Junior quarterbacks to play key role in Kittanning-Ford City rivalry matchup
The week has arrived for what could be the penultimate playing of Armstrong County's ultimate football rivalry.
Ford City and Kittanning will meet for the 12th straight year and the 74th time overall Friday in Ford City, and the contest will help bring more clarity to the playoff picture in the Allegheny Conference.
The Wildcats (5-0, 4-0) are the No. 10 team in Class AA, and a sixth straight win to open the season would clinch a playoff spot and keep them in charge of the path to the conference title.
On the other hand, Ford City (2-3, 1-3) badly needs a marquee win to boost its playoff hopes, though the Sabers are just one game out of fourth place in the crowded middle of the conference.
Even with the game's importance in this year's playoff chase, the rivalry aspect of the game takes on greater meaning with the new Armstrong High School scheduled to open in 2015.
The new school will combine the communities into one school and bring an end to a rivalry that dates to 1915.
“We all grew up about four miles away from each other, and there's always talk that goes on about which team will do better,” Kittanning junior quarterback Braydon Toy said. “We'd like to come out on top these next two years and show them what we've got.”
“The excitement for the game just builds up during the week before the game. You've got the whole school behind you,” Ford City junior quarterback Mike Bartosiewicz said.
“I think the rivalry is still going strong, and we want to go out with a bang and give it our all.”
The two junior quarterbacks will be making their first starts in the rivalry, and both play a big part for their teams' offenses.
Toy is the Wildcats' leading rusher and passer with more than 1,200 total yards and a 62.5 completion percentage. And he's been doing more damage through the air with more than 180 yards passing in his past two games.
Between Toy's throwing and his efficiency in Kittanning's spread option running attack with receiver Nick Bowers and running back Zane Dudek, Ford City's players know they will challenged defensively.
“We have to be able to stop their running game with Braydon and Bowers,” Bartosiewicz said. “We just have to execute like we can on defense because (Kittanning) uses a lot of deception, and they have a bigger offensive line that can move some people around.”
Bartosiewicz spends less time carrying the ball in Ford City's Wing-T than his counterpart — he only has 11 rushing attempts on the season — but his role as a passer has expanded with his first two 100-yard games in the last two weeks.
Cody Peppler only has five catches on the season for Ford City, but the senior receiver has emerged as a deep threat with three touchdowns of more than 50 yards and a 35.2 yards per reception average.
Being able to put the ball in the air will help the Ford City ground game, led by Chantz Schrecengost, who has 437 rushing yards through five games.
“We have to stop (Ford City) from getting out on the edge against us,” Toy said. “There's always areas where you have to keep getting better, and we have to wrap up on our tackles and not let guys get away.”
Both opposing quarterbacks are confident in their teams' preparation ahead of this week's meeting, which could be the final one in Ford City. With the WPIAL's next conference realignment scheduled for later this school year, the location of next year's rivalry game won't be known until after the new conferences are announced.
Historic notes such as that aren't on the minds of the players, however, as both teams have bigger goals they want to address in the present.
“We're going to prepare like we always do, like it was any other week,” Toy said. “We're going to learn what they do, recognize their formations and do what we've got to do on offense. We have to be ready to stop their smash-mouth football, because in the rivalry game, everyone's going to come out ready to hit.”
“(Kittanning being undefeated) is a big motivator for the team, and we'd love to give them a loss,” Bartosiewicz said. “We still want to get to the playoffs. It all starts with our line, and I've got to do my part with the rest of the backs.”