Scheduling discrepancies, postseason rules, offensive philosophies – they make statistical comparisons difficult in football.
Do you look for the big-play threat, or the consistent running back who grinds out five tough yards at a time?
Do you want a quarterback who completes a high percentage of passes, or one who’s not afraid to make a risky throw for the payoff of a huge gain?
This season, the Pioneer Athletic Conference is blessed with a variety of skill position players who can do it all. Gaudy numbers, efficiency, versatility – they’re all here.
With a half-dozen games in the book for each team, and after a particularly strong weekend for some of the PAC’s best and brightest, we take count.
This category can only start in one place. Spring-Ford junior Matt Zollers put forth an outing Saturday afternoon that would be a career day for most quarterbacks. For Zollers in 2023, however, it’s just another good game.
He went 24-for-33 – missing the school record for completions by just one pass – for 345 yards and three touchdowns in Spring-Ford’s 37-0 win over Owen J. Roberts.
“He’s awfully good,” said OJR coach Rich Kolka. “He sees the field well, and he’s got command of that offense.”
For the season, Zollers is completing 69 percent of his passes, good for 1,705 yards and 21 touchdowns with nary an interception. Even at a school with a strong passing history like Spring-Ford, he’s well on pace to establish several new single-season records.
Spring-Ford quarterback Matt Zollers looks to pass against Cumberland Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Saturday wasn’t such a good day for Zollers’ opposite number, OJR senior Derek Hinrichs, as the Wildcats struggled to find their footing against Spring-Ford’s stifling defense. But Hinrichs headlines the numerous PAC quarterbacks who’ve established themselves as dual threats in the early going this year.
Perkiomen Valley’s Patrick MacDonald is a big part of the running game, with seven touchdowns in the first six contests. Spring-Ford’s Zollers, Pottstown’s Dillon Mayes, and Pottsgrove’s Gabe Rinda can pick up yardage with their legs as well as their arms.
But what sets Hinrichs apart is the volume. He’s second in the PAC with 875 passing yards and nine touchdowns, and third in rushing carries at 108. The Wildcats’ offense runs through their first year starting quarterback, and Hinrichs is proving himself in all facets of the game.
The bread and butter of most offenses is the running game. But local schools are getting it done on the ground with a variety of approaches.
Pope John Paul II’s offense has displayed the ability to throw the ball with anyone, but they haven’t needed to for a couple of reasons – their margins of victory (an average win coming by 32 points per game en route to a 6-0 record) and senior standout Boyd Skarbek.
Skarbek saw his heaviest workload of the season Saturday in a 35-7 win over Pottsgrove, carrying 32 times for 157 yards and four touchdowns.
The spectacular stats diminish just how workmanlike Skarbek’s day was by his usual standards. Skarbek came into the contest averaging more than 10 yards per carry, but Pottsgrove’s defense allowed Skarbek the ability to show off his five-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust abilities as well. The touchdown runs came from distances of 3, 1, 5, and 6 yards (with a 22-yard fumble return thrown in for his fifth touchdown of the day).
Skarbek leads the PAC in rushing yards (968) and touchdowns (12), well on pace to outdo his sterling junior season a year ago. With the Golden Panthers looking like favorites in District 1 Class 4A, numerous school records are within reach.
Cole Yesavage, Boyertown
At Boyertown, the Wing-T offense finds the ball in the hands of senior running back Cole Yesavage, the PAC’s defending rushing champion. Yesavage is providing a worthy challenge to Skarbek for this year’s title with 860 yards and 10 touchdowns thus far.
As Boyertown continues to diversify the offense and spread the ball around, Yesavage’s quest for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons continued undaunted as he leads the PAC with 124 carries.
The area’s most prolific 1-2 punch at running back resides in Phoenixville, where sophomore Deacon Williams (7.6 yards per carry, 626 yards, nine touchdowns) and senior Sam Moore (5.6 yards per carry, 470 yards, five touchdowns) are leading the Phantoms to a 5-1 start on the season.
Carries are split almost equally (Moore 84, Williams 82) and the temptation to make a “thunder-and-lightning” analogy is superseded by the versatility of both backs, each of whom show between-the-tackles toughness and long speed.
