GRATERFORD >> The roster turnover has provided plenty of new faces.
The implications between Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford’s Friday night matchup, however, remain the same.
An annual showdown that again holds conference championship implications headlines Week 7 of the Pioneer Athletic Conference slate as the Rams travel to The Valley to take on the Vikings, Friday at 7 p.m.
It marks the first time in three years that the game will be held in Graterford after the previous two installments of arguably the conference’s best rivalry were played at Spring-Ford’s Coach McNelly Stadium. Those games lived up to the anticipation, the 2015 title tilt in front of nearly 12,000 fans going in favor of the Rams before the Vikings avenged in 2016 with a two-score victory to solidify their standing as the Liberty Division’s best.
Those two games featured some of the best football in the rivalry. Veteran-laden squads captivating not only the attention of the PAC, but the entire district in games that also carried weight in the district seedings picture. This year, despite roster turnover from both squads that have new names proliferating the statistical leaderboard, expect that trend of high-quality football to stay the course.
“It’s going to be electric,” Perkiomen Valley head coach Rob Heist said. “There’s going to be X-thousands of people here. They’re going to come in hype, our kids are going to be hype. It’s going to be awesome.”
Perkiomen Valley (5-1), the No. 10 team in the PA Prep Live Football Top 20, comes into Friday’s contest winners of three straight, including wins over District 1 Class 4A runner-up Interboro and previously undefeated Owen J. Roberts. Junior quarterback Cole Peterlin continues to improve in his first year under center, throwing for 1,036 yards and six touchdowns (second best in the PAC) while leading all quarterbacks in rushing with 393 yards and two scores. His stable of receivers continue to impress, especially deep threat Isaiah Domine, who’s hauled in 17 receptions for 276 yards and three scores while running back Jon Moccia continues to show his ability to catch out of the backfield, hauling in a team-best 25 catches for 289 yards.
More notably, however, is the play of the Vikings’ defense despite the loss of starting end Alec Jackson. Led by linebacker Noah Shine and nose tackle Kevin Lovett, the PV defense has come on strong in recent weeks. Their plus-5 turnover ratio is tops in the conference while their 11.8 points per game allowed ranks third behind Pottsgrove and Owen J. Roberts. Credit it to a team effort and the supporting cast that have filled in nicely for the loss of the team’s senior leader in Jackson.
“We’ve had some kids repping in there,” Heist said. “Jahir (Holmes) has stepped in along the defensive line for us, which has been nice. He’s a senior so I’m confident that he can handle that mentally and physically.”
The defense will be up for one its most challenging tasks to date against a Rams squad that comes in winners of three straight and boasts a bevy of different formations and looks.
“We’ve had our scout (team) try to replicate — as best as they could — their offense and their schemes so that we could have the best look possible,” Shine said. “They’re a well-coached team so we know we have to be disciplined and do all of our assignments right.”
“We’ve watched a lot of film and studied what they do so we can apply it out here on our field,” Lovett said. “Every game is the same. We need to keep that 1-0 mentality and give it all we got, all the time.”
While Spring-Ford quarterback TJ Pergine (95-168 for 1,271 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions) and running back Justin DeFrancesco (81 carries for 759 yards and nine touchdowns) get a lot of the credit — and deservedly so — for the Rams’ offensive success, the offensive line that only returned two of its starters from a season ago are starting to jell and have looked strong in the team’s previous three wins against Exeter, Norristown and Methacton. Center Matt Lepore and left tackle Noah Silva were tasked to bring the newcomers along the line together. Through trips to Royersford’s Annamarie’s and other offseason bonding exercises a line that took its lumps through the first three weeks has come on strong since Week 3’s loss to Wilson.
“Silva and I would talk in the winter or the spring and take people to Annamarie’s or what not and talk about the plays and try and get some work in,” Lepore said. “Getting the younger guys in and bringing up the seniors that didn’t get to play last year was key. We wanted to establish communication and we’re getting there. We’re still creating that chainlink with everyone but we continue to progress and get better each week.”
Among the newcomers, senior left guard Gio Guarna has blended in seamlessly, his longtime friendship with LePore and Silva aiding in the process.
“We’ve been friends for a while now,” Guarna said. “When it came time for me to step up to the plate, for the sake of these guys, I had to know my stuff and I had to hone my craft to get as good as I could to help the team win.”
So far, it’s worked. Whether the Rams’ line can continue their progression this week remains to be seen. But for all the new faces, one thing remains constant: this rivalry keeps getting better.
“We’re confident,” Silva said. “We’re ready for them. This is a new year and everyone has cleaned off the slate.”
“I don’t care what team we play,” Guarna said. “We just need to go out there and execute.”
