current war brings to the future of our nation, no matter what terrorist attacks are yet to come one thing is for sure: no one will ever take high school football away from America. No amount of terrorists or homemade bombs can take that away from us.

May the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror and the ongoing struggle in Iraq rest in peace and their memories be eternal.

God bless America.

Doug Keklak can be reached at trojannation@yahoo.com

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #4

The Trojans are 3-0 and heading into a big game this Friday at Richland. The status of two of Richland’s top offensive weapons, Marco Pecora and Andy Rubal, is unknown at the time. Both Rams were injured in their 22-14 win over Bishop Carroll Friday night.

I know I said it last year, but I really am concerned about the Rams. I thought they were closing the gap and become a contender in the conference and District 6-AA last year. Although the Trojans had an easy night with the Rams last year, I don’t think the Rams can be slept on this year, with or without Pecora and Rubal. The team was good enough to finish out the win without them on Friday night so there is other talent on Brandon Bailey’s squad.

Remember in my first MMR of the year and how I said I’d believe it when I saw it about three programs supposedly going through down years? Well, one of those programs might actually be having just that. It could be safe to say that the Huskies of Bishop Carroll could finally be having that down year. After narrowly escaping with an overtime win against Central, BC has lost back-to-back games against Penn Cambria and Richland. The season’s still young, but this week’s game against Bishop McCort could be a gut-check for their post-season hopes.

Rambling back to this past weekend’s game, it’s safe to say that the Trojans narrowly escaped defeat this week. One of the most telling signs in my eyes was the fact that has the team ran out the clock and the game was over, there was no celebration. The team strolled onto the field to take place in the postgame hand shake with no raised helmets or jumping up and down in sight. I think Coach Arcurio and the rest of the staff set the tone that this was a game they probably should have won by two or three scores. Therefore, there is no need to celebrate as there still is a lot of work to do in order for the team to accomplish their goals.

I look for a spirited team to invade Richland and take it to the Rams. BUT, they have to be focused and not take the Rams lightly. A few injured starters or not, there is a buzz in Richland when it comes to football this year. This could be a turning point for their program and a home win against Johnstown would be HUGE.

Three games into the season and I must say, I am impressed with the officiating thus far. I have seen the three Trojan games as well as 7 other games on TV and the officials have let the players decide the game. That’s more than one could say for the college game. The refs at the Division 1-A level have been an embarrassment to the game so far. They single-handedly gave the Oregon-Oklahoma game to Oregon. Although Michigan State took it to Pitt in the second half this weekend (and that coaching staff leaves a lot to be desired) there were some flat-out blown calls in that game. Most of them occurred when the game was still undecided, you know, before Pitt’s defense made Michigan State’s QB look like Michael Vick!

Getting back to the Trojans, I was talking with good friend and Trojan Nation contributor Amos Myers this week and he brought up an interesting point. In looking ahead at this year’s team and the goals they may have set one has to wonder: where does a conference title fit in there? As good as some of the teams have been since the Trojans joined the LHAC in 2001, none have ever won the conference. Bob Arcurio’s teams have made District 6 playoff appearances every year since 2002, they have been a District 6 runner-up once, a District 6 champion once advancing to the PIAA state playoffs. However, they’ve never won the LHAC. I know it’s just another banner to hang in the gym but there would have to be a satisfaction in outlasting all the local area teams in the league. For a team that appears to have a goal of going undefeated, this probably is on the radar.

Just food for thought for those of us outside of the program, for those guys involved day-to-day, they’re living it one day at a time.

And I’ll end today with some more food for thought, and related to the LHAC talk. With the ten game regular season back up I’m wondering if the advent of a championship game for the conference would be a feasible idea. You could call it the LHAC Bowl and rotate it from venue to venue randomly each year. Sure it was take some work, mainly because you would have to be flexible in your schedule and other schools would be as well. I know that’s asking a lot from some athletic directors in region (that is, asking them to do work!) but I think it could get done. If you feel your program has a chance to be in the game, don’t schedule a week ten game. If you don’t make it and you’re still in the playoffs, you’ll just have a week off. Like I said, it would call for some creative, cooperative scheduling, but it could get done.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #5

9/25/06

*****The win against Richland was a very big one when you break it down. Richland was previously unbeaten. So, although the Trojans only get 80 points for the win since the Rams are AA, they get 30 points for the Rams’ 3 wins. It was a bigger win in the points than the Somerset win would be. Beating a winless AAA school just gets you the standard 100 points.

