Belle Vernon must deal with Uniontown's skill in Week 1 challenge
A year ago, Belle Vernon Area opened the season by blasting Uniontown, 41-13.
Although BVA coach Aaron Krepps would gladly take another Week 1 blowout, he isn't expecting one by any stretch.
“They were a very young team a year ago,” Krepps said. “This year, they have a lot of those young kids back as starters and they are much improved.”
Krepps sees Friday's Big Nine Conference opener at James Weir Stadium (7:30 p.m. kickoff) as a big test.
Uniontown returns nearly its entire offense from last season, and the Red Raiders will be a different team to contend with.
“Going in, we need to find out just who we are as a team,” he said. “I think by the end of Friday night, we should know.
“Every year it is important to start out on the right foot,” he added. “Nobody wants to be 0-1. Week 1 is an important week for us, for a lot of our players. We have to come out and play sound football.”
Krepps says the Red Raiders have several players who will draw close attention from the Leps, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“They have athletic people who can really do some good things,” Krepps said.
One of those athletic players Krepps is concerned about is Uniontown quarterback Xavier Ellis.
Ellis not only threw for 668 yards (completing 59 of 114 passes) and five TDs, but also led the team in rushing with 458 yards and six more scores.
“Xavier is a gamer,” said Uniontown coach John Fortugna. “He's a natural athlete who does things we can't coach and you can't teach.”
“They have big-play capabilities on offense and it starts with their quarterback,” Krepps said. “He has a big arm and can run. And then they have some kids out on the perimeter he can get the ball to who are explosive.
“We are going to have to play some sound assignment football on defense to contain them.”
Krepps said containment for the Leps will start up front with his three linemen, Aaron McCullough, Austin Fields and Devin Hannan.
Meanwhile, the Leps will have questions of their own to answer offensively, starting with running back.
With Anthony Levis, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards last season, out with a broken leg, Krepps might be left scurrying for a replacement.
But he is not.
“There is no doubt that Anthony is a good player and his injury is unfortunate for him and us, but we were planning on sharing the work load back there anyway,” he said. “His injury will mean that (sophomore) Luke Durigon and (junior) Brad Sloan will each have an opportunity to get more work in the backfield and I am confident that each will do well.”
He added that junior quarterback Travis Snyder, who threw for 703 yards and eight TDs despite missing some time with an injury last season, won't be expected to throw the ball more than planned.
“I seriously don't think we need to alter our game plan much with Anthony out,” he said. “We will still do what we intend to do.”
In the end, Krepps thinks his players will dictate Friday's result.
“We need to play sound football,” he said. “We have to control it on offense and contain on defense. If we do the things we are supposed to do, we should be OK.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.