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Mercury Week 11 Football Preview: Challenging road trips await PAC quartet of district qualifiers

Owen J. Roberts running back Avrey Grimm (2) looks for running room on a carry in the second quarter against Perkiomen Valley. OJR enters Friday as a big underdog when it visits No. 3 Coatesville in a District 1-6A first round game.(Austin Hertzog - MediaNews Group)

It was a time of anticipation and apprehension.

As post-season playoff time approached, several area teams found themselves wondering about having a “second season” in 2021’s comeback campaign from last fall’s COVID-19 pandemic issues. District rankings were perused, season records got people’s attention and the closeness of teams outside their league was worried over.

Some of the worrying dissipated earlier this week, when the District 1 playoff brackets were released. But it ultimately gave way to a different set of worries for some local squads such as how to find a way to win on the road as a lower seed in the playoffs.

That’s what four playoff-qualifying Pioneer Athletic Conference teams will face this weekend. Owen J. Roberts and Spring-Ford are doing so in the district’s Class 6A bracket, with Phoenixville and Upper Merion also on the road in 5A. Two other PAC schools, Perkiomen Valley (6A) and Pottsgrove (4A), get to host first-round games by virtue of their higher seedings.

Owen J. will travel down Route 100 to Coatesville, facing the third-seeded Red Raiders. The Rams will be in the same general vicinity of Chester County, visiting fourth seed Downingtown East in Lionville.

The 10th-seeded Phantoms, in turn, will go against seventh seed Marple Newtown while UM squares off against second seed Strath Haven. It’s all a single-elimination, no-room-for-error scenario on the way to state champion status for the most-successful programs.

Spring-Ford’s Will Fish, left, blocks a punt by Methacton’s Tyler Ready. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

But for 14th-seeded OJR and 13th-seeded Spring-Ford, both of whom had frequent qualifications for districts in recent years, it’s basically being approached the same as any regular-season contest.

“Playing on the road in the playoffs is simply a road game for us,” Owen J. Roberts head coach Rich Kolka said, “and I would assume so for the rest of the teams. It is exciting to see different stadiums and big crowds.”

The Rams and Wildcats meshed with PV to form a potent 1-2-3 pack in the PAC’s Liberty Division. Though they both went 6-4 this fall, Spring-Ford got the edge on OJR in head-to-head play, racking up a 42-10 victory in its Homecoming game.

“Due to our record, we knew that we were going to most likely be on the road no matter what,” head coach Chad Brubaker said.

The ‘Cats come into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak. Following the loss to the Rams, they dropped their PAC divisional crossover game with Phoenixville by a 6-2 score during last Friday’s torrential rainstorm.

“We have an enormous task in front of us going to Coatesville,” Kolka said, “but we have nobody to blame for the match up but ourselves and possibly the weather. We have never had a home (playoff) game in school history here at OJR, but that is certainly a program goal.

“It’s business as usual for preparation.”

Upper Perk’s Logan Simmon, center, is brought down by Phoenixville’s Solomon Ortiz. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

For Phoenixville, it was an uphill trek during the regular season … one that started out with its scheduled season opener with neighboring rival Great Valley cancelled. But the Phantoms have been on track in the wake of their Oct. 1 loss to Pope John Paul II. They dispatched Upper Perkiomen, Upper Merion and Pottstown in the stretch run of their Frontier Division schedule, then topped Owen J. in last week’s divisional-crossover clash to finish the regular season 5-4.

“After starting out 1-4, our mentality has been underdog each week since,” head coach Anthony Ciarlello said. “The team has treated the last four games as must wins in order to play another week. Now, we do find ourselves in the realness of borrowed time. They know that we need to win to make it to the next day. The coaching staff continues to reiterate the need to show up and put in an honest day’s work if they want to find success.”

Upper Merion (4-5) got to the post-season in reverse fashion. It started out 4-1, then fell into a slide in Frontier games against Pottsgrove, Pope John Paul II and Upper Perkiomen prior to last weekend’s 30-19 divisional-crossover setback to Boyertown.

“We played a close one there (Strath Haven) back in the first round in 2019,” first-year head coach Davis Chubb noted. “Hoping we can finish the job this year.”

District 1-6A playoffs

No. 11 Central Bucks East at No. 6 Perkiomen Valley, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: PV won the PAC championship game with Pope John Paul II, 30-0. CB East lost to intradistrict rival Central Bucks West, 35-15.

