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Friday, December 30, 2022

Mid-Penn Keystone Division Breakdown

Mid-Penn Keystone Division

Predicted finish: Bishop McDevitt, Cedar Cliff, Red Land, Lower Dauphin, Milton Hershey, Hershey, Mifflin County, Palmyra.

Picking the Mid-Penn Keystone Division becomes a lot more fun when you set aside superpower Bishop McDevitt and try to figure out who’s going to take second place. We’re expecting the Crusaders, who played in the PIAA Class 4A title game last season, to run laps around their Keystone playmates. But who’s going to be that second team? Cedar Cliff has served the “best of the rest” role for quite some time, but intra-school district rival Red Land has a solid group that could spoil the Colts’ fun. You can’t count out Lower Dauphin, a program restored to prominence by Keystone Coach of the Year Josh Borreli, while Milton Hershey always fields a competitive team. Toss in improving Hershey and Mifflin County squads, and we’re in for a quite a ride in the Keystone. Buckle up!

Team: Bishop McDevitt

Predicted finish position: 1st

Coach: Jeff Weachter

Record last season: 12-2, 7-0 Keystone

Team Outlook: Fresh off an appearance in the PIAA Class 4A championship game, the Crusaders return to the Keystone Division with an embarrassment of riches that we don’t expect opponents to keep up with. Even if Bishop McDevitt played its games with just its 14 returning all-star players, and without the other 83 players on their roster, we’d still like its chances to win the division. The Crusaders should get a Super Bowl effort from every opponent they face this season, so it will be important for McDevitt’s men in the trenches — guys like Riley Robell (6-foot-3, 280 pounds), Gabe Arena (6-5, 285), Dimitri Chacon (6-4, 310), Kameron Zaengle (6-1, 270) and Ethan Straining (6-3, 255) — to control the line so the stars like running back Marquese Williams can shine. The Crusaders’ defense is also tough up front, and with the team returning its entire secondary, look for Bishop McDevitt to win the turnover battle almost every week. If the Crusaders stay healthy, they are a lock to not just win the Keystone, but also to make another deep playoff run.

One player to watch: Stone Saunders. With Bishop McDevitt, we can’t really go wrong with picking any player for this spotlight, but when’s the last time you saw a freshman QB step into the white-hot spotlight and have a 3,000-yard season? That’s exactly what the 6-1, 180-pound signal-caller did last season, to the tune of 46 TDs and five interceptions. Saunders, an All-American who was getting college offers out of middle school, lost a couple of his best receivers but has plenty of playmakers to deliver the ball to, including Rico Scott, Jeffrey Penn, and Williams. Enjoy the Saunders show while you can still see it for the price of a high school football ticket.

Team: Cedar Cliff

Predicted finish position: 2nd

Coach: Colin Gillen

Record last season: 10-3, 7-1 Keystone

Team Outlook: When a high school team loses some of its top talent, like Cedar Cliff did with its top RB and WR, it’s natural to be concerned about the program struggling the following season. But we get the sense there’s no need to worry for the Colts, who haven’t had a losing season since 2012. Cedar Cliff brings back talented QB Ethan Dorrell, who will be working with a new cast of characters, while the defense seems ready for battle with returning all-stars in LB Evan Ziegler, DE Daniel Schaeder, and CB Nathan Lusk all suiting up for Friday nights. Returning punter/kicker Derek Witmer is accurate and will help the Colts with field position and racking up points. Still, there are plenty of holes to fill, especially in the trenches on both sides of the ball. But if long-time coach Colin Gillen can find a way to fill in those blanks, West Shore Stadium will once again be home to some exciting football.

One player to watch: Ethan Dorrell. There will be a little more pressure on Cedar Cliff’s 5-11, 160-pound senior QB this fall. Dorrell will be working without a 2,000-yard rusher in the backfield now that Jontae Morris is on the Millersville University roster and his top receiver Trenten Smith has also graduated. Throw in an offensive line that is replacing four of five starters, and it’s easy to see why Dorrell’s work is cut out for him. He’ll be ready, though. He plays a fearless brand of QB and is not afraid to throw across his body or off his back foot to find the open receiver. Dorrell throws a tight spiral and a nice deep ball, and as soon as you fully commit to defending the pass, he’ll take off on draw plays for huge chunks of yardage.  