Face Phoenixville, and it’s a good bet you’ll be asked to tackle the dynamic duo 25-30 times over a contest, a job compounded by quarterback Ty Romance, who keeps the ball just enough to make life even harder on opposing defenses.
Nahzier Booker (Pottstown) and Nate Reedy (Perkiomen Valley) round out the top five in local rushing. Booker runs with a throwback style reminiscent of Eddie George, pounding the ball between the tackles for three quarters in hopes that a tired defense will give him space to break a long one late – as he did against Harriton in his best game to date (191 yards, three TDs).
Reedy didn’t begin 2023 as a starter, but the sophomore stepped up in the place of injured teammates to shoulder the lion’s share of carries in the Vikings’ offense. Friday night’s 122-yard outing came on only a dozen carries.
With underclass talents like Williams and Reedy enjoying two more years of high school football to come, it’s safe to say local rushing games will be in good hands even after the Class of 2024 departs.
You don’t put up Matt Zollers’ numbers without an impressive array of targets, and at Spring-Ford the number called most often is “3” – as in senior wide receiver Mason Scott.
The track-and-field standout’s talents carry over to the gridiron and then some, with an eye-popping 24.9 yards per catch good for 723 yards and nine touchdowns to date. Scott’s speed makes him a natural as a deep-ball threat, but he’s not afraid to go over the middle or muscle past defenders on quick hitches either.
Spring-Ford receiver Mason Scott runs for extra yards after a catch against Boyertown on Sept. 22. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
But for all Scott’s superlatives, he’s only second in the PAC for number of receptions. OJR’s freshman phenom Mekhi Graham has brought in 31 receptions already this year, six of those going for touchdowns in becoming Derek Hinrichs’ favorite target.
Graham’s also contributed a rushing score and two interceptions on defense in his first high school season.
Braden Reed of Pope John Paul II, Belal Abdelrahman of Spring-Ford, and Jayden Byrd of Norristown round out the list of PAC receivers with 20-plus catches in 2023. Reed leads the Frontier Division in all categories with 26 catches for 456 yards and five touchdowns, while Abdelrahman’s consistency (25 catches, 446 yards, two TDs) gives Spring-Ford a virtual pair of WR1s.
Owen J. Roberts’ Mekhi Graham (4) looks to split the Spring-Ford defense during a PAC game on Sept. 30. (Courtesy Rick Martin)
These players didn’t crack the top five in their respective categories, but possess statistical accomplishments that warrant a mention:
Efficiency: Logan O’Donnell’s making the most of his 24 completions thus far, with six touchdown passes to his credit. Phoenixville’s Romance has an identical number of scoring passes on just a few more completions (29).
For pure efficiency, it’ll be tough to top Pottsgrove’s Riley Delp, who fired one pass for a razzle-dazzle 59-yard TD. If Delp doesn’t attempt any more passes, he’ll establish quite the mark with a (tongue-in-cheek) 925.6 QB rating.
Spring-Ford’s Mike Bendowski makes most of his headlines as one of the Rams’ leading tacklers at the linebacker position, but a short-yardage back who averages 6.5 yards per carry and scores on almost a third of his attempts is a more-than-useful offensive weapon. Despite only 30 carries so far this year, Bendowski’s tied for third in the PAC with nine rushing touchdowns.
Versatility: We covered the quarterbacks for this category, but a number of PAC skill position players display their abilities in the rushing and receiving games. Spring-Ford backs Bendowski and Jamal Lewis each have multiple scores both rushing and receiving, and five other PAC players have reached the end zone via air and ground.
But they’re all led by Pottsgrove’s Bryce Caffrey. The do-it-all senior plays in a Deebo Samuel-type role and adds plenty of options to the power-based Pottsgrove offense.
Call him a receiver, and he’ll slice your defense for six yards a carry, good for a top-10 spot in the PAC with 410 yards.
But focus on the run, and he’ll run a pattern that gets him lost in your secondary as he did against Boyertown, grabbing a half-dozen passes for 164 yards and a receiving TD.
In all, Caffrey has 699 total yards (410 rushing, 289 receiving) – making him the only player to appear in the Top 10 for both rushing and receiving. For good measure, he threw in a 67-yard punt return for a score in Week 2.