Preview: Perkiomen Valley (8-2) is seeded sixth in the 1-6A bracket. Senior QB Ethan Kohler (115-for-177, 1,859 yards, 21 TDs) remains the area’s most prolific passer and WR Dawson Debebe (659 yards, 8 TDs) both his favorite target and the area leader. Michael Poruban (469 yards, 6 TDs) is another Top 10 receiver for the Vikes, whose passing game is complemented by the running of Ryan Klimek (589 yards, 9 TDs).
Klimek is also the area’s most productive placekicker, the leader in both points (56) and conversion kicks (44).

The Perk Valley defense, led by DB Jeremy Brewer and LBs Gage Young, Bryan Helenski and Ryan Boozer, enters on a three-game shutout streak and has not allowed points in 14 quarters, dating back to Oct. 8.

East (6-4) is the district’s 11th seed. Quarterback Patrick Keller, running back Ethan Shine and wide receiver Quinn Moody are the mainstays of the Patriots’ offense.

No. 14 Owen J. Roberts at No. 3 Coatesville, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: OJR lost to Phoenixville in PAC divisional crossover game, 6-2. Coatesville topped Downingtown East, 42-7.

Preview: OJR (6-4) got the 14th seed in the district. Avrey Grimm remains the area’s top running back with 1,641 yards — one of only two players to have topped the 1,000-yard mark — and 11 touchdowns, and QB Michael Reed (92-for-164, 909 yards) is consistent behind center. Danny Cashman (397 yards) is Roberts’ leading receiver.

Coatesville (9-1) is the third seed in the 1-6A field. It is the top rushing team in the Ches-Mont League, and Ashon Wesley went for 267 yards on 10 carries last week against Downingtown East, Red Raider quarterback Harrison Susi has been a dual offensive threat with 840 rushing yards and 12 TDs complementing 1,382 passing yards and 20 aerial TDs.

“Coatesville is explosive in every facet of the football game,” Kolka noted.

No. 13 Spring-Ford at No. 4 Downingtown East, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Spring-Ford was edged by Pottsgrove in a PAC divisional crossover game, 14-13. Downingtown East was handled by Coatesville, 42-7.

Last meeting: The Rams lost to the Cougars in November of 2018, 39-12.

Preview: Spring-Ford (6-4) goes into districts as the 13th seed in 1-6A. Its leaders on offense rank in the top 6 locally: Quarterback Ryan Freed (107-for-150, 1,239 yards, 15 TDs) third, running back Harry Adieyefeh (912 yards, 11 TDs) fourth and wide receivers Kolten Kqira (523 yards) and Zach Zollers (475 yards, 8 TDs) a respective third and sixth. Defensively, Cole Turner leads the area with six interceptions.

“We need to play our best game offensively, coming off of our worst performance of the year,” head coach Chad Brubaker said, adding he is looking for Gavin Shafer and Will Fish to produce big performances for the Rams.

East (8-2) is the fourth seed in the 1-6A field. It runs an up-tempo offense led by Bo Horvath, who has 1,548 rushing yards (second in Ches-Mont) and 13 TDs, and Josh Asante.

“Downingtown East is big and plays an offensive style that we don’t see very often,” Brubaker noted.

District 1-5A playoffs

No. 10 Phoenixville at No. 7 Marple Newtown, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Phoenixville topped Owen J. Roberts in a PAC divisional crossover game, 6-2. Marple Newtown topped Harriton, 36-6.

Preview: Phoenixville had a long uphill climb to compile its current 5-4 record and 10th seed in District 1’s 16-team Class 5A bracket. The Phantoms went on a four-game winning streak to close out a regular season they started 1-4.

Owen Koch (1,092 yards, 11 TDs) joins OJR’s Avrey Grimm as the area’s lone runners to cover more than 1,000 yards thus far. Ty Romance (60-for-117, 924 yards, 9 TDs) has been steady behind center and wide receiver Hayden Tenbroeck (450 yards) remains his favorite target.

The Fightin’ Tigers (7-3) hold the seventh seed in 5A. It has a core of two-way seniors who are returning starters: Lineman Damien Bogsch, running back/defensive back Charlie Box, end Matt Cantwell, and wide receiver/linebackers Eric McKee, Jonny Small and Michael Schumacher.