*****As far as the rest of the playoff scene, it was another good night for the Trojans as they remain in first place in the 6-AAA standings and have a 140 point lead over second place Huntingdon.

*****Sometimes you’ve got to thank the competition. In addition to the Trojans getting things done on the field Friday night, all three squads they beat prior to the Richland game also won their contests over the weekend. Therefore, it was a total point gain of 140 points on the week. Not too shabby.

*****How about the playoff-like atmosphere at the game Friday night? I know the Rams’ fans were up for the big game but the Trojans fans made the short trip in big numbers too. I guess winning will do that! I arrived at the stadium around 6:15 and the bleachers on the Johnstown side were nearly 75% full. Great job Nation, keep coming out!

*****I appreciate the exuberance of the PA announcer but there is a time when you can go a little over the top. I know, it was the Rams’ best start since 1996 and all but man, when you thank the great media coverage and then refer to said media coverer as “Dave Mastovich” that’s kind of whack! I guess it’s been a long time since the Trib’s lead writer has covered a game at Richland.

*****I noticed when leaving the field Friday night that there was a banner celebrating the Richland program’s 600th game.

No snide comment (at least that I want to put in writing), you can draw your own conclusion.

*****What was the point of the Rams going for an onside kick with mere seconds left in a blowout? I know you should have a never say die attitude but when do you draw the line. I’ll preface this by saying that I have no ill-will towards Coach Brandon Bailey. I feel he’s a class act, he’s always responded to any media requests I have and is gracious with his time. I’m just saying, the only thing that could come out of that play is negative. I would have hated to see either team get an injury in a meaningless play. Just squib kick the ball and end the game.

*****There was some spin on the angle that the Rams were without their best two players in Marco Pecora and Andy Rubal Friday night. Sure, it’s tough to play anyone without your best two guns but does anyone realistically think the outcome would have been any different Friday night had those two young men suited up for the Rams?

Maybe if they both gained 100 pounds and tried to help the line block Aaron Brezovic!

*****The Trojans are now 4-0 and of to their best start since the 2003 season when they went 5-0 before losing to Bishop Carroll in a game that still causes upset stomachs in the Trojan Nation! Looking ahead, based on what we’ve seen from the next two squads on the Trojans’ schedule, there should be no reason whatsoever that the team shouldn’t be 6-0 come week seven.

That would set up the high drama as the Trojans will be making their first trip back to the Point Stadium since they stopped calling it home. Not that the city rivalry game with Bishop McCort needs any additional pumping up!

*****We enter the week leading up the 1,000th game with high hopes here at the Nation. It’s funny though, because you wouldn’t think it after hearing some of the chatter in the message board and what I overheard at the game Friday night. I’m critical when it’s deserved but I also give credit where credit is due.

I can only imagine what I’d hear if the team wasn’t winning.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #6

*****Well, the 1,000th game has come and gone and I must say that I was very pleased with how everything went off. Coach Arcurio, Superintendent Parkins and Dr. Zahorchak all made very nice comments during the on-field ceremonies during pre-game. I thought it was a great touch to have the players and coaches shake hands with all the former players.

A special thanks goes out to all the former players from throughout the decades that signed up to be a part of the festivities. The 1940s through 2000s were all well represented on Saturday night. I stepped back to just view the long line of former Trojan players and it was quite impressive.

Also, great job by the alumni band and cheerleaders that participated. You all did a great job. The band sound great at halftime and you cheerleaders showed school spirit last you never left high school!!!!

*****A final thank you goes to the entire administration and staff at Somerset. Coach Costea said it best to Mike Mastovich in the Tribune Democrat: it’s a once in a lifetime thing. I have no doubt that this great event would have never happened had the game been played away. Of course they’ll get home games the next years but in the long run, that is a small price to pay for the amount of history that was celebrated Saturday and that the current team got to be a part of.

