Halifax's Evan Billow will play a key role when the Wildcats visit Williams Valley Friday night. (Christina Hoy/4th Down Magazine)
By Michael Bullock:
1. And then there were … three
While many were undoubtedly surprised by how thoroughly Upper Dauphin handled Williams Valley — the Trojans posted a 58-26 victory — last weekend’s loss did not knock the defending Tri-Valley League champions out of the title chase … at least not mathematically. Although Halifax (8-0, 7-0) continues to sit atop the 10-team circuit, the Wildcats must visit Williams Valley (6-2, 5-2) Friday night, and if Earl Mosley’s bunch can prevail between the tall pines, that would spell the end of the Vikings’ repeat chances. Halifax would still need to defeat a dangerous Pine Grove squad to run the table and win outright. As for Upper Dauphin (7-1, 6-1), Kent Smeltz’s potent club must visit Pine Grove Friday night before finishing up against Line Mountain at home. So, while Halifax, Upper Dauphin and Williams Valley continue to chase TVL gold, Pine Grove is the one squad remaining that must play two of the three title contenders. In other words, it’s not quite over yet. Check back on Saturday, because everything could be decided by then.
2. Can Halifax draw another step closer?
If Halifax was looking ahead toward this weekend’s showdown in Williamstown, Earl Mosley’s state-ranked Wildcats nearly got caught — despite forcing four Juniata turnovers and making two defensive stops in the red zone and one at the goal line just before halftime. Fortunately for Halifax, Jay Zerby (14 carries for 74 yards) scored on a 16-yard run late in the third quarter, and Blake Miller hauled in London Johnson’s 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth. Yet even though the Wildcats led 13-6, and that’s how it ended, they still needed late picks by Broc Grosser and Jesse Kargus to preserve the victory, side-step the trap game and remain perfect. Zerby had missed the previous two games with an injury, so getting him back means the ‘Cats will have he and Evan Billow available to carry and catch the ball. If Williams Valley can limit the damage on the ground and force Johnson to beat them, that means Grosser will get plenty of looks on the flanks even though he’ll likely spend all game trying to shake lockdown corner Levi Engle. What can’t be accounted for is how angry Williams Valley (6-2, 5-2) will be after yielding 500-plus yards to Upper Dauphin in a 58-26 loss. Nick Savage (9-61 rushing, 2-13 receiving) scored a pair of touchdowns, while Brady Miller (18-84 rushing) also scored for Tim Savage’s club, which trailed 28-12 at the halftime break. Engle, who threw for 94 yards (7-17-1) and ran for 41 more, will need to play well on both sides of the ball. Williams Valley, in fact, may settle for a ball-control attack so Halifax’s assortment of home-run hitters don’t have many opportunities to make big plays.
3. Upper Dauphin chasing 7th straight victory
While Upper Dauphin defeating Williams Valley might not have been so surprising, it was how thoroughly Kent Smeltz’s Trojans (7-1, 6-1) dominated the backyard scrap en route to a 58-26 victory that had people buzzing at other TVL venues when score updates were announced. Quarterback Macklin Ayers passed for 194 yards (9-15-0) and three first-half touchdowns — Jake Ramberger caught five passes for 130 yards and two scores — but he also ran six times for 57 yards and a second-half TD. Ayers, in fact, was just part of a ground game that averaged nearly 10 yards per tote while churning out 313 rushing yards and 507 total offensive yards. Ramberger led the way with 109 yards on seven attempts, Mason Wiest added 77 yards and a pair of scores on nine tries and Donnie Gelnett scored twice while adding 70 yards on 10 carries. Smeltz’s club was remarkably efficient offensively, scoring on eight of its 12 possessions. Yet even though UD has won its last six, visiting a Pine Grove side (4-4, 3-4) that has lost four games by a total of 22 points will not be easy. Frank Gaffney’s run-first club also figures to be miffed since the Cardinals suffered their third loss in as many weeks at Line Mountain, falling 22-20. While backs Colin Luckenbill (18-37) and Dalton Kintzel (12-57) were hemmed in most of the night, QB Josh Leininger (11-54) hurt the Eagles by scrambling for an 18-yard score and adding a 43-yard keeper that had the Cards in front in the third quarter. Leininger attempted 14 passes, completing six for 109 yards — all to dangerous wideout Dawson Ibarra. Pine Grove was at the Line Mountain 32 in the final minute, but Leininger’s pass to Ibarra on fourth-and-long was high and the Cards turned the ball over on downs. If Pine Grove is able to reestablish its ground game behind its big offensive front, the Cardinals likely will give Upper Dauphin everything it wants and maybe more.