“We have a ton of respect for our opponent,” Phoenixville head coach Anthony Ciarlello said. “They are fast, physical and very well coached. We will live one down at a time as we have all season. We will continue to show up and do our jobs.”

No. 15 Upper Merion at No. 2 Strath Haven, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Upper Merion lost to Boyertown in a PAC divisional crossover game, 30-19. Strath Haven handled Radnor, 33-7.

Last meeting: The Vikings lost to the Panthers in their 2019 season finale, 21-6.

Preview: Upper Merion (4-5) is seeded 15th in 1-5A. It is in the midst of a four-game losing streak dating back to its Oct. 1 game with Pottsgrove. Still, head coach Davis Chubb is optimistic about his team’s offensive stars.

“Brayden Marino has really stepped up for us in the run game,” the first-year grid boss said, “and we’ll continue to look for Zayd Etheridge to lead our offense … The entire defense will need to step up in a big way this week.”

Strath Haven (9-1) has the second seed in the 1-5A bracket. It has a formidable 1-2 rushing attack in the form of quarterback Sam Milligan and running back Chase Barlow. They each ran for pairs of touchdowns against Radnor, Barlow amassing 212 yards for an offense whose 450 yards’ total offense came on the ground.

“They are sound in what they do and have been doing it for years,” Chubb said of Strath Haven. “They know how to execute.”

District 1-4A playoffs

No. 3 Upper Moreland at No. 2 Pottsgrove, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Pottsgrove edged Spring-Ford in a PAC divisional crossover game, 14-13. Upper Moreland was rolled by Upper Darby, 36-6.

Preview: Pottsgrove (7-2) is seeded second in the four-team District 1-4A bracket. It went 6-1 in its first seven games and successfully rebounded from its loss to Pope John Paul II in the de facto Frontier Division title game by knocking off Spring-Ford.

Quarterback Ryan Sisko has 11 TD tosses while Amir Brunson has run for 623 yards. Gabe Rinda’s three interceptions head the defense, and the kicking teams have Landon Shivak with 30 points, 27 of them conversions.

“Ryan Sisko executed the last two drives to perfection, and led us to a victory in the final seconds with the game-winning touchdown to Tyler Kaufman,” head coach Bill Hawthorne said of the Falcons’ clutch finish last Friday in Royersford. “Jake Palladino’s snaps on the extra points following the two touchdowns scored, as well as Landon’s Shivak’s execution of the pressure-packed kicks, were highly important and vital to the victory as well.
“I was pleased with the overall team efforts,” he added, “but the defense was outstanding and kept us in the game and put us in a position to win the game in the end.”

Upper Moreland (7-3), the 4A bracket’s third seed, saw its regular-season roll stalled by successive losses to Plymouth-Whitemarsh and Upper Darby. Quarterback Byron Hopkins (59-for-105, 1,002 yards, 15 TDs), running back Cameryn Jackson (974 yards, 15 TDs) and wide receiver Ryan Olexa (459 yards) have been key to the Bears’ success … particularly Jackson, whose, 1,128 total yards lead the team.

“Amir Brunson and Bryce Caffrey need to have a big games in the run game as well as the return game for us to win Friday,” Hawthorne said. “Upper Moreland is big and strong on the line of scrimmage on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball. They are extremely talented at all the skill positions and very well-coached across the board.”

District 3-5A Playoffs

No. 12 Daniel Boone at No. 5 Waynesboro, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Daniel Boone has not played last two weekends due to COVID-19 issues. Waynesboro topped Northern York, 6-0.

Preview: Boone comes into the District 3-5A playoffs as the 12th seed, having two games postponed by COVID-19 issues since their Oct. 15 outing with Reading High. Dean Rotter (75-for-119, 908 yards, 12 TDs) remains solid at quarterback, A.J. Hofer (782 yards, 10 TDs) anchors the running game and Alex Vassallo has an area-best 44 catches covering 515 yards. Nate Millard’s 4 field goals have him tied with PV’s Ryan Klimek for first place locally.

The Blazers will face a Waynesboro unit whose 8-2 record (6-1 Mid-Penn Colonial) earned it the fifth seed in District 3-5A. Quarterback Louie Lindsay is 57-of-112 for 847 yards and 10 TDs, and running back Aidan Mencia has collected 1,039 yards and 10 TDs. Wide receivers Rhyan Day (17 catches) and Brody Rhodes (344 yards, 5 TDs) are Lindsay’s primary targets.

