Mid-Penn Capital Division
Predicted finish: Steel-High, Boiling Springs, Middletown, West Perry, Big Spring, Trinity, Camp Hill
Last fall was the year of the Bubbler in the Capital Division. Not only did Boiling Springs jet toward an undefeated division championship, it also advanced to play in its second-straight District 3 championship game. Bubblers skipper Brad Zell, last year’s Coach of the Year in the Capital, will have his work cut out for him preparing his squad for what promises to be a dangerous division. We all know Steel-High has a loaded roster with one of Pa.’s all-time greats at QB, Alex Erby, but there are land mines all over the division. Middletown and Big Spring were both big players in the division last season, and the addition of West Perry from the Colonial brings an additional edge to an already physical division. We have an idea of what direction this division will take, but in an environment where nearly every game will be competitive, it might be best to just expect the unexpected this fall.
Predicted finish position: 1st
Coach: Andrew Erby
Record last season: 8-3, 3-2 Capital
Team outlook: It wasn’t all that long ago when Steel-High was the small school trying to hang with all of the big dogs in the Capital Division. Now we’re trying to figure out how the Rollers can be considered anything other than the favorites to win the division crown. Steel-High is loaded with returning talent. Start up front, where the Rollers have three returning all-stars in Andrew Erby Jr., Tyshaun Hollands-Alli and Eugene Greene, who should make running lanes nice and wide for RB Jakhai Noss, another all-star returner. If that’s not enough for opponents to worry about, Erby is a two-time all-state QB with a big arm and plenty of receivers to throw to. There will be a lot of blowouts this season, but in the event of a close game, Steel-High’s defense — anchored by LBs Amari Williams and Jaeion Perry — certainly knows how to slam the door. Small school or not, you better believe the Rollers will be wearing the target this season.
One player to watch: Alex Erby. It’s hard to believe that the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Erby is only a junior this season, having already established himself as the greatest QB in Steel-High history, by far. With nearly 6,000 passing yards and 74 TDs to his name, Erby has garnered plenty of Division I interest, and we see no reason why he won’t run rampant through the Capital again this season. Erby lost his top receiver to graduation, but WRs Rell Ceasar Jr., Jaieon Perry and Da’Quan McCraw are all back after combining for nearly 1,600 receiving yards last season.
Team: Boiling Springs
Predicted finish position: 2nd
Coach: Brad Zell
Record last season: 11-2, 5-0 Capital
Team outlook: The Bubblers were so eager to get the new season underway that they kicked off training camp at the earliest possible moment: Midnight. The defending Capital champs will need every head start they can get as they prepare to replace their top passer and running back. Heck, the Bubblers even need to replace their kicker. There is some good news for fans of the Purple and Gold, though. Boiling Springs returns a number of defensive all-stars, including LB Gabe Hughes, DB/return specialist Marcus Boyle, DL Julyan Dodson and LB Trey McCardell, a group of men who helped the Bubblers limit opponents to just 19.6 points per game last season. If Boiling Springs can get any momentum at all from its new group of skill players on offense, the Bubblers could very well compete for a division crown and a spot in the District 3 Class 4A postseason again.
One player to watch: Dalton Ackley. Some would say that Ackley, at 6-foot and 228 pounds, is a bit undersized for a lineman, but we don’t have the guts to say that to his face and we doubt you do, either. Ackley is a monster in the trenches and was recognized as such with Capital Division First Team nods on both the offense and defensive lines. With Ackley opening holes for the Bubblers’ Wing-T offense, even the most inexperienced backs on the roster will find some room to run.
Predicted finish position: 3rd
Coach: Scott Acri
Record last season: 6-5, 3-2 Capital
Team outlook: We really should be talking about how Middletown’s proud football program is pursuing a winning season for the eighth consecutive year, but instead the Blue Raiders are in the news for all the wrong reasons, thanks to an ugly hazing incident that has dominated headlines. On the field, Middletown should be a force in the Capital, as usual. With a couple of mountain-movers returning to the offensive line, there should be plenty of room for dual-threat QB Bamm Appleby to work his craft and establish a connection with 6-4 TE Asa Kochvar. If the Blue Raiders can overcome the off-the-field stuff — which is no guarantee — they’ll be just fine for a winning record in the Capital, if not more.
One player to watch: Marquis Beasley. A two-way stud in the trenches last season, the 5-11 and 255 pound Beasley personifies the “Middletown Tough” attitude and should be a driving force in a division already filled with quality linemen. Beasley can not only protect the passer at left tackle, but the Capital Division First Teamer can also move fast as a run-blocker, disposing of his opponent on the front lines before advancing to take on the linebacker. On the other side of the ball, opponents will want to think twice about running down the middle, as Beasley commands double-teams and will stand up almost any adversary that tries to take him on one-on-one.
Team: West Perry
Predicted finish position: 4th
Coach: Bob Boden
Record last season: 5-6, 3-4 Colonial
Team outlook: After years of taking heavy body blows from the Colonial Division, the Mustangs pack their bags for a new challenge in the Capital. With a solid group of returning skill players on offense, we think the Mustangs will find success moving the ball in their new division. It all starts with junior QB Marcus Quaker, who can buy time with his athleticism to find open receivers down the field. It helps that Quaker has an uber-talented receiver in Ian Goodling and a returning 1,000-yard rusher in RB Trent Herrera. As the season progresses we will see if the stars of the Capital can be corralled by the WP defense, which has returning all-star experience in DB Goodling, as well as LBs Caleb Gutshall and Hunter Poticher. Expect to see this well-assembled team in plenty of meaningful and entertaining scraps this fall.
