Mercury Football Preview: Pottsgrove, Upper Merion raring to go in openers

When Upper Merion and Pottsgrove met at Pennypacker Field two years ago, quarterback Jay Sisko led the Falcons past his Upper Merion counterpart Dale Clayton and the Vikings, 17-7.

On Thursday night, Sisko and Clayton meet again – but this time, it’ll be junior quarterback Ryan Sisko for Pottsgrove going up against sophomore Nolan Clayton of Upper Merion. Both younger siblings have followed in their brothers’ footsteps as signal callers and will meet for the first time as both squads begin their 2020 season.

The game was moved up to Thursday due to forecasted inclement weather on Friday.

For the purposes of this year, Upper Merion vs. Pottsgrove is a non-league contest, as only those team who began play on September 25 are playing for the Pioneer Athletic Conference title this season. But that doesn’t take away the familiarity established between two teams who often appear to be mirror images – power running, control the clock, and win the game in the trenches is the name of the game for both sides.

“(Upper Merion) do have experience on their side, and we know they’re well-coached as well,” said Pottsgrove coach Bill Hawthorne.

Sisko saw time behind graduated Joe Silvestri at quarterback last season and is now ready to take the starting job in his junior season. The backfield, as usual at Pottsgrove, is crowded with a number of potential ballcarriers, including tailback Kayden White, fullbacks Max Neeson and Mark White, and all-purpose player Rylee Howard.

Parker Janusek moves into the tight end role on an offensive line that will be anchored by three-year starter Manny Allen.

“We don’t view it as replacements, because people are in different positions,” said Hawthorne. “But each year we have a player on the offense line who’s a leader in terms of both physicality and being a role model for our young athletes to follow. Manny will be that guy.”

Luke Kaiser returns to the kicker/punter role with one of the strongest legs in the area.

“We’re going to be young again, but that’s not going to be an excuse,” stressed Hawthorne. “We’ll be prepped and ready to play.”

The Vikings, meanwhile, are primed for a big, albeit shortened season, rated at No. 9 in the preseason PIAA Class 5A state rankings. The biggest reason for that is their offensive line – big, physical, and experienced behind Dickinson College commit Stefano Nikolaou, a three-year starter, and fellow senior Keith Boyle. Center Christian Ghanayem, along with Wyatt Hart, Tremayne Brown, and tight end Justin Fisher round out the Vikings’ strongest unit.

They’ll be making room for another three-year starter in Aaron Anderson, who moves from slot receiver to a primary ball-carrying role after the graduations of Anthony Swenda and Taiyan Lobban. Sophomore Alzere Thomas has been impressive in preseason camp, while Qwynne Seals figures to see carries as well. Even on a team so experienced and loaded with returning starters, coach Victor Brown has been impressed by younger players and predicts many will see time as early as Friday night.

“One example is Boubakar Jalloh, he’s been the surprise of our last couple weeks of practice,” said Brown. “He’s really come a long way on the line, and we’re excited about him.

It’s the first of a five-game slate for the Vikings, who will also play Pope John Paul II and Phoenixville as well as Owen J. Roberts before traveling to Muhlenberg. The Vikings may need to schedule an extra game in order to qualify for postseason play but says such an opportunity would be welcomed by his team.

“It wasn’t always like this – these younger, hungry kids pushing our starters to improve. Once we got full pads on, we could tell there’s a higher level of competition around here. I think we’re more focused, taking things more seriously. This is a special group this year – I remember these seniors coming up as ninth graders, they got involved early and their progress is evident. They saw the way things were back in 2017, and they bought into our way from the beginning. As football players and as students, their progression has been remarkable.”

Methacton (2-1) at Spring-Ford (3-0)

The Warriors have two more chances to make 2020 a winning season for themselves in conference, with this week’s opportunity coming against league-leading Spring-Ford. They’ll need their powerful offensive line, led by Mario D’Addesi, Dan Meier, and Quinn Shields to be effective yet again giving Justin Carfrey room to run against the PAC’s top defense. Coach Dave Lotier stressed the importance of lining up properly against Spring-Ford’s multi-faceted offense, with the versatile Nick Teets ready to play any role necessary and the continued improvement of QB Ryan Freed.

For the Rams, a pair of lopsided victories were highlighted by Cam Goldsmith recovering blocked punts for touchdowns in consecutive weeks, while Josh Hellauer excelled at defensive end and tight end on both sides of the ball. Coach Chad Brubaker acknowledged Methacton’s week-by-week improvement and emphasized the importance of limiting mistakes. 

Boyertown (0-3) at Perkiomen Valley (2-1)

Can Vikings’ quarterback Ethan Kohler make it three straight games with four passing scores? Vikings coach Rob Heist complimented his quarterback’s continued dedication to improvement, while also lauding the play of safety Dylan Crothers, who had an interception in last week’s win over Owen J. Roberts. Jason Posner and Taylor Hartner provide senior leadership for a relatively young but vastly improved Perk Valley squad. 

They’ll host the Bears, who hope to ride the performances of Roman Marinello and Noah Segal to their first victory. Coach TJ Miller is very aware of the presence of PV linebacker Nico Holder, who will have his hands full against the Boyertown triple option. “We need to be physical upfront,” said Miller, “or we could be in a bad way.”

Owen J. Roberts (2-1) at Upper Perkiomen (0-3)

OJR coach Rich Kolka said the bright spot in the loss to Perkiomen Valley was the running game, particularly Avrey Grimm whose career-high 194 yards provided much of the Wildcats’ attack on the evening. This week, Kolka hopes to get the ball to explosive Dante DeNardo in the passing game. Improved health will also be a key for a Wildcats team that was without the services of several starters against Perk Valley.

Upper Perk’s Tom Hontz mentioned Christian Grossi, a wideout and constant threat on end arounds and jet sweeps, as a player the Indians need to contain if they hope to be competitive. Hontz also complimented the yeoman’s work of Riley Decker and Damon Faraco on both sides of the ball.

Conrad Weiser (4-0) at Daniel Boone (2-1)

The Blazers have their hands full against a Scouts squad that has yet to be challenged, outscoring opponents 139-27 in their first four victories. Coach Rob Flowers said the Blazers have all the motivation they could need to take better care of the football, knowing that Conrad Weiser has the ability to punish any mistakes. The Blazers had an extra week to prepare for the contest and will need that added energy and physicality to take on do-it-all quarterback Logan Klitsch and prolific WR Aanjay Feliciano.

Conwell-Egan at Pope John Paul II, 1 p.m. Saturday

The two squads make their 2020 debuts Saturday afternoon in Royersford, playing a game that was scheduled Wednesday in the wake of a COVID-related cancellation. The Eagles of Conwell-Egan look to bounce back from a disappointing 2019, preparing to embark upon their typically challenging Philadelphia Catholic League slate. 

For the Golden Panthers (now is Class 4A), the temptation to look at 2020 as “the year after” ignores the number of important players they have returning from the 2019 Class 3A District champions. Two-way linemen Ambrose Colliluoiri, Julian Paskel, and Jacob Foley return to the trenches for PJP, while All-Area WR/CB Justin Kormos looks to become the favorite target of new QB Rocco DiRico. Defensively, Josh Little looks to step into the role of graduated Mercury Defensive Player of the Year Justin Mitala. 

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