Team: Lower Dauphin

Predicted finish position: 3rd

Coach: Josh Borreli

Record last season: 6-4, 5-3 Keystone

Team Outlook: There weren’t many who had Lower Dauphin pegged for its first winning season since 2015, but something changed when Josh Borreli stepped into the room last year and guided the Falcons to a 6-4 record. Borreli was named the Keystone’s Coach of the Year for his efforts, but his talents as a team leader will once again be put to the test this fall as LD will have to figure out how to stay competitive with the graduation of both its quarterback and top running back. The Falcons have a few playmaking returners in WR Charlie Fortney (23 receptions, 462, yards, 4 TDs) and RB Ty Millhimes. On the defensive side, Lower Dauphin has lost its biggest stoppers, so guys like DB Fortney (33 tackles, 1 INT), LB Millhimes (21 tackles), and DB Wesley Heagy (34 tackles, 2 INTs) will be expected to pick up the slack this season.

One player to watch: Ty Millhimes. All signs point to a breakout season from the 6-1, 200-pounder as he looks to ascend from a productive underclassman to a game-changing junior. What can Millhimes do? A little bit of everything. Not only is he Lower Dauphin’s top returning rusher (48 carries, 221 yards, 3 TDs), he can also catch passes out of the backfield, like he did last year to the tune of 11 receptions for 140 yards and a pair of TDs. Millhimes’s versatility in the offense opens the field up for big plays for senior teammate Fortney, the team’s leading receiver a year ago. Millhimes has put on 10 pounds for this season, making his hits from the linebacker position even more devastating.


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Predicted finish position: 4th

Team: Red Land

Coach: Eric Depew

Record last season: 2-8, 2-5 Keystone

Team Outlook: Folks in Lewisberry have to be getting excited about their team’s chances this fall. While graduation rocked some of the other teams in the Keystone, Red Land is bringing back plenty of talent and experience and we think that the Patriots will be strapping on the helmets with confidence this season. While QB Roman Jensen has transferred out of state, Red Land returns an exceptional RB/WR in do-everything back Parker Lawler. Up front senior tackle Addison Janovich (6-1, 265) will be charged with leading the trenches and protecting the Patriots’ new signal-caller. Red Land might be even better defensively, where they return a pair of Keystone Division First Teamers in DB Lawler and OLB Anderson French, as well as Honorable Mention MLB Colton Hoffman. It’s always an uphill battle in the Keystone, but we fully expect the Patriots to be competitive this season.

One player to watch: Parker Lawler. When you look at the resume’ of Parker Lawler and begin to appreciate all of the things he can do, your mind begins to wonder: Will No. 5 ever get a break on the field? The primary role for the 6-0, 170-pound Lawler is defensive back, where he earned Keystone Division First Team honors. He has the size to bring down a hulking RB, the speed to match up with receivers, and the soft hands to pick off errant throws from the opposing QB. Lawler is also an all-star caliber return specialist, on both kickoffs and punts, and he knows a thing or two about punting the ball, himself. Offensively, Red Land will find a way to get the ball to Lawler either as a runner or receiver. Also a lacrosse player, Lawler is a player that can succeed on the field no matter where Red Land puts him. The Pa. Football Writers’ also noticed this when they named Lawler to last year’s 5A all-state team as an “athlete.”

Team: Milton Hershey

Predicted finish position: 5th

Coach: Jeff Boger

Record last season: 4-6, 3-4 Keystone

Team Outlook: It’s almost unfair that Milton Hershey is coming off its first losing season since 2010, which came after the Spartans didn’t play any football at all in the pandemic-plagued 2020 season. It’s even more unfair that the team will have to get along this year without do-everything star Dion Bryant, who had more than 2,400 combined rushing, passing and receiving yards last fall, including more than 1,900 on the ground. But don’t feel sorry for Milton Hershey, the Spartans bring back a fair amount of talent that will at least keep them competitive in the Keystone this season. We love how Jeff Boger’s bunch looks on defense, with all-star FS Malachi Thomas back to lead the unit, along with LB Haize Fulton (72 tackles, 2 sacks) and DE Michael Blidi (57 tackles, 7 sacks). On offense, there’s no one player that can replace Bryant, but with QB Kenny Emile (52 of 97, 803 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs) back in the mix, the Spartans have an experienced skill player who can make plays behind an o-line led by returning all-stars Tyler Quinter and Terek Lawson.

One player to watch: Malachi Thomas. Whether you’re flooding Thomas with blockers or trying to work on the other side of the field entirely, good luck getting the ball past this 6-2, 195-pound free safety. Thomas can wheel back and defend the pass, come in hard with the blitz and return punts. He logged 55 tackles, two sacks and an interception last season, earning him a spot as a Keystone Division Second Team all-star. Did we mention that Thomas is also Milton Hershey’s top returning WR? He caught eight passes for 108 yards and three TDs last fall.