4. LM hoping to climb back above .500
About to close out the home portion of its regular-season slate, Brandon Carson’s Line Mountain Eagles (4-4, 4-3) figure to be much more upbeat heading into this weekend’s neighborhood scrap with Tri-Valley (5-3, 4-3). Particularly since the Eagles halted a two-game skid by finding a way to get past Pine Grove 22-20 and win a one-possession contest. Colby Scott was terrific between the hashes, rushing 25 times for 144 yards while following center Cam Gaw’s lead blocks. And with Scott collecting sizable chunks inside, that set up a 26-yard, play-action strike from Evan Herb to Breven Derk early in the fourth quarter that ultimately won it for the Eagles. Stopping a pair of two-point conversion attempts and halting Pine Grove on downs in the final minute also proved to be key for a Line Mountain squad that received 17 tackles from inside linebacker Adam Malafi. Malafi (4 catches for 41 yards) also was able to bring in a 23-yard reception on the final play of the third quarter that kept alive what turned out to be Line Mountain’s game-winning touchdown drive. Able to force six turnovers — three fumbles and three interceptions — opportunistic Tri-Valley claimed its second straight win by rolling over Newport 33-8 at home. Jeff Sampson’s Bulldogs turned two of those takeaways into points, as Nick Ziegmont returned an interception 23 yards to open the scoring and Connor O’Prey closed it by returning a fumble 37 yards for another TD. QB Daulton Leedy (10-11 rushing, 4-19-1-55 passing) scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 10 yards in the third quarter, but he also threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Tyler McGrath that had Tri-Valley in front 13-8 at the break. This game also has postseason implications, as Line Mountain is trying to climb out of the No. 7 hole in the District 4 Class 2A power rankings and Tri-Valley is hoping to squeeze past Nativity and claim the home game that accompanies the No. 2 seed in the District 11 Class A playoffs.
5. Perry County neighbors about to square off
Although neither Susquenita (3-5, 3-4) nor Newport will be part of District 3’s postseason picture, both squads will be playing for backyard pride when this game kicks off at Katchmer Field. Susquenita halted a three-game slide last weekend by popping winless Millersburg 35-6, while Newport’s bid for a third straight victory was halted when Todd Rothermel’s Buffaloes (2-6, 2-5) committed six turnovers in a 33-8 loss at Tri-Valley. John Stump rushed for two scores, while Russ Amick ran for one touchdown and carried a Masyn Miller lateral the distance as Scott Acri’s Blackhawks executed a hook-and-ladder play just before the break. Newport led briefly (8-7) with four-plus minutes to play in the first half following Andrew Bates’ 75-yard kickoff return, but the Buffs failed to cash in after that, despite 119 yards from junior running back Ethan Rode. The Buffs’ defense yielded just over 200 yards of total offense, but those six giveaways were really damaging. So, whichever side is able to control the line of scrimmage is likely to prevail in a tight affair.
6. Millersburg to entertain Juniata
While Millersburg (0-8, 0-7) wasn’t overrun in last weekend’s 35-6 by Susquenita’s ground game — down lineman Bryar Caprio finished with 17 stops for the Indians — Aaron Wright’s club was unable to force any turnovers. And a touchdown pass in the final minute from QB Aiden Harman to Logan Troutman enabled the Indians to avert the shutout. Nonetheless, the ‘Burg tumbled for the 29th game in a row. And while Juniata (1-7, 1-6) has dropped its last two games since delivering to longtime skipper Gary Klingensmith his 300th career victory, the Mifflintown Indians were threatening league-leading Halifax in the final minute last weekend before falling 13-6. Juniata managed just 178 total yards, but a Ty Martin touchdown had the Indians up 6-0 at halftime. Unfortunately, Klingensmith’s club turned the ball over four times — twice in the final two minutes — and couldn’t cash in late. If Juniata gets its run-first attack in gear, that’s a problem for a Millersburg D that’s had all sorts of issues slowing down opposing ground games.
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