*****Athletic Director Tony Penna, Sr. told me that many people were viewing the Trojan Nation and found out about the 1,000th game from the site. If my statistics on hits were any indication of this, then he is right on. When I started this site, I made a goal to myself that someday I wanted to achieve 10,000 hits. In the past month, not only did we eclipse that mark, but both the 11,000 and 12,000 mark too.

I hope all the alumni that have checked the site out continue to view it. We’d love to have that momentum going forward! Thanks for looking, and I sincerely hope you enjoy what you’ve seen. Check out the alumni database and email me to add your name. Maybe you can re-connect with some long lost classmates.

*****The weekend was good to the Trojans before they even stepped on the field Saturday night. Westmont and Penn Cambria helped out JHS’ cause by winning their respective games. Richland and Central Cambria lost their games so JHS didn’t get the maximum points but they can still gain those bonus points later in the year if they beat Richland’s and CC’s opponents this past weekend (Bishop McCort and Bedford) later in the year.

*****JHS remains the lone undefeated squad in the LHAC and District 6-AAA. The Trojans are still in first place by 130 points over second place Hollidaysburg in the 6-AAA standings.

They are also one of only 6 undefeated teams left in all of District 5 and 6. The other 5-0 squads in the region are Marion Center, Tyrone, Portage, Windber and Meyersdale.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #7

*****Happy Monday Morning and to those of you enjoying the Columbus Day holiday, have a great day off. Let the rambling begin.

*****With the win over Bishop Carroll Friday night, the Trojans are off to their first 6-0 start since 1988. Many of you will recall that team in 1988 went undefeated for the regular season and won an opening round WPIAL playoff game before succumbing to Blackhawk and ending the season 11-1. Here’s to hoping for similar success and beyond for this year’s squad.

*****I was glad to see Coach Arcurio giving props to the offensive linemen in the pregame of the PCN/Atlantic Broadband coverage. Sure, Antwuan Reed is an outstanding running back but back-to-back 200 yard games and the fact that he’s surpassed the century mark already are big milestones for a line that returned zero starters from a year ago. Especially when you look at the fact that two of the guys lost were honored with all-state at one point in their careers in Kush and Corson.

It is easy to see why there would have been doubters of this line (present company included). Great job guys.

*****Speaking of Reed, if you didn’t already think this guy was the real deal I hope you do now. The bad news for the rest of the LHAC is that this guy still has another year! If he can remain healthy he will put up some amazing numbers. Oh, and he’s already got the attention of too many Division 1-A coaches and programs to name in this space.

I was talking to some folks in the stands that told me the only reason they came to the game Friday night was to catch Reed in action and boy were they pleased. In my eyes, one of the biggest differences in Reed from a year ago to now is his ability to make that first cut once he gets beyond the line of scrimmage.

*****Moving on to this week, I don’t think there needs to be any additional motivation for a Johnstown/McCort game. This game has it all. You have city rivals. You have Johnstown going back to the Point Stadium for the first time since Trojan Stadium was opened. It is the first time since 1992 that the Trojans will be the visiting team at a game at the Point Stadium.

Also, it’s no secret that the Crushers have had the Trojans number as of late. JHS has only been able to beat McCort once since JHS has joined the LHAC. Before that, the Trojans and Crushers played a two game series in 1991 and 1992 that resulted in a tie in ‘91 and a loss in ‘92.

Of course, that’s all ancient history and with the task at hand here in the present day, it’s the obvious statement of the year that McCort is far and away the most talented team the Trojans have faced to date. Although we’ll get more into the analysis and breakdown of the Crushers in tomorrow’s “A Look Ahead”, it’s safe to say all the “loose ends” that the Trojans may have gotten away with earlier this year cannot be committed this Friday.

Having watched a replay of McCort/Forest Hills as well as seeing the Crushers in person up at Westmont Saturday, they are a good team but NOT unbeatable.

