Tri-Valley League: Six-pack of stories to know heading into Week 8

10 October 2018


Halifax entrance


By Michael Bullock: 

1. And then there were three

As Pennsylvania high school football waves bye-bye to Week 7 and begins to prepare for its next round of 48-minute skirmishes, just three Tri-Valley League programs maintain hopes of claiming the 10-team loop’s ultimate prize. And those three are — obligatory drum roll, please — league-leading Halifax (7-0, 6-0), Upper Dauphin (6-1, 5-1) and defending champion Williams Valley (6-1, 5-1). Assuming Halifax sidesteps Juniata Friday night at Mifflintown’s Dietrick Field, the Upper Dauphin-Williams Valley skirmish will serve as an elimination game of sorts since the loser will be sporting two losses with two weeks to play. Should UD prevail, the Trojans will need help since Halifax dealt Kent Smeltz’s club a 41-28 setback in Week 2. Should Williams Valley emerge from the backyard scrap on top, Tim Savage’s Vikings be waiting for Halifax between the tall pines in Williamstown for a Week 9 engagement with a number of permutations. One near-certainty is the 50-50 takes Friday in Elizabethville and on Oct. 19 in Williamstown should be worthwhile. The three teams locked in a tie for fourth place — Pine Grove (4-3, 3-3) and Tri-Valley (4-3, 3-3) in District 11 and Line Mountain (3-4, 3-3) in District 4 — are, for all purposes, out of the TVL race yet likely are headed for district play.

2. Expect E-ville to be rockin’

With yet another installment of the oft-explosive neighborhood rivalry between Williams Valley and Upper Dauphin on tap for Friday night at Trojan Stadium, don’t be surprised if there are plenty of bodies roaming about, especially since this game will carry plenty of meaning for the first time in quite a while. Can recall one encounter back in the late 1970s — when not everyone played under the lights — when there had to be 10,000 people on hand in Elizabethville and, once the on-field festivities took place, some off-the-field fireworks exploded. So, there is that. One thing that’s easily predictable in this matchup is there will be plenty of hitting. While Williams Valley (6-1, 5-1) needs a victory to maintain its hopes of repeating as TVL champions, Tim Savage’s Vikings need to be plugged in at the start and maintain all sorts of energy against an Upper Dauphin squad that is going to try to run the ball all over the place. Senior QB Levi Engle will need to be sharp — and, if he has chances to run, should take them — but the Vikes also want to get tailback Brady Miller going against a Trojans D that has only recently shown its teeth. UD’s multi-pronged run attack is fueled by QB Macklin Ayers, TB Jake Ramberger and FB Donnie Gelnett, but Kent Smeltz’s group may need to stretch the field a little early to prevent the Vikes from crowding the box. Another phase where Williams Valley has shown some vulnerability is on kickoff coverage, particularly since the Vikes try to get many of their two-way regulars a quick breather. Forgive the repeat, but a Williams Valley win will keep the Vikings’ hopes of repeating as TVL champions, assuming Halifax wins at Juniata. An Upper Dauphin win just means the Trojans will be rooting for Williams Valley to beat Halifax when those two collide a week later.

3. Halifax cannot get caught looking ahead

Still perfect through seven weeks of action, Halifax has a tough finish in store since Earl Mosley’s Wildcats will visit Juniata on Friday night before closing with games at Williams Valley and at home against Pine Grove. Yet while Juniata (1-6, 1-5) may have been blanked last weekend at Upper Dauphin 21-0, the last team that bounced into Mifflintown’s cozy Dietrick Field confines (Pine Grove) departed with a loss. Although Indians chief Gary Klingensmith appears to have settled on Jacob Condo at quarterback, his talented freshman youngster will be going against a Halifax squad flush with seniors sporting all sorts of game experience. If inside 'backers Dalton Marshall and Evan Billow are able to control Juniata’s run-first attack, that may force Condo to go upstairs and that means challenging safety Broc Grosser. Grosser picked off two more passes last weekend, upping his total to a remarkable 10 through seven weeks of play. What makes him so dangerous is he’s capable of going yard any time he latches on to the football. When Halifax has the ball, the Wildcats have all sorts of big-play ability as Grosser can turn one of London Johnson’s quick slants into a 50- or 60-yard gain in a flash. Billow scored on three short runs last week, when Halifax handled Susquenita, but he’s also capable of breaking one. And if burner Jay Zerby returns, he’s another home-run hitter. Mosley has preached all season about going 1-0 every weekend and not looking ahead, but it’s a must this week since a showdown with Williams Valley is looming.