“We’re excited for this opportunity,” Boone head coach Rob Flowers said.

Eastern Conference 5A/6A playoffs

Boyertown at Fleetwood, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Boyertown rolled Upper Merion in a PAC divisional crossover game, 20-19. Fleetwood handled Kutztown, 49-30.

Preview: Boyertown (4-6) returns to the Eastern Conference championship for the first time since the 2017 season, when it scored a 48-20 victory over Pocono Mountain East. The Bears’ Leo Egbe (892 yards) is one monster rushing performance away from reaching the 1,000-yard plateau in his final scholastic season, and Zach Foskey has put up 25 conversion kicks as the team’s bright spots. Egbe ran for 145 yards and the game-deciding 19-yard touchdown as the Bears rallied from 19-7 down to overtake Upper Merion in the fourth quarter last week. Roman Marinello had a 65-yard punt return and 57-yard run for TDs in the win.

Fleetwood (6-4) has an offense led by Villanova commit Tanner Maddocks at quarterback. Maddocks is 80-for-153 for 1,278 yards and 11 touchdowns, with a variety of targets in Mason Musitano (23 catches, 327 yards), Will Ryan (18 catches, 294 yards), Gage Moyer (15 catches, 266 yards) and Gavin Morris (14 catches, 221 yards). Gavin Morris is the spark in the Tigers’ ground game, with 883 yards and 15 TDs.

Lawrenceville School at Hill School, 2 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s results: Hill School fell to Kiski School, 26-7. Lawrenceville School was nipped by Hotchkiss School (Lakeville, Conn.), 29-28.

Last meeting: The Rams handled the Big Red in 2019, 49-19.

Preview: The Hill (2-6) has one last opportunity to halt its current losing streak (four games) and get first-year head coach Orlando Patterson his first Mid-Atlantic Prep League win. It continues to espouse the concept of using as many ball-touchers as possible, led by freshman quarterback Charlie Hewitt.

Lawrenceville (3-4) has been outscored by the opposition by a combined margin of 156-103. Despite that, the Big Red has two shutouts among its victories: 7-0 against Phillips Exeter Ac. (Exeter, N.H.) and 28-0 against Kent (Conn.) School. They list 14 seniors on their 70-man roster, including wide receivers Kaden Hamilton, Charlie Rossi, Gary Lewis and Chris Loucks, running back Shiloh Fleming and quarterback Jack Betten.

Mercersburg Ac. at Perkiomen School, 1 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s results: Perkiomen School rolled over Delaware County Christian in the Keystone State Football League playoffs’ semifinal round, 44-6. Mercersburg won by forfeit over Valley Forge Military Ac. in the other semifinal, COVID-related health issues forcing the game to not be played.
Last meeting: The Panthers got by the Blue Storm on Oct. 22, 34-30.

Preview: The Indians and Blue Storm are in a replay for the KSFL’s second championship, Perkiomen (6-1) winning the inaugural game in 2019 32-16, Mercersburg won the league’s virtual title last year, conducted in lieu of an actual game due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This will be the teams’ “rubber game” of the 2021 season, Mercersburg (6-1) winning their Oct. 2 outing, 38-24.

“I was pleased with how our offense executed on the ground and through the air on Saturday,” head coach Casey Perlstein said. “DCCS had a good game plan for our passing attack and was able to pick us off twice. We recovered the opening kickoff in the second half and established a dominant ground attack to help close out the game.

“Defensively, we weathered the storm early in the first half and came up with several key turnovers. Including a pick six from Hunter Eschallier.
“We had great offensive line play from Leo Yu, Will Heridia, Cooper Gleeson and Samuel Gilio. Leo Yu also recovered a fumble on defense. Chris Catania also had an outstanding game on both sides of the ball.”

Mercersburg’s key players are headed by seniors Louis Concordia (running back/linebacker) and Christian Jetter (wide receiver/cornerback). They include junior quarterback Luke Golumbic and Christopher Tompkins (two-way end) and sophomore Luke Hendricks (center/D-line).

“They are a physical, well-coached team who will look to dominate on the ground,” Perlstein said of the Blue Storm. “Stopping their bread and butter run plays will be paramount to our success.”


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