*****Can we FINALLY put to bed the whole “LaRod is too small to be an every down back” myth? After his performance at Syracuse (which we’ll breakdown more in depth on Wednesday’s Bullet Points) I think that can all be put to bed. I’m talking to you Paul Zeise, Mark Madden, Tim Benz and any other naysayer in the Pittsburgh sports media. Move on to another topic like the Steelers, the Penguins’ new arena, how old JoePA is, etc, etc!

*****That’s all for now, see you all at the Point. It’s going to be good one!

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #8

Ugly.

No other way to put what transpired Friday night.

Bishop McCort are the undisputed champions of Johnstown having not only beaten Johnstown but Richland and Westmont as well. Ken Salem’s team not only beat these three teams but they did so by a combined score of 113-6. Did anyone else notice that the only team of those three that scored on the Crushers was Richland?

The win clinched the LHAC Section 2 title for McCort and they appear to be an odds-on favorite to at least share the outright LHAC title. They have a much easier remaining schedule that the Trojans. The Crushers have Cambria Heights and Central left on the schedule while the Trojans have Bedford and Forest Hills. Penn Cambria's win over Forest Hills clinched the Section I title for them and they could get a share of the title too if they win outright. There would be no tiebreaker in the situation of them and McCort having identical records since they do not play head-to-head this year.

What about that LHAC Bowl idea now. A championship game between BM and PC would be especially inviting this year since the teams didn't play each other in regular season play. I guess the chance of the teams meeting up in District 5/6-AA playoff play will have to do.

Brad Barbin’s open-field tackle on Antwuan Reed was the best hit I’ve seen this season.

I held out judgment on the new Point Stadium during the AAABA as I think there is room for improvement. However, I will not hesitate to state that it is an absolutely horrible venue for football. The sightlines are bad, the angles are off, the press box placement is a joke, it’s hard to believe that football seems like more of an afterthought this time around. I know I wrote earlier this year that the students being in the end zone was cool but that was one of the few positives. Oh, and if you stay for the entire game you’ll experience a traffic jam similar to what those of us that sit in the Parkway East outbound experience everyday between 4 and 5! Your best bet is to wait for 5-10 minutes and the escape via the third base side.

Oh, speaking of stadiums, what happened to etiquette? A couple marched up the steps and just sat down right on my friend’s blanket that was being used to save seats. I always thought that when a blanket was down on a bleacher that meant the seat was taken.

Speaking of etiquette, please tell me I didn’t hear someone shout “PUT IN LEHMAN” at the game Friday night!

Does anyone else think that the Trojans could have avoided the shut out by throwing a fade to Meech at the end of the first half? Not that it matters that much in the big picture of the game as the outcome would have been the same, but there is something especially stinging about getting shutout by your rival. Just food for thought.

And now, some numbers for thought. Johnstown is a good program, but they’re not great. They won’t be great until they start winning games like those Friday night on a consistent basis. Including games this season so far, since JHS joined the LHAC they have the following records against the conference opponents:

*****Richland 6-0

*****Somerset 6-0

*****Cambria Heights 4-0

*****Central 4-0

*****Central Cambria 3-1

*****Penn Cambria 3-1

*****Westmont 3-3

*****Bishop Carroll 2-4

*****Bishop McCort 1-5

*****Forest Hills 1-3

*****Bedford 0-3

The numbers below Westmont tell the story. In fact, you can probably include the record against Westmont in that in order for the Trojans to turn the corner as a program, the wins and losses have to get better against the better competition in the LHAC, otherwise, they are just a middle of the road team that beats the teams they should, but loses to the better teams.

I fully believe that the Trojans will get their maiden LHAC victory over Bedford this Friday.

After all is said and done, the loss to McCort isn’t that damaging from a playoff standpoint. The Trojans dropped to second place in the 6-AAA standings but only by 40 points. They still need to handle there business the rest of the way to solidify a first round playoff game at Trojan Stadium.