Prediction >> Spring-Ford 28, Perkiomen Valley 27
Other Friday games:
The season hasn’t gotten off to a good start for The Hill (0-4), especially after a 26-0 loss to Inter-Academic League’s Springside Chestnut Hill Academy last week. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Peddie School rolls in winners of three straight, including 62-0 wins over Wyoming Seminary and a 43-36 victory over Malvern Prep last week. Senior quarterback Allan Walters highlights a strong passing attack, throwing for 1,192 yards and 13 scores to one interception while boasting a gaudy 75.5 completion percentage. Chris Chukwuneke — a 5-11, 185-pound receiver — is the team’s primary back. He’s rushed for 374 yards on 42 carries and six scores.
PREDICTION >> Peddie School 28, Hill School 7.
The Golden Panthers (2-0 Pioneer Athletic Conference, 6-0 overall) eked out an incredibly tight overtime win over Phoenixville last week after blowing a 21-0 lead. Still, good teams find a way to win under all circumstances and PJP did just that. Quarterback Matt DeLaurentis was stellar in the win, throwing for 193 yards and three scores, including the game-winner in overtime to receiver CJ McCafferty. He’s third in the league with 943 passing yards and 10 touchdowns opposed to just two interceptions. He and the PJP offense will go against an Upper Merion (0-2, 0-6) defense that’s ranked 10th in the PAC and allowing 396.3 yards per game and 40 points per game. PJP is ready for it says head coach Rory Graver. “I am proud of our guys on how quickly they can shift their focus onto the next opponent,” Graver said. “That is important this week playing a well-coached, physical football team in Upper Merion. Taking it one opponent at a time has been the key to our success and it is due to our teams maturity.”
PREDICTION >> Pope John Paul II 28, Upper Merion 6.
The Phantoms aren’t looking for any moral victories after last week’s loss dropped them to 0-6 overall, but the way they played in the final quarter-plus in their overtime loss to Pope John Paul II has head coach Evan Breisblatt thinking they may have turned a corner. Quarterback Connor Patania’s 259-yard, three-touchdown performance was a key reason behind that thinking, as were backfield tandem Alex Washington and Travis Pannella, who both combined to rush for more than 100 yards (107) on 18 carries against a PJP defense that’s ranked No. 3 in rushing yards allowed (594). “We started off extremely slow on offense against PJP last week, very inconsistent,” Breisblatt said. “We made some adjustments at halftime and scored 21 unanswered points. Connor Patania is really starting to throw the ball very well. I like the combination of Alex (Washington) and Travis (Pannella) in the backfield, they both are very similar runners and can catch the ball very well. They are all juniors so they should be one of the top backfields if not the top backfield in are division next year.”
Pottstown, meanwhile, is looking to rebound after a one-sided loss to Pottsgrove. Safety Nehemiah Figueroa registered 11 tackles and has been a consistent presence on the defensive side of the ball, but the Trojans offense will need to fix their mistakes offensively if they want to compete. The Trojans currently rank ninth in the PAC in points per game (10.7) and in total yards per game (199.5) and 11th in rushing yards (417). “We need to correct our mistakes offensively,” Pottstown head coach Mark Fischer said. “We must fix our run game and get that going. Phoenixville has a very good offense. They give you a lot to prepare for. They have a very good offensive and defensive line. Their defense flies around and plays very physical.”
CATCH THIS >> Phoenixville’s Dorian County ranks third in the PAC in receiving yards, hauling in 16 passes for 366 yards and two scores. Pottstown’s Jamal Adams is right behind him with 337 yards and three scores on 17 receptions.
PREDICTION >> Phoenixville 28, Pottstown 13.
The battle for the Frontier Division will get a little clearer after the Falcons (2-0, 6-0) visit the Indians (2-0, 4-2) in Red Hill. It was all Pottsgrove in last year’s tilt that held the same implications, with running back Rahsul Faison rushing for 152 yards and three scores in an eventual 62-21 rout. Faison is back and looking as dangerous as ever following his 286-yard, six-touchdown performance in a 49-6 win against Pottstown last week. He currently leads the PAC by nearly 600 yards, rushing for 1,327 yards and 17 scores on 142 attempts (9.3 average). He’ll be tested against a physical Upper Perkiomen line while the defense, helped out by the recent solid play of linebacker Nehemiah Collins and cornerback Jimai Springfield, will look to contain a versatile Upper Perkiomen squad that has 841 yards of total offense in its past two wins. “Upper Perk is the real deal,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said. “They are a very good football team. Watching them on film we see no weakness and are very concerned about their talent and skill. They may be the most physical team we will face and have some very good skill players. Our players know the challenge we have ahead of us and we must respond with a tremendous effort or we will be blown off the field. We must match their intensity and emotion.”
