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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, 11:24 p.m.

It doesn't seem that long ago that South Fayette topped Karns City in the PIAA quarterfinals to end the football season in Armstrong County and send The Leader to his winter home in Florida.

Nearly nine months to the day has passed since that game, but The Leader has followed LeBron James' lead and brought his talents back from The Sunshine State to the still reasonably sunny north.

Of course, The Leader never would have missed such a historic season. The final season of Kittanning and Ford City football make it interesting enough, but there is more.

The new-look Allegheny Conference brought five county teams together, and with Highlands also back in the mix, many long-standing rivalries will be rekindled. Throw in that there are four area players with offers from Division I schools — with possibly more to come — and this should be a banner year for local football.

Seven games on the opening-week slate don't leave much room for chatter, so here are with the first set of predictions for 2014:

Apollo-Ridge at West Shamokin

The Game of the Week poses a difficult dilemma: Go with the experience and home-field advantage of the Wolves or the athletic ability of the Vikings? Give the guests the nod on the strength of their past history against West Shamokin. Apollo-Ridge, 28-20

Kittanning at Deer Lakes

New Deer Lakes coach Steve Sciullo has a tough task in turning around a Lancers program on a 12-game losing streak, and the schedule-makers did him no favors by opening the season against the defending Allegheny Conference champs. Kittanning, 50-14

Highlands at Ford City

It was the first week last season that the Ford City defense gave a loaded Shady Side Academy team fits before falling at home. Highlands comes in with similarly high expectations and should win, but the Sabers aren't going to be a pushover for anyone. Highlands, 20-14

Shady Side Academy at Freeport

The Indians have an outstanding line and speed on the outside and should come away with a win. Shady Side Academy, 28-14

Brookville at Karns City

Karns City is coming off back-to-back PIAA quarterfinal appearances and will get the right start again this year. Karns City, 47-7

Redbank Valley at Clarion-Limestone

The Bulldogs' offense won't top the 68 it posted against C-L last year, but they still win. Redbank Valley, 44-20

Leechburg at Wilkinsburg

The Blue Devils have to wait a day to start their season, but it will be worth the wait. Leechburg, 20-16

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