It was another big game for JHS grad LaRod Stephens-Howling against UCF Friday night as he had three touchdowns and 135 yards as the Panthers absolutely blew out the Knights. You know, after last week’s performance I talked about people not having the short-sighted view that LaRod can’t be an every down back because of his size. But the performance against Syracuse didn’t change perceptions that much. Here is what Paul Zeise had to say in a chat conducted on the Post-Gazette’s website:

“I think LaRod Stephens-Howling is a talented back. He can do a lot of things and he is fun to watch once he gets going. But to quote your favorite coach Walt Harris "let's not put him in the college football hall of fame after one game." The bottom line is still saw an offense that struggled to get tough yards on a consistent basis and I definitely think there are plenty of opportunities to use Collins as well. I just think if you want to run LaRod 28 times a game you are asking for trouble, but he could prove me wrong. I like both kids, I like both of their talents and I think they can complement each other in the backfield better than they do.”

You know, it’s hard for me to accept that someone that is covering the team day in, day out continues to shortchange a guy because of his size. I’ve heard Wannstedt defend the toughness and ability of Stephens-Howling to be an every down back numerous times. Sure, Bill Hillgrove and Bill Fralic are going to be biased as radio announcers but they recognize the guy’s talent.

Oh, and check out the rest of the chat transcript, there’s not much more about LaRod, but it’s good for entertainment purposes. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06285/729443-233.stm

OK, I’m out. Let’s get a big crowd backing up the team this Friday at Trojan Stadium. They need the support right now and they have to know that the community hasn’t given up on them after just one loss. They’re still having a good season and can go far in the playoffs. That all starts with Friday night’s game.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #9

*****When all is said and done, it cannot be overlooked how important the win over Bedford Friday night was. This has nothing to do with program building or the fact that the Trojans never beat the Bisons in regular season play. It has to do with the playoff implications. Johnstown beat a AA team so they get 80 points for that. However, they get an additional 50 points for the five wins Bedford has picked up this season to date. Chances are they’ll pick up another ten next week as Bedford takes on Bishop Carroll in a game the Bisons should probably win.

The win, along with the bonus points points picked up by Johnstown from the teams they defeated earlier this year and that won this weekend, gives the Trojans a slim 10 point lead in the first place race of the District 6-AAA points. It also all but sews up a first round playoff game for the Trojans and we’ve talked about the importance of those. In two previous games at Trojan Stadium in first round D6-AAA play, the Trojans are undefeated.

We’ll get more in-depth on this topic with an upcoming edition of “Numberology” by Jason Subich but the Trojans should do everything in their power to win and get the first seed overall. I say, let Huntingdon and Hollidaysburg battle it out in a 2 vs. 3 match-up. Someone will have to go home and those two teams are worlds better than Bellefonte and Indian Valley who are fighting for the fourth and final playoff seed.

This week is tough though as the Trojans have a considerably harder game in Forest Hills than do the Bearcats in Philipsburg-Osceola. Although the Trojans are firmly in the playoffs, this game with the Rangers has to be taken with the utmost seriousness almost as if a playoff spot WAS on the line.

*****I’m not sure what was worse Friday night: Wes Swaim making an ass of himself or the officials letting themselves get shown up by a coach and not having the guts to throw a flag. I know I already mentioned this in my report card but it deserves another look. What kind of example is a coach setting when he acts like that? Isn’t a coach supposed to be a role model to the kids? That’s going to do nothing but fire them up and possibly cause something bad. I was thanking God that the handshake went off without incident. That could’ve gotten ugly.

And before I get a slew of emails from Bisons fans, don’t worry, I would say the same thing if it was Bob Arcurio doing that.

*****Switching gears, I’d like to give a belated congratulations to Selinsgrove Head Coach Bill Scott. Two games ago he got his 250th victory in a 35-3 win over Great Valley and this past weekend he got 251 after the Seals beat Shamokin 35-7. The Seals are 8-0 and have already clinched the #1 seed in the District 4-AAA playoffs. I would say they are a shoe-in for another district title as the weakness of 4-AAA makes the 6-AAA scene look like WPIAL AAAA or AA!!!!!

Even though the brackets have changed and the D6 winner won’t be playing the D4 winner this year, I still follow this program from a distance. Their community makes up for a HUGE following and are some of the most savvy HS football fans I’ve come across as several still correspond with me as they look at the Trojan Nation from a distance.

