Ligonier Valley favorite to grab top spot
A year ago, Ligonier Valley was a rough first quarter against Penns Manor away from finishing undefeated and winning the Heritage Conference.
This season may finally be the year the Rams win it all for the first time since 2007.
"We had everybody in the lifting program since December, which is much different than it was last year," coach Roger Beitel said. "We, as coaches, have a greater grasp on the roster this year. ... We've been through spring practice, 7-on-7s and, for the majority of the kids, this is "Year 2' for them."
The team's success was a major accomplishment considering the team had only been together for a few months after a merger of the Ligonier Valley and Laurel Valley school districts.
Beitel turned the Rams into a formidable force that had the best scoring offense (386 points) and defense (7.2 points per game) in the conference.
Now, after playing together for a year, Ligonier Valley could be the team to beat.
"All of our players all have a year playing in the same system and are now familiar with our offense and defense," Beitel said. "It has everything to do with the players. All we as coaches can do is provide them with opportunities, so we've provided them with opportunities of being a complete group.
Last season, the Comets only threw the ball 79 times, but players spent the off-season working on the passing game and went to a 7-on-7 passing camp this summer to get better. Another year of having junior quarterback Danny Ferens under center won't hurt either.
Ferens leads a squad that was second in the conference at an average of 34.5 points per game and suffered its only loss to PIAA Class A semifinalist Bishop Carroll in the District 6 playoffs. He was one of the best running quarterbacks in the conference, posting 674 yards and a team-leading 14 rushing touchdowns.
After struggling through an injury-riddled 2010 that prompted a youth movement, the Bobcats may be ready to make a big move up the standings.
"We had nine or 10 fractures that season, and we had guys miss anywhere from three games to the entire season," coach Ab Dettorre said. "When you get to your fourth quarterback and you only have two, you know you're in trouble."
Dettorre, entering his 25th season at Blairsville, will bring back several key players who missed most of last season, including quarterback Tyler Ferguson, who broke his collarbone midway through the year. He'll have some help in the backfield as well with the return of running back Andrew Iezzi.
"Our attitude and just being with the guys has been great," Dettorre said. "Our summer has been refreshing."
Wildcats coach Greg Page hated to use the word, but he knows exactly where his team is entering the season.
"This may be one of the youngest teams that we've had and the lowest number of players that we've had because we're hoping that we have even 26 kids," he said. "We're definitely in a rebuilding mode, if that word is still used. We haven't had to use it too much, but that's the way it's going to be for us."
Senior fullback/linebacker Mike Newhouse will be relied upon to carry quite a bit of the rushing load. He had 396 yards and three touchdowns last season but will have to improve those numbers to make up for the 1,240 yards and 13 scores the team lost with the graduation of Jeremy Smith.
Although the Stingers finished 4-4 in conference play, they won their last two games. Building off those victories will be the priority heading into this season.
"I think that the kids learned how to compete and, even though we won some tough games, we lost some and we finished right about where we should have," coach Dave Malicky said.
After winning a share of the conference title in 2009, the Lions slumped to fourth place last season. But the players believe they may be on the verge of again becoming one of the teams to beat.
"As a coach, you always want more, and you always expect more," coach Greg Mytrysak said. "This year, we have what we think are some very good football players. They're very experienced, they're very seasoned and we just need to find some supporting players to go with our core players."
For most of last season, the Colts were in the middle of the pack in the conference but dropped their final three games to finish 3-6. One thing the team will need to learn is how to win on the road, where it was 0-3 in 2010.
"The more I look back on it, nobody wants to go 3-6, but we won three ballgames and lost two games by a touchdown," coach Paul Taranto said. "We're probably going to have eight or nine starters back on each side of the ball. The kids worked hard, and they feel they can win."
After one week last season, the Trojans were undefeated. Then, they gave up 290 points in the final eight games and did not win another Heritage Conference matchup, finishing 2-7 overall.
"Honestly, we're going to stay true to what we do," coach Tim Frassenei said. "We had a great offseason. I think we've gotten stronger and faster, and we just have to limit the mental mistakes. If we do that, that 2-7 is going to be improved upon."
Two years ago, the Red Dragons opened the season with 11 consecutive victories, but they have been hard-pressed to find any success since. Still, optimism reigns even though the team is on a 19-game losing streak.
"Last year, we didn't win any ballgames, but I started eight sophomores on both sides of the ball," coach Dave Small said. "We lost a few close games, but with the juniors and seniors that we have coming back, we've got a good nucleus of kids that have a lot of experience, and I think it's going to pay off for us in the long run."