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Mercury Week 5 Football Preview: Perkiomen Valley opens PAC defense with test from Owen J. Roberts

For the first three years of Pioneer Athletic Conference divisional play, teams have maintained identical rotations — meaning the Owen J. Roberts-Perkiomen Valley rivalry has become a division-opening tradition.

And for the first two years, Perkiomen Valley has used decisive victories over OJR as a springboard to PAC championships.

Could that all change Friday night in Bucktown?

“PV’s good — really good,” said Wildcats coach Rich Kolka. “They’ve played the most difficult schedule in District 1. Their skill players are exceptional.”

Those skill players are led by the division-leading tandem of QB Cole Peterlin and WR Isaiah Domine. Peterlin has thrown for 812 yards while rushing for another 285, compiling 12 total touchdowns in non-league play, while Domine has been a big play waiting to happen with eight receiving TDs among his 15 receptions.

OJR will counter with a strong defensive line anchored by senior Aidan Hayward and a secondary that caused a pair of turnovers last week in a 21-0 shutout of Upper Merion.

It’s no surprise that the respective coaches are more concerned with the other side of the ball. OJR’s Kolka stressed the importance of offensive line play against the Vikings, while Perkiomen Valley’s Rob Heist is hopeful that his defense — with nine new starters in 2018 — will continue their week-by-week improvement against the high-percentage passing game of OJR and league-leading rusher Marcus Martin (443 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, tied with Pottsgrove’s Isaiah Taylor.)

OJR junior quarterback Cooper Chamberlain has connected on 63 percent of his passes, a key to those long, clock-killing drives that have made the Wildcats so tough once they get a lead.
Meanwhile, Perkiomen Valley — ranked 12th in the PaPrepLive.com Top 20 — continues to develop its running attack beyond quarterback Peterlin. No other Viking has reached 100 total yards rushing yet this season—a statistic the Vikings would like to change to take some of the heat off their quarterback in their drive for a three-peat.

“We’re excited to start the PAC schedule,” summarized Heist. “It’s our chance to defend our championship against some terrific teams.”

Pottsgrove’s Javon Colbert (32) and Isaiah Glover (5) team up to tackle Pottstown’s Josiah Wiggins at the line of scrimmage last season. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Pottsgrove (4-0) at Pottstown (3-1) >> Two high-performing defenses square off in the Frontier Division opener in a battle for neighborhood bragging rights.

“These kids grew up playing with and against one another in youth sports,” said Pottsgrove coach Bill Hawthorne. “It’s always a spirited game.”

The two defenses allow a combined total of 18 points per game on average (Pottsgrove 5.5 points per game; Pottstown 12.5). Pottsgrove defensive lineman Darrian Seaman dominated last week’s contest against Glen Mills with three fumble recoveries and a sack in the 43-0 rout that led to the Falcons being ranked No. 10 in the current PaPrepLive.com Top 20. Hawthorne pointed to kicker/punter Mike Sereny and Jimai Springfield, who he called the team’s ‘x-factor,’ as keys to Pottsgrove’s continued advantage in field position week after week.

Pottstown’s quarterback Josiah Wiggins is the man in the spotlight for the home team. The junior is 5th in the PAC with 386 rushing yards, but may be forced to the air more this week against a Pottsgrove defense that hasn’t allowed much of anything on the ground—but has faced limited challenges in the passing game.

Boyertown (1-3) at Methacton (0-4) >> The host Warriors got on the scoreboard for the first time last week, courtesy of a couple Chris Meehan field goals in a 12-6 loss to Pottstown. Coach Dave Lotier believes his senior-laden offensive line of Sean McCann, Drew VanDivner, Colby Stahl, Alex Sapalidis, and Tonee Ellis is primed for a breakout game, as their execution has improved week-to-week.

They’ll get an opportunity against a reeling Boyertown defense allowing almost 40 points per game so far this season. Last week’s 64-6 defeat at the hands of perennial District 3 powerhouse Berks Catholic saw the Bears allow 400 yards of total offense, while the Saints also scored a pair of special team touchdowns and another on defense.

“After a game like [last week], we need everybody to step up,” summarized Boyertown coach TJ Miller. “We need to step up our line play. Our secondary needs to make plays on the ball. We have a bunch of young guys in the lineup, and they need to play at the level they are capable.”

Methacton defensive standouts Brett Romano and Andrew Balek will be challenged by Boyertown’s league-leading rushing attack, highlighted QB Ayden Mathias and RB Jamie Moccia.

“They have experienced athletes in those skill positions,” said Lotier. “If we don’t execute on defense, they’ll make us pay.”