*****Although Perry got back on the winning track, the Oliver Bears cannot be looked down upon as a legit contender to take that AAA spot from the City League and earn the right to play the District 6-AAA champ. A huge contributor to the Bears’ success this year has been a young man by the name of Jacques Robinson. Not only is he the team’s leading receiver but he is the textbook definition of ball hawk as he has 9 interceptions on the season.

*****It was a tough loss for the Pitt Panthers Friday night in front of a big Homecoming crowd as they fell 20-10 to Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights had to play the disrespect card. I’m normally not a fan of that but when you come into a game ranked and the opponent isn’t AND you’re undefeated, well, it’s tough to say YOU’RE the underdog. Rutgers showed they were for real though as Ray Rice gained 225 yards on the ground and had all the callers to the Panther hotline putting defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes deservedly on the hot seat.

As for the “Johnstown Jet”, LaRod had 55 yards on 12 carries and caught 2 passes for 26 yards.

*****The bandwagon is very easy to jump on and jump off I guess. I’ve been a season ticket holder for the Pitt football team since Heinz Field opened in 2001. In the previous visits that Rutgers made, I saw a smattering of fans spread throughout the venue. Saturday night, it was Red-Out in the corner section where the opposing band sits.

The team is 7-0 and looks great but where were all these fans during the lean years? Schools like Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Syracuse travel REGARDLESS of the Ws and Ls.

*****And that nicely wraps up into my final point. Those of you that have been following my rankings for the past few weeks know that Meyersdale has been on my radar but I just wasn’t able to put them in the top ten based on the competition they played. I wrote several weeks ago that I would see how good the team is come weeks eight and nine when they play Windber and Portage.

Yes, they proved me wrong by beating the Ramblers handily. And yes, they will be in the top ten when my rankings come out this week. However, you have to look at it from my shoes. The team’s wins came from seven teams with a combined record of 16-40 and only one of those, Rockwood, has a winning record. Also, lets face it, the Red Raiders haven’t been world beaters the past few years. They were 6-5 a year ago preceded by 0-9, 4-5, 5-4, 3-7, 4-5, and 5-5 campaigns. Not exactly Hoover High and to quote Denny Green: “IF YOU WANNA CROWN ‘EM…!!!”

So, yes, they will make the top ten but yes, I still stand by what I said before and had they NOT beat Windber they still wouldn’t be in my top ten.

Of course, I got a few emails from some peeps from Meyersdale this weekend. Hey, ask me how many total emails I’ve gotten from Meyersdale people in the last three years!

I think you already know the answer!

*****Well, this ramble is done, it’s off to Sidman and the Forest Hills Rangers.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #10

*****I say it every year at this point of the season, but can you believe how fast it has gone? It just seems like yesterday I was counting down the days to the opener, then getting ready for the 1,000th game and now, those are both distant memories and the playoffs will be upon us in a few weeks time.

Anyone who braved the conditions last Friday knew real quick that it was closer to November than September outside!!!

*****The team finished the LHAC season 7-2 and I don’t think this can be taken lightly. First off, this is a season that we didn’t play perennial doormats Central and Cambria Heights in the non-section part of the schedule. The team beat a Penn Cambria team week one that hasn’t lost since. Losses to McCort and Forest Hills, as much as you hate to lose to these two teams, are nothing to sneeze at. Those are two good football teams that should advance in the district AA playoffs.

Furthermore, the second point is who among us thought the team’s record would be where it is after week nine? I don’t think too many people would have predicted this, admittedly present company included. When you lose two linemen that earned all-state honors in their careers and have to replace them and the rest of the line with new varsity starters from tackle to tackle it’s easy to see why one might think success would be limited this year.

Great job guys, way to prove a lot of people wrong!

*****The playoffs appear to be set and it will be Indian Valley at Huntingdon in a fourth seed vs. top seed and Hollidaysburg at Johnstown in a third vs. second seed.

*****10th game? There have been some rumblings that the week ten game with Tyrone will not take place as is the case with many games in District 6 as far as teams that are heading to the postseason. Of course, we’ll cover this week as if the team is going to play the game until we’re told otherwise and we’ll inform the nation if that is the case.

