Penns Manor has look of conference contender
When Penns Manor lost to Southern Columbia in the PIAA Class A semifinals last season, coach Bill Packer said it was “a great football team we lost to.”
Packer's Comets weren't so bad themselves.
After finishing second to Class AA Ligonier Valley in the Heritage Conference, Penns Manor rolled through the District 6-A playoffs and nearly reached the PIAA championship game before dropping a 37-6 decision to Southern Columbia in the semifinals and settling for a sparkling 12-2 record.
The other loss was a 28-0 decision to Ligonier Valley during the regular season.
Quarterback Danny Ferens, a first-team selection by the Pennsylvania Football News, heads the list of returnees for Penns Manor.
“He's a once-in-a-lifetime kid,” Packer said. “Danny is a kid that you will not replace for many, many years — if ever.”
In the state semifinals, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Ferens rushed for 60 yards and caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Joey Vodopevic but missed a portion of the game with an ankle injury.
He finished the year by rushing for an astounding 2,129 yards to just 629 passing, numbers that have attracted attention from Division I schools everywhere.
“He has great speed. That's what sets him apart,” said United coach Greg Mytrysak, whose team lost to Penns Manor, 50-6, last season.
Now that Ferens is back for his final year, Packer said opponents will be keying on him.
“There's going to be some really good teams this year,” he said. “Anyone in this conference can beat anyone.”
After a respectable year that led to a trip to the District 6-A playoffs, Blairsville will try to overcome the loss of a number of key players.
Included were running back Andrew Iezzi, who rushed for 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns, and quarterback Tyler Ferguson, the conference's leading passer with 1,314 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“Our guys got a good taste of winning last year,” Blairsville coach Ab Dettorre said. “
We'll impress upon them the responsibility to being good. I've liked what I've seen. I like our attitude.”
Senior running back Noah Tarr, who gained 366 yards last season, is the leading returning rusher for the Bobcats. Linebacker Scott Thompson had 67 tackles as a freshman last year, and Dettorre said Thompson also is the frontrunner to open at quarterback.
Sam and Tyler Frassenei, return to Saltsburg, which qualified last season for the District 6-A playoffs for the first time since 1992, despite a losing record (4-6).
Sam, a senior running back, and Tyler, a sophomore quarterback, form a dangerous combination. The two hooked up on a game-winning touchdown pass on the final play against Northern Cambria last season.
“The attitude these kids bring to practice is exciting,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “I'm looking forward to the season. We have all of our skill-position players back. Hopefully, it will be a sign of good things.”
Junior fullback/linebacker Mike Newhouse, who rushed for 387 yards, and senior John Grozznick (310) return to lead Homer-Center this season and both will try to help the Wildcats improve on an 0-8 record.
“It's going to be pretty competitive because a lot of kids are back for a lot of the teams,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said.
After struggling to a 4-5 record last season, United must replace its all-time leading rusher, Dom Chero, who had 2,957 career yards, including 1,240 in 2011.
Following a season in which Marion Center reached the quarterfinals of the District 6-A playoffs, the Stingers return leading rusher Brodey Thompson (643 yards) and leading tacklers Thompson and Phil Crook (67 each) but must replace quarterback Mike Cavazza, who totaled more than 1,000 yards rushing and passing combined.
Former Purchase Line great Brandon Overdorff, the school's all-time leading rusher with 4,061 yards, takes over as coach after veteran Dave Small was not retained. The Red Dragons won just two games last year after going winless in 2009 and '10.
Northern Cambria will try to improve on a 5-6 record, which was good enough to reach the District 6-A playoffs, with the return of quarterback Jeff Hogan (607 yards), running back Nate Zachesky (652 yards) and receiver Adam Polites (17 receptions, 214 yards).