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Mercury Week 5 Preview: PAC season starts with a bang with Perkiomen Valley vs. Spring-Ford

There’s no downplaying the stakes of Friday’s rivalry game between Spring-Ford and Perkiomen Valley.

Since the start of the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship era in 2016, the outcome of Rams versus Vikings has propelled the winner to a plaque-raising championship celebration the final week of October.

The PAC league schedule kicks off Friday with no bigger game all fall than what is expected in front of a packed house in Graterford when the winners of the last seven PAC championships do battle.

For two such heated rivals, the two-time reigning champ Rams and Vikings enter Friday on similar wavelengths.

Both are coming off a challenging four-week non-conference run. Both endured narrow losses that resulted in 2-2 records.

In their last meeting in Week 1 of 2020, the Spring-Ford defense hounded Perkiomen Valley and quarterback Ethan Kohler (11) in a 27-13 Rams’ win. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group file)

Spring-Ford routed West Chester East (44-0) and Chambersburg (48-0) in its first two outings but lost in the final moments at Cumberland Valley (23-19) and couldn’t keep up with the passing attack of District 3 power Manheim Township last Friday in a 26-13 defeat.

Perk Valley had convincing wins over Springfield Delco (37-15) and Downingtown West (55-20) in Weeks 1 and 3, respectively. The Vikings led at Coatesville by 13 at halftime but were outscored 21-0 in the second half in a 35-27 loss Sept. 3. Last Friday, Manheim Central prevailed in a 43-40 shootout despite PV putting up 40 on a Barons team that entered having allowed only 7 points all season.

“I think we’re in good position overall entering into our league play,” said PV head coach Rob Heist. “The football coach in me says we’re two plays and two penalties away from being undefeated against some really good competition.

“I think we’ve improved every week so I feel good about where we are.”

Despite mixed results, both enter better prepared than last year’s season-opening matchup (the PAC played league-only games amid COVID-19 pandemic precautions) when Spring-Ford caused four turnovers and dominated with its run game in a 27-13 victory in front of a couple hundred socially-distanced supporters.

Friday will more resemble the atmosphere of the 2019 meeting at Perk Valley that is one of the great contests in recent PAC history. Spring-Ford won a back-and-forth battle 40-35, a tide-turning moment in the league that ended Perk Valley’s three-year reign atop the league.

“I think it’s pretty equal for both teams because there’s always a great turnout,” said Perk Valley senior quarterback Ethan Kohler. “We’re very fortunate to have an atmosphere like that and have that experience. That’s an experience you’ll never forget.”

Kohler will be in rare company by playing in a fourth SF-PV game after he was thrust into action due to injury as a freshman and helped the Vikings rally from 14 down in the fourth quarter to win 27-20 in 2018.

The 6-2, 195-pound signal caller has grown into one of the elite quarterbacks the PAC has known, an All-Area first team selection in 2020 who is 53-for-86 for 881 yards with nine touchdowns passing this season. He’s also rushed for 171 yards and five TDs.

Big game or not, he’s intent on not getting too high for the occasion.

“I’m going treat it like any other game,” Kohler said. “I’m going into it looking to do my job, get our assignments done. They’re always a great football team and great program. I’m excited to see how it goes.”

Kohler and the Perkiomen Valley offense will have their hands full with a Spring-Ford defense that has become the defining unit in the PAC title race over the past two seasons.

The Rams allowed only 9.5 points per game in 2020 when they repeated as PAC champion and reached the District 1 Class 6A semifinals. 

This year’s group is led by All-Area first team linebacker Ryan Horvath and senior defensive back Cole Turner, ‘who have done an excellent job not only on the field between snap and whistle but off the field with their leadership,’ according to Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker.

It is off to another strong start averaging 12.3 points allowed per game. 

“We played extremely well defensively all four weeks,” said Brubaker.

Leading the Rams, Horvath is matched by sophomore Mike Bendowski with a team-high 22 tackles, junior Zach Zollers has three sacks and junior defensive back Payton West has three interceptions.

Beyond the known commodity that is Kohler, junior running back Ryan Klimek has emerged for PV (39 carries for 314 yards, 4 TDs) while senior Dawson Debebe (16 catches, 341 yards, 3 TDs) and junior Mike Poruban (12 catches, 214 yards, 3 TDs) are the leading wide receivers. The offensive line features All-Area first team Jake Jonassen and seniors Austin Henry and Reed Overholser and juniors Grant Euker and Tim Ledger.

The strength vs. strength matchup should go far in determining Friday’s outcome.

It will in Horvath’s eyes.

“That’s how I view it,” he said. “Last year was really the first time I’ve played against them and a guy like Ethan Kohler, who is an excellent quarterback. That I feel like is going to be the key component to the game. These last couple games they’re putting up a ton of points, we’re not allowing many points — that’s the matchup.”

