Dragons, Wolverines, Knights set to embark on 2019 campaigns
The 2019 high school football season officially kicks off tonight with a pair of games. The Warren Dragons travel to Fairview to face the Tigers, while the Sheffield Wolverines are also on the road against the Smethport Hubbers.
The Eisenhower Knights, meanwhile, will host their first Saturday afternoon game since 1993 when they welcome the West Middlesex Big Reds for a 1 p.m. kick.
Without further ado, let ‘s dive into the Week 1 matchups.
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WARREN (0-0) at
For the first time since 2014, Warren football will enter a new season coming off a winning record.
The Dragons went 6-4 last year. A strong offseason and big summer has third year Warren head coach optimistic his team can carry that momentum into this season.
“We need to have confidence,” Morelli said. “We had a great offseason in the weight room and (won) in 7-on-7. The 7-on-7 wins don’t mean a whole lot, but it showed the kids they can play with anyone. Success breeds confidence.”
Morelli hopes to see that confidence come out early tonight when Warren travels to Fairview for the season opener.
The Dragons will have a number of new faces atop the depth chart this season. Gone are quarterback Jake Kupchella (Warren’s single-game and season record-holder for passing yards), leading rusher Marvin Bryant, leading receiver Devin McMeans and tackles Collin Salapek and Justin Eck.
Though they are new starters this season, the Dragons filling those spots have plenty of experience under their belts.
Micah Passmore steps in for Kupchella at quarterback. The junior filled in sparingly at the position last year, throwing just five passes, but he did get 26 carries for 213 yards and had 23 receptions for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’ll also bring a bit of a different style and mentality to the role.
“Micah has a linebacker mentality playing the quarterback role,” Morelli said. “He brings some intangibles and takes charge.”
James Swanson takes over as the feature back. As a sophomore he had 20 carries for 164 yards and a score and added 10 receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown as well. Seniors Ryan Arnold and Alex Anderson provide speed and consistency on the outside. Arnold had 16 catches for 391 yards (24.4 ypc) and four touchdowns last year, while Anderson hauled in nine passes for 69 yards.
Competition has been fierce along the offensive line. Jake Hayes and James Sorber have been battling for the left tackle spot. At right tackle, a pair of underclassmen are trying to take hold of the position. Sophomore Logan Nelson and freshman Alan McAllister are vying for the position. At this point, McAllister will likely start, but Morelli expects all four to see significant time.
“It’s a growing process,” Morelli said. “(McAllister) has come along and, at times, dominated. He’s pushing the upperclassmen, but the tackle position is still in a state of flux.”
Tony Batiste, Alex Zeigler and Brent Young should provide stability along the interior offensive line.
They’ll be tasked with solving a Tigers defense that allowed more than 28 points just three times in the regular season. One of those was the season-opening 31-7 loss at Warren. Fairview has some holes to fill but returns a number of all-region selections including leading tackler linebacker Elijah Larson, defensive lineman Travis Schauer and Mason Bender in the secondary.
Defensively, the Dragons will have to replace all-state linebacker Aidan Morrison. Morrison set the single-season record for tackles last year with 137. He was also the team leader in tackles for loss (13) and sacks (5). Young, Swanson, Passmore, and Jamo Douvlos will be tasked with replacing that production, while a combination of linemen will step in for Salapek and Eck. If the front seven can stop the run, a ball-hawking secondary could make passing a nightmare. Anderson shared in the team lead for interceptions last season with three. Arnold has been picking passes all summer and did it again during the Dragons preseason scrimmage with Sheffield and Punxsutawney last week. Ethan Wilson brings speed, length and athleticism to the safety position.
Much like the defense, Fairview’s offense has some key holes to fill from a team that averaged 24.8 points per game last season. Most notably, Region 6 co-player of the year Chris Mohra. Mohra ran for 1,760 yards and 21 touchdowns. Larson will be the feature back and had 99 carries for 551 yards and four TDs a year ago. Where Mohra was a shifty, speed back, Larson brings a completely different style.
“Larson runs like a freight train,” Morelli said.
Bender and Travis Burge split the quarterbacking duties last season in a run-heavy offense. The two combined to throw just 59 passes on the year, though both are more than capable runners as well. Bender went for 389 yards and seven touchdowns on 69 carries while Burge carried 52 times for 297 yards and a pair of scores.