Team: Hershey

Predicted finish position: 6th

Coach: Mark Painter

Record last season: 1-9, 1-6 Keystone

Team Outlook: It’s time to see how much Hershey has grown since taking its lumps during a one-win season last year. The Trojans return a handful of players, including QB Daniel Painter, who brings a good pocket presence coupled with an ability to scramble and keep plays alive with his legs. Marcus Sweeney, a 6-2, 180-pound basketball standout with big ups, will be a WR that wins almost every jump-ball matchup he encounters this season. On the defensive side, Hershey has some size in the LB corps with 220-pounders Angel Cabrera and AJ Slamans bringing the wood. Defensive end Yamael Wiggins is fast, slippery and can wreak absolute havoc on a backfield. The talent is there and Hershey knows it can compete, so if the Trojans can learn to win the close games, they’ll be in great position to move up the Keystone ranks.

One player to watch: Angel Cabrera. Since moving to Hershey in 2015, the Puerto Rico-born Cabrera has mastered both a new language, English, and a new sport, football. The 6-foot, 220-pound battering ram of a linebacker rewarded his coaches last season with a brilliant sophomore campaign that saw him earn a spot on the Keystone Division’s Second Team defense. Hershey may or may not win a lot of games this season, but opponents will most certainly be feeling those big hits from Cabrera several days after the fact. Look for Cabrera to also take another step forward on offense, where he plays a physical brand of FB that usually requires more than one defender to bring him down. Cabrera did all of these things as an underclassman, so if he put in any lifting at all over the summer for his junior season, the opposition will be in for a bruising this fall. 

Team: Mifflin County

Predicted finish position: 7th

Coach: Shane Breon

Record last season: 0-10, 0-7 Keystone

Team Outlook: The last time Mifflin County won a game, the world still thought a face mask was a football penalty. The Huskies enter this season on a 17-game losing streak, with their last victory coming Oct. 18, 2019 in a 48-7 win over Greencastle. MiffCo is hoping to reverse its fortunes with a new hometown coaching hire in Shane Breon, a long-time Mid-Penn assistant who most recently served as the offensive coordinator for Central York. There are plenty of kinks to work out for Breon and Co., but the coaching staff isn’t coming into this gig with a bare cupboard, as the only team returning more division all-stars than the Huskies (6) is Bishop McDevitt. The team will look to build its defense around LBs Reagan Ettinger, Steven Albert and Isaac Wilson, who combined for more than 160 tackles last fall, including 9.5 tackles for loss from Ettinger. On the other side of the ball, Logan Parks is the only returning player with significant QB experience. If Parks can get some support in the running game from RB Deakon Schaeffer (86-187-1) and Joshua Cruz (61-149-0), he could get comfortable with slinging the ball to top WRs Wilson and Josiah Sechler. Mifflin County’s best shot at snapping its losing streak just might be in its season-opener against Shikellamy, a team that went 1-9 last year.

One player to watch: Isaac Wilson. If opponents don’t keep a close eye on WR Wilson, the 5-8, 145-pound senior speedster just might go off for another big season. With soft hands and an uncanny ability to make plays after the catch, Wilson thrived on the big plays last season, catching 35 passes for 534 yards and four TDs. A Keystone Division Honorable Mention last year, Wilson has potential for even more success if he can quickly catch on to the system brought in by Breon, who has a history of taking passing games to the next level. Wilson will have to catch his breath quickly after long TD catches, considering he’s also a defensive starter at linebacker, where he made 35 tackles last season.

Team: Palmyra

Predicted finish position: 8th

Coach: Chris Pavone

Record last season: 5-5, 4-3 Keystone

Team Outlook: Graduation hits every team hard, but for goodness sake, the Cougars have lost their quarterback, top two RBs, top three WRs, top eight tacklers and their kicker. The good news is Palmyra grad Chris Pavone, now the team’s head coach, has been around the program as a long-time assistant and knows exactly what talent he has coming back. There are only three starters returning on offense, but one is 6-foot, 235-pound Kyle Chapin in the trenches. The senior will anchor the line and clear a path for RBs Dylan Kriner and Juan Figueroa. A large stable of capable receivers, including Jose Morales, await the man that wins the QB competition. A defense that returns six starters will work to keep the Cougars afloat as the team finds its way on offense. 

One player to watch: Dylan Kriner. Fans of the Cougars may notice the former WR/DB looks a little bit different this season. That’s because Kriner hit the weight room hard this summer in order to make a pair of position changes. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Kriner will now be taking snaps at RB and LB, where he will move to middle linebacker alongside Kadin Jones. Kriner’s move on offense should alleviate the pain of losing a 900-yard rusher. Senior leadership is especially important when a program is coming off heavy losses, and with Kriner already setting an example through his actions before the season even starts, Palmyra might be better than a lot of people expect this fall.

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