4. Eagles, Cardinals hoping to rebound … again

Having dropped two straight outings — both on the road and both by one-possession scores — Brandon Carson and his Line Mountain outfit (3-4, 3-3) will be back at their Glenn Ressler Field home. And while the Eagles may be out of the chase for the TVL’s championship trophy, they’re still in the District 4 Class 2A playoff picture, and that means they have something to play for. Parked in the No. 8 spot in the 2A power rankings, Carson & Co. must package several victories together since the No. 1 seed is likely going to be reigning PIAA Class 2A champion Southern Columbia … and the Tigers are a problem. While Carson’s Eagles have struggled all season to find the right recipe on offense, even though gritty fullback Colby Scott has totaled 265 rushing yards the past three weeks, they sport a terrific front seven defensively that’s been mighty difficult to run on. Since run-happy Pine Grove (4-3, 3-3) is next up for the Mountain, this could be one of those whichever-team-has-the-ball-last-is-going-to-win types of games. Considering Line Mountain yielded a TD to Newport last weekend with 1:07 to play in a 20-13 loss and Pine Grove was stopped just short of the goal line in overtime in a 21-14 setback to Williams Valley, these teams are unbelievably frustrated. Frank Gaffney’s Cardinals are eighth in the District 11 Class 3A rankings — only the top four qualify — so the first-year coach may be hoping to get his club into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Pine Grove did run the ball effectively against Williams Valley, as QB Josh Leininger racked up 136 yards and a 45-yard score while Colin Luckenbill checked in with 118. So the key here is which side can impose its will on the other in what should be a tight game.

5. Newport looking for three in a row

While everyone knew Todd Rothermel’s Newport program was going to notch a victory eventually, no one counted on the Buffaloes (2-5, 2-4) banking two Ws in a four-day span. Yet after blanking Millersburg (47-0) on Monday, the Buffs picked up a late touchdown run from Ethan Rode on Friday and edged Line Mountain 20-13. Newport also packaged a Seth Little pick-six, a short touchdown pass from Elijah York to Andrew Bates and a blocked extra point into its win over Rothermel’s alma mater — even though Rode was limited to a season-low 45 rushing yards and the Buffs managed just 19 yards on the ground collectively. Since York was able to complete eight of his 18 pass attempts for 148 yards, with five pitches going to Beno Nunez for 112 yards, the Buffs did move the ball some. Headed for the Hegins-Valley View Metroplex, Newport will collide with a Tri-Valley side (4-3, 3-3) that’s hoping to climb back into the No. 2 hole in the District 11 Class A power rankings and land a home game. Tri-Valley encountered few problems last weekend, as Jeff Sampson’s Bulldogs bolted to a 49-0 lead early in the third quarter against winless Millersburg and wound up prevailing 63-34. Ike Lucas rushed for 159 yards and four touchdowns, while QB Daulton Leedy fired TD passes to Tyler McGrath and Nick Ziegmont as Tri-Valley scored early and often. The Bulldogs also picked up one score from their defense and another on special teams. This might be redundant, but this will be another test of wills between quality football programs.

6. Susquenita looking to end slide

Since Scott Acri’s Susquenita squad surprised the TVL and many others by handling Williams Valley 29-7 in Week 4 at home, the injury-plagued Blackhawks (2-5, 2-4) have dropped three in a row — including a 31-7 decision last weekend against an undefeated Halifax side. Losing leading tackler Conner McGuire to a season-ending ankle injury at Pine Grove in Week 5 has really hampered the ‘Hawks, but they’ve continued to compete. Hoping to keep the ball on the ground, Susquenita will have a terrific chance to stick to its game plan when winless Millersburg (0-7, 0-6) checks in. The Indians have yielded nearly 2,800 rushing yards thus far and have had little success stopping opposing ground games, so with Susquenita sporting a big offensive front, the ‘Hawks will have an edge. Aiden Harman did throw for 214 yards and three scores last weekend at Tri-Valley — including a pair to Kyle Casner (3-82) — but the Indians were down 49-0 early in the third quarter before falling 63-34.