BALANCING ACT >> Both teams may be headed by solid rushing attacks (Faison for Pottsgrove and combination of Tyler Whary and Tyrese Reid for Upper Perkiomen), but both have the ability to pass the ball — and do so. Falcons quarterback Jay Sisko has thrown for seven touchdowns while Upper Perk quarterback Tyler Keyser has thrown for 569 yards and eight touchdowns (six interceptions). “Tyler Whary is starting to come on as he is recovered from an early season ankle injury,” UP head coach Tom Hontz said. “Austin Tutolo has done some really nice things both blocking and running out of the backfield. We also got to see some of Tyler Keyser’s athleticism against Upper Merion as he both ran and threw quite well.”
SPECIAL TEAMS >> Pottsgrove’s Nathan Kasper is second in the PAC in kicking scoring — all 33 of his points coming via the extra point.
DEFENSE >> Pottsgrove’s defense is ranked No. 1 in Eastern Pennsylvania in points per game (6.7).
SEVEN UP >> Pottsgrove has scored 49 points in the past two games (49-6 over Pottstown; 49-0 over Upper Merion) and have scored seven touchdowns or more touchdowns in four of the team’s wins.
PREDICTION >> Pottsgrove 35, Upper Perkiomen 21.
Like Phoenixville and head coach Evan Breisblatt, don’t expect first-year head coach TJ Miller to accept any moral victory for the Bears (1-1, 1-5) performance against reigning PAC champion Perkiomen Valley last week. It ended up becoming a 46-20 loss but the Bears hung tough and were level at 13-13 into the third quarter. Two interceptions and a fumble thwarted the effort but there is plenty to build on entering this week’s tilt against the Wildcats (1-1, 5-1). “Our program is building and we are improving every week. That’s a testament to the seniors on this team,” Miller said. “We do not settle for moral victories but there were definite positives that came out of last week. In the PAC, we have to look forward and prepare for a very good Owen J. Roberts team. Coach Kolka does a great job preparing his players. We know we are in for a dog fight on Friday.”
Speaking of OJR, the Wildcats are coming in after a 15-0 win over Norristown — the team’s second shutout of the season. The offense struggled, finishing with only 161 yards — 139 coming on the ground. Improving the passing game has been a point of emphasis this week for OJR and head coach Rich Kolka. “Defense was great last week. Dawson (Stuart) had a great game and Teddy Bradford had an interception and some tackles,” said Kolka, who also gave praise to Brendan Krummenacker and Justin Bailey. “Offensively we need to be much better, we struggled a little bit last week. (We) need to throw the ball with more accuracy and confidence.”
BIG BOYS >> Miller said the play of Reece Stahl on both sides of the ball has helped the Bears down the stretch: “He is really coming into his own on the football field,” he said.
FIRST RATE >> Owen J. Roberts’ defense is ranked second in the eastern portion of the state in total defense and first in District 1 (tied with Coatesville: 9.1 ppg). District 11’s Jim Thorpe is the top-rated defense in terms of points per game, the Class 3A school allowing 1.1 points per game.
PREDICTION >> Owen J. Roberts 28, Boyertown 24
The Panthers (3-1) keep rolling after wins over George School (47-12) and Nativity BVM (38-35). Their toughest test since Tower Hill looms with a visit to the undefeated Kiski School (4-0), which comes in 27-6 winners over Western Reserve Academy last week.
PREDICTION >> Kiski School 35, Perkiomen School 16.
Norristown (0-2, 1-5) hung tough with Owen J. Roberts on Saturday night, but ultimately couldn’t come out with a win after amassing only 79 yards of total offense while turning the ball over twice. Boubacar Diawara remains a bright spot offensively for the Eagles as he leads the team with 255 receiving yards on 25 receptions. He’ll look to have a solid performance against a Methacton defense that ranks last in the PAC in passing yards allowed (1,062). Methacton (0-2, 0-6) took its lumps again in a loss to Spring-Ford, but had solid play from running back Michael Torcini (13 carries for 82 yards and a score).
KEEP CONTROL >> Both teams rank ninth in the league with a -4 turnover differential.
PREDICTION >> Norristown 16, Methacton 14.
After earning their first win of the season at Muhlenberg on Sept. 22, Daniel Boone (1-1, 1-4) enters after running into Section I leader Governor Mifflin last week, resulting in a 47-7 defeat. The Mustangs built a 40-0 halftime lead and ran for 363 yards, led by Isaac Ruoss’ 161-yard, three-TD night. Boone managed only 140 total yards and Blazers quarterback Josh Ehst had a tough night at the office with a season-high three interceptions. Fleetwood (0-2 Berks 1, 0-5 overall) enters after having lost the past two games by three or more scores and have kept the game within one score once — a 36-32 loss to Eastern Lebanon County (1-4 overall). Slow starts have hindered the Tigers in their winless start, as the team is being outscored 116-12 in the first and third quarters. The Tigers’ run-heavy offense is only at 1,000 yards and the passing game is limited (11-for-37 for 90 yards split between three quarterbacks).
PREDICTION >> Daniel Boone 21, Fleetwood 14.