Little margin for error
There is little at stake for many WPIAL teams Friday night, as a majority open their seasons with non-conference games.
That won't be the case, however, for the Allegheny Conference, where conference play begins from the start.
Helping to usher in the 111th high school football season in Alle-Kiski Valley history tomorrow night is the Valley at Ford City contest.
Both teams have playoffs streaks going. Ford City has made the playoffs six seasons in a row, and Valley the past four seasons.
Graduation has hit these teams hard, with each squad having to replace 16 of 22 starters from last season.
"When you lose that many people ... That's the most we've lost in a long time," said Ford City coach John Bartolovic. "We return just three starters on each side of the ball."
But the fact remains that it is, indeed, a conference game. This game represents an early, two-game swing in the standings with both teams harboring realistic desires of getting back to the Class AA postseason.
"It's fair for both teams," Bartolovic said of starting conference play right off the bat. "It would be nice, though, to have an exhibition game to iron things out."
Valley coach Troy Hill doesn't mind starting off with a conference game, either.
"It gives you a good gauge as to where you are and what you need to do," Hill said. "It's a challenge for both teams."
Returning Valley running back LeBren O'Neal agrees.
"I like playing Ford City first because that can tell you how we're going to do this season," O' Neal said. "They're a good team, and we can go on after that."
Ford City won last year's Week 1 game in New Kensington by the odd score of 11-6. The Ford City defense recorded five sacks and three interceptions against the Vikings. Valley scored its lone touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Dom Stokes to Brad Marzullo in a fourth-and-goal situation.
Both teams are expecting big things from newcomers. Valley's Ernest Steward, who played at Highlands last year, will be playing his first game in a Vikings uniform, and Ford City two-way tackle Brandon Fulton, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound junior, reportedly has played well in camp and in the Sabers' two scimmages.
This past weekend also was moving day for the Valley. The football squad officially moved into its new digs as part of the New Kensington-Arnold School District's $2-million, 14,000-square foot locker room/training center/administration headquarters adjacent to the West end zone of the stadium.
Game of the week
Valley (7-2, 7-3 in 2008) at Ford City (8-1, 9-2 in 2008)
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
• Where: Ford City Athletic Field, Ford Cliff
• What's on the line: Both teams will be looking to get a fast start in the Allegheny Conference opener.
• Did you know?: The all-time series between the two teams is tied at 4-4-1.
Tale of the tape
-- Valley (0-0) -- Ford City (0-0)
*Yards per game -- 208.9 -- 324.2
*Yards allowed per game -- 158.6 -- 152.6
*Points per game -- 21.9 -- 33.9
*Points allowed per game -- 9.6 -- 10.7
Division I prospects -- 1 -- 0
* 2008 stats.