One player to watch: Ian Goodling. If you’re a good athlete at West Perry, there’s a more-than-good chance you’ll be asked to wear many hats for the Mustangs. With the 6-1, 173-pound Goodling, WP has its wide receiver, defensive back and placekicker, and he performs all three roles at an all-star level. Goodling was the go-to receiver for QB Marcus Quaker last fall, hauling in 42 catches for 730 yards and seven TDs to earn Colonial First Team Offense honors. He was a Second Teamer on defense and Honorable Mention as a placekicker, where he buried 28 of 29 PATs and was 8 of 8 on field goal tries. If West Perry has a big season this fall, you better believe Goodling will be the guy who was in the center of it all.
Team: Big Spring
Predicted finish position: 5th
Coach: Joe Sinkovich
Record last season: 8-4, 3-2 Capital
Team outlook: For two straight seasons, Big Spring has paired a winning football team with one of the prettiest stadiums in the Mid-Penn. It’s good to be a Bulldog, again. But can Sinkovich’s squad keep the train rolling for a third consecutive campaign? That all depends on how well the team can regroup and reload from its roster losses, including more than 1,900 yards of rushing offense lost to graduation. But with All-Star Connor Black back in the mix at MLB surrounded by playmakers like DE Jay Halberds, DT Owen Hutchinson and DB Connor Green, the Bulldogs have a defensive unit that could very well keep them competitive for the duration of the season, including a Week 2 crossover scrap with Colonial superpower Shippensburg for the Little Brown Jug.
One player to watch: Connor Black. With Black on the field, Big Spring knows it has more than a fighting chance against any team in the Capital. The 6-3, 200-pound wrecking machine produced 138 tackles, including 13.5 for loss, from his middle linebacker position last season. On the other side of the ball, TE Black will provide a steady and familiar target (24 receptions, 412 yards, 7 TDs) for senior QB Ethan Eisenberg to lean on while the Bulldogs’ new RBs get their varsity legs.
Predicted finish position: 6th
Coach: Jordan Hill
Record last season: 3-6, 0-5 Capital
Team outlook: Coming off a three-win season, we can’t exactly call the Shamrocks a contender in the Capital, but if the pieces come together, they could very well be a dark horse this fall. Trinity brings back a nice corps of young players and should be competitive on defense, especially in the secondary, with DBs Amil Way, Collin Morrow, Trey Weiand and Cole Cappawana returning after combining for eight interceptions last fall. Throw Capital Division First Team linebacker Max Schlager into the mix, and the Shamrocks could very well be the team that gives pass-happy division favorite Steel-High the most trouble. With all of that said, Trinity will still need to score points, so finding a solid footing on offense is a priority. Junior Caleb Wray returns at QB with a nice WR target in the 6-2, 180-pound Weiand (11-216-2), but the ‘Rocks only return one player who had more than 100 rushing yards last season. That player is Schlager, who stacked up 240 yards on 35 carries with two TDs while battling injury. If the Shamrocks can introduce one or two more playmakers this season, who knows, they could be the biggest surprise of the division.
One player to watch: John Paukovits. Field position and points will be at a premium for the Shamrocks this season, so having a special teams ace like Paukovits on the roster could be the difference between Trinity having a winning or losing record this fall. Paukovits, a Capital Division Honorable Mention as a placekicker, was near automatic on PATs last season, going 29 for 30, and was 2 of 5 on field goal tries. He was a First Team all-star as a punter, where he delivered a 32.1-yard average, and also served on the kickoff team, where he boomed his kicks for an average of 52 yards. It’s going to take a few good bounces for Trinity to stay above water in the Capital, but luckily for the Shamrocks, they possess a player that can make his own luck.
Team: Camp Hill
Predicted finish position: 7th
Coach: Tim Bigelow
Record last season: 4-6, 1-4 Capital
Team outlook: Camp Hill’s players are not shy about sharing their goal of pursuing District 3 Class 2A gold. To do that, however, the Lions will need to earn their chops in a rugged division where they might not be expected to win a game. Camp Hill is hoping that by taking on the big bads of the Capital, it’ll be ready for the worst the 2A postseason has to offer. As the season progresses, keep an eye on the Lions’ offensive line, which will have to mature quickly under fire. QB Drew Branstetter brings back some experience and could have a breakout year if he can get the ball to a deep group of tall receivers. Look for FB Kobe Moore to be a dual threat running and receiving out of the backfield, while also coming up with big stops from his linebacker position. If the Lions can learn from their tough schedule and not let it beat them down, they could end up being a force in the small-school district playoffs.
One player to watch: Mike Shartle. On a team loaded with sophomores and juniors, it’s nice to have a grownup in the room. Camp Hill’s senior team captain, measuring in at 6-1 and 165 pounds, will be expected to set the example for his teammates on both sides of the ball. A Capital Division Honorable Mention on defense last season, expect to hear Shartle’s name a whole lot this fall as he guides the defense from his linebacker position. Shartle, who caught 22 passes for 267 yards and three TDs last season, will serve as one of many tall targets for QB Drew Branstetter in his first full season at the helm.