Spring-Ford’s Ryan Horvath (22) pressures Owen J. Roberts ballcarrier Hunter Rhoads (3) in the backfield during a 2020 game. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

On the other side, the Spring-Ford offense has underperformed the past two weeks and will need to keep pace by getting its run game on track. Senior running back Harry Adieyefeh, who ran for 180 yards and a TD in the 2020 meeting, has 291 yards on 66 rushes this season. Senior quarterback Ryan Freed is 71-for-99 with 705 yards (8 TDs, 3 INTs) on the year with his favorite targets Kolten Kqira (22 for 254, 3 TDs) and Zach Zollers (16 for 183, 4 TDs).

“We ran a lot last year and I feel as if our run game and run blocking hasn’t been up to par compared to where we want it to be,” said S-F left tackle Ian Harvie. “We’re going to get that back this week and continue it forward.”

Harvie, a three-year starter, will be joined on the line by Danny Winters, Ayden Kling (in for injured center Luke Ellor), Mike Scalia and Ryan Shaner.

“It’s important to keep the ball out of Kohler’s hands as much as possible,” said Brubaker. “As much as our defense is key, the longer the offense is on the field getting first downs, it keeps them off the field, which is the best defense.”

The Vikings’ defense is led by senior linebackers Gage Young and Bryan Helenski, both of whom are averaging double-digit tackles per game, and senior defensive back Jeremy Brewer. 

Recent history is in Spring-Ford’s favor as winners of the last two matchups. But all parties agree that does not matter come Friday.

“It’s always made us hungrier after each year,” said PV’s Jonassen. “You go into the offseason, put in the work, and look in past that they beat us but that is in the past. We have a new season, another game to improve ourselves and get the ‘W’.”

“It makes them probably extra hungry,” Brubaker said.” I don’t think it adds any pressure to our side. Usually the games are close, even if it’s two scores apart. Definitely in 2019, our players felt like, ‘Enough of this’ because we had lost three straight years. There’s determination that comes from that.

“But if you really look at it, it’s a whole new year with a bunch of new guys. It’s about whoever performs better on that particular night.”

Week 5 games

Norristown at Methacton, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s game: The Eagles were blanked by Cheltenham, 33-0. The Warriors got by Pottstown, 14-7.

Last meeting: Methacton topped Norristown in 2020, 21-12.

Preview: The Warriors go to their Homecoming game with a solid 3-1 record off last weekend’s win over the Trojans. Giancarlo DeFilippis ran the opening kickoff 81 yards in the first 13 seconds, and Dan Brandi hooked up with Dean Sapalidis on a 31-yard scoring pass in the third for the decisive score.

The Eagles (0-4) remains sluggish on the offensive side of the ball since an opening-weekend 28-20 loss to Bensalem. Norristown has scored only a combined 15 points in games with Upper Merion and Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Owen J. Roberts at Boyertown, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s game: The Wildcats dominated Reading High, 39-6. The Bears went four overtimes to ultimately dispatch Pottsgrove, 42-35.

Last meeting: Owen J. handled Boyertown in 2020, 37-7.

Preview: The Bears (2-2) showed considerable mettle in their divisional crossover game with the Falcons, going toe-to-toe with their hosts through three OTs before Leo Egbe scored on a five-yard run in the fourth. Ryder Gehris scored twice on runs, and threw a pair of TD passes to Luke Ordway and Brandon Shane, to fuel the Bears’ offense.

The ‘Cats (3-1) again flexed considerable offensive might against the Red Knights, pouring it on with 20 fourth-quarter points. Michael Reed scored twice on quarterback sneaks, Hunter Rhoads ran in a touchdown and Avrey Grimm (PAC-best 786 yards on 95 carries, 6 TDs) broke off a 60-yard touchdown run before Raymond Bolger finish off the game’s scoring. Carson Johnson added a field goal, and the OJR defense chipped in a safety to the winning effort.  

Phoenixville at Pottsgrove, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s game: The Phantoms edged Octorara, 36-33. The Falcons lost to Boyertown in a four-overtime marathon, 42-35.

Last meeting: Pottsgrove beat Phoenixville in 2020, 17-7.

Preview: The Phantoms (1-2) dealt the Braves their first loss of the season with Ty Romance tossing a 57-yard touchdown pass to Ahmid Spivey as 1:15 showed on the clock. Owen Koch put together a dominant night on the ground with 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Romance tossed for 164 yards and found three different scoring targets in Spivey, Jackson Campbell and Hayden Tenbroeck. Tenbroeck grabbed four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown, while Spivey hauled in a pair of passes for 75 yards and score.

The Falcons (2-1) rallied to force a 14-14 tie in regulation, then matched Boyertown score-for-score through the first three OT frames. Amir Brunson (401 yards, 6 TDs in 2021) rushed for 110 yards and a pair of scores while Ryan Sisko and Tyler Kauffman collaborated on passing TDs of 39 and eight yards. Sisko also ran for a touchdown in the third overtime.