The Tigers will have a decided size advantage up front. Their smallest lineman is 5-11, 210. The Dragons will have to take advantage of speed and strength to maintain leverage.
“They’ve got good size coming back,” Morelli said. “We’ve emphasized four keys, quick, speed, strong and conditioned. We can turn the size into a positive if we go hard every play.”
Kickoff at Keck Field is set for 7 p.m.
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SHEFFIELD (0-0) at SMETHPORT (0-0)
Chris Korbar enters his second year as head coach following an 0-9 campaign in 2018. This is a program that last year had to fight for its life, but there is reason for optimism this season.
Seniors Caden Smead, Walker Kyler, Jake Dishhon and Brennin Lester will be some of the leaders on this team and will play big roles on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, the Wolverines are going to more of an ‘Air Raid’ style. Leading the charge will be quarterback Aujamier Slappy, who comes by way of the Abraxas Co-Op. Slappy, standing at 6-3, possesses a strong arm and is more than athletic enough to make plays with his feet.
There is no doubt that Smead will be one of his top options, while Kyler, Disshon and Kevin Marfink will balance out the backfield.
Among the other players from Abraxas who are expected to make an impact are Moises Ruiz, Hasim Trimble, Mirahn Price and Jihad Bennett.
They will be facing a Smethport team that was 11-0 before falling to Coudersport in the District 9 Class A title game. The Hubbers lost a lot of talent to graduation, including Ian Woodruff (now playing at Lock Haven), Blake Kinner and Nate Hollowell, among others.
Among the key returners for the Hubs are Bryent Johnson (wide receiver/defensive back), Michael Tanner (OL/DL), Travis Cooney (OL/MLB), Braedon Johnson (WR/DB) and Logan Christie (DB).
Sophomore Noah Lent spent some time under center last year and will be running the show full time in 2019.
Last year’s season-opener went to the Hubbers, 54-6. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
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WEST MIDDLESEX (0-0) at EISENHOWER (0-0)
For the second-straight season, Eisenhower opens against the Big Reds, although this time it will be at the ‘Pasture of Pain,’ which will host a Saturday afternoon game for the first time since head coach Jim Penley was a junior for the Knights.
“I’m excited for it. It’s something a little bit different,” Penley said.
With a shortage of officials, schools were asked if they would like to volunteer to play on Thursday or Saturday at any point during the season.
“We volunteered because it’s the first game and you’re right out of camp, so you’re acclimated to the 1 p.m. temperatures,” Penley added. “West Middlesex was also willing to do it. For the longest time, that’s what football here was. It was a Saturday afternoon event.”
It was a 27-2 win for Middlesex a year ago that began a 2-8 campaign for Eisenhower.
The Big Reds went 9-3 last season under first-year head coach Mark Means, falling to eventual state champion Farrell in The D-10 Class 1A title game.
They must replace quarterback Jack Bowen, star running back Clayton Parrish and leading receiver Kaz Hoffman.
The cupboard is far from bare, however. Talented junior Ty Tate is the likely starter at quarterback, while Zeb Rubaker takes over as the feature back. They also return All-Region 1 lineman Noah Weiser and George Troyer.
For Eisenhower, Penley noted that their biggest strength will be at the skill positions.
That starts at quarterback with rising junior Owen Trumbull, who threw for 833 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago.
“Owen is a tremendous young leader,” Penley said.
Sophomore Cael Black flashed as a freshman before going on to a remarkable wrestling season, and he will see the ball a lot out of the backfield as well as play a key role on the defensive front.
“Cael has been extremely impressive,” noted Penley.
Zane Alexander and Dillon Benson are big-time weapons, and Penley is excited about what each of them can bring to the table, as well as Jared Beers at tight end.
“Zane has a tremendous amount of speed and you saw some of what he could do last year,” he said. “Dillon Benson is probably one of the most vocal guys that we’ve had in a number of years, especially as a junior. He works his tail off.”
Penley noted some of the relative inexperience on both sides of the line after losing the likes of standout Joe Bauer to graduation.
Expect Brodie Porter to help lead the way up front, with the likes of junior
“Brodie Porter does a really good job of just grinding and getting work done,” said Penley. “The line has very capable guys, we’re just trying to find the right mix of who needs to be where. That’s our emphasis right now as a staff.”