By Michael Bullock:
1. Juniata hoping to reverse recent road track record
While Juniata struggled a season ago when playing outside Mifflintown, Kurt Condo’s Indians hope to forget about the not-so-distant past by authoring some more positive history. Well, let’s just say it won’t be easy as a Juniata program makes its Mid-Penn Conference entrance. And any time the schedule maker says you’re headed for Memorial Field in Middletown to play the Blue Raiders, that’s a daunting proposition. Although Middletown’s string of appearances in PIAA Class 3A championship games ended in 2018, Brett Myers’ program (10-2 in 2019) still has impressive skill-position players in place such as quarterback Tony Powell and the running back combo of Tymir Jackson and Tajae Broadie. What makes things difficult for Juniata is all three players can run and all three possess terrific size. Juniata (4-7 in 2020) will operate behind dual-threat QB Jacob Condo (nearly 1,700 yards of offense and 21 touchdowns), while backs Caleb Seeger, Trent Martin and Jace White offer a blend of speed and guard-sized power. Should the Indians opt to put the ball in the air, 6-foot-4 wideout Manny O’Donnell can go and get it. Since Juniata is slated to play its first four away from home, let’s see if the Indians can turn around the 1-6 road mark Condo & Co. assembled in 2020.
2. Upper Dauphin to collide with Steel-High
Imagine closing one season against eventual PIAA Class 2A champion Southern Columbia and opening the next on the road at perennial hammer Steel-High (8-3 in 2019). Welcome to Upper Dauphin’s space in Pennsylvania’s high school world. Yet even though Kent Smeltz’s Trojans (12-1) spent last season winning the Tri-Valley League’s final championship, they also collared a District 3 Class 2A title before running into a Southern squad featuring six Division I athletes just in the senior class. Also notable is UD watched 18 youngsters hang up their orange-and-black tinted duds for the final time — including all-state QB Macklin Ayers. What’s different about the Trojans is the first year of their comprehensive cooperative arrangement with neighboring Millersburg. Although a number of experienced linemen will toil in front of first-year quarterback Tyler Cleveland, UD will benefit from the presence of former Millersburg standouts Chance Crawford and Kyle Casner. The Trojans might have had another versatile threat in former ‘Burg Swiss Army knife Caden Feaster, but the diminutive senior tore his ACL during a preseason look and is lost for the season. Steel-High has an assortment of athletic skill players all sporting high flammability levels in running back Odell Greene as well as wide receivers Mehki Flowers and Tyrone Moore. Trying to unnerve freshman quarterback Alex Erby may be one tactic Upper Dauphin puts in play, but Rollers skipper Andrew Erby Sr. undoubtedly has a counter in mind. What will be interesting to see is how Cleveland responds against a Steel-High defensive group that likes to use single coverage while sending everyone else after the QB.