D-10 Game of the Week: Mercyhurst Prep at Meadville

Mercyhurst Prep running back Zack Helsley

As part of our annual high school football coverage, the Times Observer has provided weekly previews for all the Warren County teams.

We’re going to expand on that a bit this year. We’ll still offer in-depth weekly preview stories for Eisenhower, Sheffield and Warren, but we’re also going to take a look around Districts 9 and 10 to highlight other important games.

Here’s a look at the Game of the Week in District 10 for Week 1, and it should be a dandy.

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at MEADVILLE (0-0)

There are a couple of intriguing matchups pitting D-10 vs. the WPIAL – Cathedral Prep at Pittsburgh Central Catholic on Friday and Erie at McKeesport on Saturday.

In Mercyhurst Prep and Meadville, however, we have a pair of District 10 teams squaring off with each other, and both have high expectations.

The Bulldogs are ranked preseason No. 10 in the PIAA Class 5A by PennLive, while Mercyhurst Prep checks in at No. 10 in Class 3A.

The Lakers lost one of the top prospects to come out of District 10 in the last decade, as Jesse Luketa has already cracked the two deep for Penn State as a true freshman at linebacker.

Not to fear, however, as the Lakers return a loaded roster – and it all starts in the backfield.

Zack Helsley is the top returning rusher in District 10, accounting for 1,788 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior, helping lead the Lakers to an unbeaten regular season, before they eventually fell to Sharon in a thrilling D-10 3A title game, 21-14.

Joining him is Khalil Barnes, a physical specimen who rushed for 980 yards last season.

In addition, MPS returns all-region lineman Dylan Schley (6-4, 295), Isaiah Johnson and Dezmar Polk.

Meadville is on the opposite end of the spectrum, as they must replace Isaiah Manning, who rushed for 2,546 yards and is now playing for Slippery Rock University.

Manning followed in a long line of great Meadville running backs. Journey Brown helped lead the Bulldogs to their first District 10 title in 2016 and is now Luketa’s teammate in Happy Valley.

Jontae Brown figures to carry a much heavier workload this season after rushing for 274 yards a year ago. Quarterback Colin Kilburn also returns.

The Bulldogs got back to the D-10 title last year, falling to Grove City.

A third straight trip isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but a number of new faces will have to step up in order for them to do so.