Upper Merion at Pottstown, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s game: The Vikings doubled up Twin Valley Sept. 10, 24-12. The Trojans lost to Methacton, 14-7.

Last meeting: Pottstown scored a 39-20 win on Upper Merion in 2019.

Preview: The Trojans (0-4) had to contend with the unavailability of more than a dozen players due to COVID protocols last time out. Mason Miller figured twofold in Pottstown’s lone score vs. Methacton, intercepting a Methacton pass that set him up for a 23-yard TD pass from Gabe Hicks. The Trojans saw two other scoring chances ended on downs at the Warrior three and a fumble at the four.

The Vikings (2-1) have played their previous opponents close in the early going after having last week’s game cancelled with Bartram due to the opponent’s COVID issues. Following a 25-13 loss to Conwell-Egan on the season’s opening weekend, they topped archrival Norristown in their annual “Battle of the Bridge” game, 23-7. Qwynne Seals has rushed for 227 yards (5.4 ypc) to the lead the run game. 

Daniel Boone at Ephrata, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s game: The Blazers topped Conestoga Valley, 27-12. The Mountaineers posted a 28-7 win on Eastern Lebanon County last weekend.

Last meeting: Daniel Boone hasn’t played Ephrata in more than a decade.

Preview: After losing their first two games this season — the second to fellow Berks League member Twin Valley — the Blazers have gone 2-0. Their last outing saw Dean Rotter throw three touchdown passes, two of them to Alex Vassallo while Ethan Kryman added a TD run. 

The Mountaineers (3-1) saw Andre Weidman run for a team-best 113 yards with one touchdown against ELC. Weidman finished with 133 all-purpose yards, also high for Ephrata.

Upper Perkiomen at Pope John Paul II, 1 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s game: The Indians fell to Schuylkill Valley, 42-14. The Golden Panthers lost a high-scoring affair to Berks Catholic, 47-40.

Last meeting: PJP rolled Upper Perk in 2019, 54-0. 

Preview: The Indians (1-3) continue to struggle on defense, going a second straight game giving up more than 40 points. Last weekend, they were unable to prevent the previously-winless Panthers from getting first-year head coach Bruce Harbach his first win with the program. Brady Thompson is doing it all for the Tribe, serving as lead back last week (16 carries, 126 yards) and is now fifth in the PAC in the category (60 rushes, 356 yards). Nevan Smith is tied for the PAC lead in interceptions with three.

For a second straight week, the Golden Panthers (2-2) found themselves on the short end of the score, that despite rallying with 27 fourth-quarter points against the Saints. Josh Little rushed 132 yards and three touchdowns, including a 50-yard with 9:24 left in the game that forced a 34-34 tie. Little scored again, with 5:33 left, to make it a 41-40 score, but PJP was unable to keep the surge going. Quarterback DJ Clarke completed 14-of-24 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns, finding Brendan Kenning from 50 yards out and adding a 37-yard strike to Markese Williams. Williams, who opened PJP’s scoring with a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown, caught six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.

Valley Forge Military Ac. at Perkiomen School, 1 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s game: The Panthers opened the 2021 season by rolling Delco Christian, 50-6. The Trojans lost their season opener to Mercersburg Ac. 42-28.

Last meeting: Perk School won by forfeit over VFMA in the KSFL’s 2019 playoff semifinal round, 

Preview: The Panthers flexed considerable offensive muscle in their return to the gridiron in two years. They got pairs of touchdowns from Brandon Charon and Shin Yoon, one a big play on special teams when Charon returned a Delco punt 65 yards to the end zone. Drew Pickett (pass from Mikey Boyle), Drew Malone (run) and Chris Catania (run) also got in the scoring act. On defense, Catania had an interception and Liam Thomas a fumble recovery to help keep Delco off the scoreboard until the final minute of play.

VFMA came into the 2021 season led by such key players as seniors Alvin Carpenter (line), James Dillard (running back/linebacker), Chris Howard (defensive end/offensive line) and Alex Sible (tight and defensive end). They all played for the Trojans’ team that embarked on KSFL play two years ago.

Hill School at Springside-Chestnut Hill, 2:30 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s game: The Rams fell to Episcopal Academy, 42-21. The Blue Devils are coming off a 21-15 loss to Roman Catholic.

Preview: The Rams (0-2) were left seeking their first win for new head coach Orlando Patterson. They showed considerably more offense last weekend after being blanked by Germantown Academy in their opener, 12-0.

SCH (2-1) had a previous matchup with Pope John Paul II. It proved a back-and-forth affair after the Panthers reversed an early deficit into a 20-7 third-quarter advantage, but the Devils locked it up with a 30-yard TD toss from quarterback Aidan Dooley to wideout Ivar Thorpe in the final half-minute.

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