It seems like what was a great idea at first in scheduling these tenth week games could become a moot point. Unless the games would count for the playoff points (which they don’t) I don’t see the purpose of playing them or even scheduling them. If the game is in fact played, I can’t see doing anything other than treating it like an NFL preseason game and give the starters very limited reps. Especially with the injury situation of guys like Reed and Stephens-Howling.

*****That’s all for now nation. Talk to you soon.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #11

*****Let me start this ramble of by giving a great big “thank you” to Jason Subich for helping me with the coverage of the Tyrone game this past weekend. Due to a work commitment I wasn’t able to get out of the ‘burgh in time to make the game. Jason phoned me often, keeping me abreast of happenings and enabling me to take notes for the game report Saturday. He also picked up my slack and evaluated the game by completing our report card in addition to his usual duties of penning “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” column.

Great job Jason, you’re a fine colleague, an asset to the Nation and a great friend. Tip of the hat!

Now, to steal another line from one of my favorite TV shows (The Colbert Report) you get a wag of the finger! Why? Because you stole a lot of my thunder and spoke on points that I was going to mention this morning. (Actually, I’m still going to mention them!)

I guess great minds think alike!

*****It is pretty obvious that the Trojans are heading in the wrong direction going into the playoffs having dropped their last two regular season contests. They are the only team in the four-team playoff tournament in 6-AAA to have lost their week ten contest.

Actually, Huntingdon hasn’t lost since week two against Tyrone. In fairness, Johnstown has had the toughest opponents during that timeframe too, but the performance on the field speaks more than the opponent.

Huntingdon appears to be the favorite to win the district right now. They have a great running attack and an all-stater at tight end. The Bearcats should have no problem in the first round against Indian Valley and in playing the winner of Hollidaysburg and Johnstown, they may be going up against an opponent that had to exert itself more in the first round.

The Trojans’ game with the Tigers could go either way, but the deck is stacked against the Trojans at this point of the season. They have to come out and play a mistake-free game on both sides of the ball as Hollidaysburg as a very good running game and the Trojans have had trouble stopping the run at times this year.

When you look at the three Trojans losses this year, you see one thing in common: big games from opposing running backs. Tyler Gillmen of Tyrone had 114 yards against JHS Friday, the week before Jared Kostan put up 179 yards and back in week seven McCort’s Scott Lewis had 155 yards. It seems if a team can have a running back go over 100, it’s a win.

We’ll get more in detail with Hollidaysburg’s attack tomorrow, but they have runners with just as much toughness and ability as anyone the Trojans have faced in the LHAC. It may be time to do something other than a base defense to try and combat that. I have half-jokingly suggested a six-man front or 5-3 or some sort of scheme to crowd the box. Yes, I have stated all year that the Trojans have been weak against the pass, but aside from stuffing Holsberger in week one, they haven’t been gangbusters against the run either. At least when it comes to playing quality opponents that is.

*****It is not all negative though going into the playoffs and one thing that the Trojans have done quite nicely in the past two losses has been the two minute offense that has had Brandon Hody lead the team down the field vertically with short to intermediate passes, high percentage in nature. It seems like one thing that isn’t a problem at this point of the year is dropped passes. There is confidence in our receiving corp and it would be great to get them involved early against Hollidaysburg and make them a factor.

Let’s face it, Reed is the most threatening back in the area. His speed allows him to make big plays that others just can’t. But, if you let a defense crowd the box and shoot the gaps, it makes it more difficult to gain yardage on the ground. Look at the McCort game, the run was all but dead by the third quarter and we were forced to pass.

This is one of those times when unconventional wisdom rules and I say pass to set up the run. So long as the line can give Hody ample protection, which they have in those quick drives the last two weeks, it could be a great strategy. And just when a defensive coordinator has the perfect defense to combat the pass attack, a big running play gains huge yardage.

*****That’s all for now, other than I am really calling on the community to come out and cheer on the squad this weekend. Let’s do our part in helping the team get back to the district title game.