Phoenixville (2-2) at Upper Merion (2-2) >> The two squads are mirror images of one another—run-dominant offenses and defenses that make the opponents earn everything they get. Both prefer to play games with scoring in the teens, and emphasize big-play avoidance on the defensive side while valuing ball control above all else on the offensive side.

Phoenixville employs a two-headed running attack with RBs Alex Washington and Travis Pannella, while Upper Merion counters with RBs Zaire Savage and Michael Zelli. Even the quarterbacks — Connor Patania for Phoenixville, Dale Clayton for Upper Merion — have each completed exactly 13 passes on the season.

On paper, it’s a toss up. On the field, Phoenixville boasts the most impressive victory thus far (a 22-8 win over Philadelphia Public League contender Martin Luther King), but Upper Merion’s two defeats have come against teams with a combined 7-1 record (Radnor and Owen J. Roberts).

Daniel Boone (2-2) at Fleetwood (1-3) >> Coach Rob Flowers’ Blazers will try to recover from their worst defensive performance this season in a 42-14 loss to Conrad Weiser. The Blazers lead the area in rushing at just over 275 yards per contest, but surrendered 316 yards on the ground last week.

A year ago, the Blazers notched one of their two victories at Fleetwood. While they’ve already matched last season’s total, they’ll face a confident Tigers squad who gained their first victory last week in a come-from-behind 24-21 decision over Upper Perkiomen.

The Blazers continue to eschew the passing game—only 23 attempts on the season—in favor of their devastating running game, which relies upon a plethora of capable ballcarriers and an improving offensive line. They’ll need to establish an early lead and avoid turnovers for the formula to continue to work, as they found out last week.

Upper Perkiomen (1-3) vs. Pope John Paul II (4-0), Saturday, 1 p.m. >> The undefeated Golden Panthers won’t lack for motivation against an Upper Perk squad that topped them twice last season, including a 28-21 win in the District 1 Class 4A semifinals.

“We’ll need to be at our best,” said PJP coach Rory Graver. “Hopefully, we learned last week against Schuylkill Valley that we can’t afford to come out slow in the first half.”

In that game, PJP found themselves in a tie game until a late first-half touchdown gave them an advantage going to the break. They turned it on in the second half, outscoring Schuylkill Valley 22-0 en route to a 42-14 victory.

Upper Perkiomen found themselves in the opposite predicament, squandering a 13-0 lead and allowing 10 fourth-quarter points in a 24-21 loss to Fleetwood. RB Tyrese Reid made his season debut with 143 total yards and three scores, including a 93-yard TD catch from Tyler Weber.

Graver alluded to his defense’s need to key on playmakers like Reid, while the Indians would be well advised to keep their heads on a swivel against a PJP offense that saw four different receivers surpass 50 yards last week from standout quarterback Kamal Gray.

Spring-Ford (3-1) at Norristown (1-3), Saturday, 1 p.m. >> The Rams, ranked No. 19 in PaPrepLive.com Top 20, get an extra day’s rest after last week’s overtime win over Exeter, but coach Chad Brubaker views the schedule as an added challenge.

“We played at Norristown on a Saturday last year, and it took us a while to kick ourselves into gear,” Brubaker recalled. “I think the time change, and playing on a Saturday challenges our habits and routines, and those are the first issues we need to overcome.”

Another issue will be the Norristown defense, who’s been making opponents work for everything. Despite a 17-7 loss last week, the Eagles limited Cheltenham to 162 total yards of offense, their undoing coming in the form of two costly turnovers. The Eagles will look to Christian Thomas (18 catches, 251 yards, 4 TD) against a Spring-Ford defense looking for another big game from Walter Molishus (two tackles for loss and an interception against Exeter last week.)

Offensively, Spring-Ford QB Ryan Engro will continue to lean upon his trio of big targets led by junior Dante Bonanni, who leads the PAC with 19 receptions. Blaize Scarcelle and Noah Baker round out the league’s deepest receiving corps, while Stephen Brill looks to continue building on last week’s performance, when he averaged over six yards per carry.

Episcopal Academy (2-1) vs. Hill School (0-2), 12 noon Saturday >> The Rams’ long trip to Kiski School (outside Pittsburgh) almost paid off in their first victory last week, but a late Kiski touchdown negated a big performance from Hill’s Maurice Mazzccua. Back home for a showdown with Inter-Ac representative Episcopal Academy, Hill School will focus on playing stingier defense and hope for similarly explosive performances from Mazzccua and QB Javon Clements.

They’ll need it against a Churchmen squad that already boasts a 35-12 win over Lawrenceville, the Rams’ biggest rival. Running back DeeWil Barlee leads the charge for EA.

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