 

Monday Morning Ramblings #12

The final Monday Morning Ramblings is always the toughest for me to write. It always seems like the football season flies by and before you know it, it’s finished. This year is no different and it’s probably particularly bittersweet. Mainly because the district title was ours for the taking as Indian Valley upset Huntingdon in the other first round game and pretty much the entire Trojan Nation liked the Trojans chances against the Warriors. But, that point is moot as JHS didn’t get it done Saturday night.

The naysayers may still question Coach Arcurio’s decision to go for the fake PAT but I don’t. Johnstown still had two legitimate chances to score in the fourth quarter and go ahead but didn’t.

Food for thought: would the outcome had been different if Reed wasn’t hurt on that late hit? I like Johnstown’s chances from the Hollidaysburg’s 30-yard line with our best weapon on the field.

So with the loss and the 7-4 season in the books it’s time to look at next year. The biggest concern would have to be the offensive line. Tackle to tackle they were new faces this year and the bad news is, four of those new faces were seniors as only Dave Istanich returns.

Other notable players that will be missed are defensive stalwarts Aaron Brezovic and LaVarr Stephens-Howling. These two were the heart and soul and leaders of the Trojans’ defense this year and will be tough to replace.

On the offensive skill positions, Demetrius Young will be missed for his athletic ability and the mismatch he posed to every LHAC team. I only wish they would have got him the ball more this year. Also on offense, Greg Webster at fullback will be missed for both his blocking and carrying of the rock.

Going into 2007, aside from the line, the biggest uncertainty will be at quarterback as Johnstown loses a two-year starter in Brandon Hody. And although you have Reed back, you lose your starting two wide receivers. However, incoming sophomore Richard Agurs will be a force to reckon with and will most likely start right away. Also, Quadir Christian showed some promise and will probably see reps at both running back and wide receiver.

Switching gears, I don’t like to create tradition. Tradition is something that should naturally happen. I see a natural progression with one thing: the number one. As in a jersey number that is. Xavier Thomas wore the number for three years and was one of the best, if not the best wideout in the region. Young switched his number to 1 for his senior season and was the top dog for the Trojans this year.

I think in that light, the number one should be reserved for the top WR in the Trojan program, similar to what Syracuse has done with Jim Brown’s #44. Rather than retire the number, it is worn as a badge of honor.

Also, I think that the #1 personifies what a wideout should be when you look at how Larry Fitzgerald wore it with pride and poise at the University of Pittsburgh.

Well, the Keystone Conference went down again in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Does anyone else thing Johnstown would have won at least two titles in that conference from the time they joined the LHAC?

And speaking of since they joined the LHAC: when you look at the program since it’s joined the conference and forget 2001 and Cacciotti’s last year, you have five years and only one losing season. Five playoff appearances and one district title. Yes, the 6-AAA scene isn’t the greatest but I would argue that this program is closer to turning the corner than most think. There is still a lot of work to do as far as becoming elite is concerned, but I like what Johnstown has done is these past five seasons more than what was done from 1997-2001.

Since there will be no Bullet Points this week, I’d like to update the Nation on former Trojans at the next level and beyond:

Geroy Simon had 4 catches for 34 yards as the BC Lions crushed the Saskatchewan Roughriders 45-18 in the Western Final and advance to the Grey Cup.

The Lions will play Montreal next Sunday in the Grey Cup Game which will take place in Winnipeg.

LaRod Stephens-Howling rushed the ball 32 times for 154 yards and two scores and caught 2 passes for 14 yards in Pitt’s double overtime 46-45 loss to Connecticut Saturday.

Terrill Simms did not participate in IUP’s 21-17 win over Cal U Saturday.

Mansfield lost to Millersville 41-0 on Saturday. Xavier Thomas was 4-for-8 with one interception and 25 yards passing. He also caught one pass for 12 yards. Fellow former Trojan Josh Miller had 2 tackles in the loss.

Finally, Shippensburg defeated Clarion 35-10 in a game that saw Eric Tillman make one tackle. Reg Farrior did not participate in the victory.

Well, that’s all for this football season, but fear not, the Nation isn’t done. Basketball will be starting up before too long and our Weekly Roundup will keep you informed with everything going on in the winter sports season.

 

 

 

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