While seven of the 10 Tri-County Area football teams kicked off their seasons last Friday night, St. Marys, Ridgway and Elk County Catholic were forced to sit back and watch as they had to wait an extra week to begin play.
The extra wait was forced by the creation of the Intermediate Unit 9 bubble for the northern portions of District 9, as the IU-9 did not permit any fall sports to begin play until Monday.
With that, the opening of play for the northern Tri-County Area teams brings a three-game slate this week.
Elk County Catholic hosts Cameron County today at 7 p.m., while Ridgway hosts Kane and St. Marys hosts Bradford with both games beginning Friday at 7 p.m.
Here is a closer look at this week’s games:
at St. Marys (0-0)
The Dutchmen will look to build off a strong 2019 season that saw them go 6-5 while snapping a 22-game losing streak under first-year head coach Chris Dworek.
Coming off the bounce back season and returning most of its key players on both sides of the ball, expectations are high for St. Marys this season.
The team overcame back-to-back winless seasons in 2017 and 2018, as the lengthily losing streak was snapped with a commanding 45-0 home victory over the Owls in the second game of the season last year.
St. Marys’ strong core of returning players is led by junior quarterback Christian Coudriet, who led the Tri-County Area with 2,623 passing yards last season under the new-look offense
Most of the quarterback’s targets are back this season as well, led by senior Bryce Walker, who led the Dutch in 2019 with 648 receiving yards on 36 catches last season.
Gone from last year’s team for Bradford are quarterback Caleb Nuzzo, who threw for 645 yards, and leading rusher Derek Sunafrank, who finished the year with 357 yards and five touchdowns.
at Ridgway (0-0)
A new-look Ridgway team will take the field for the first time this year as they host a Kane squad that also lost a handful of its key players from 2019.
While the Elkers lost talented senior groups after the 2017 and 2018 seasons as well, the 2019 class may have been the largest loss of all for Ridgway.
The 17-member senior class included most of the team’s starters on both sides of the ball, as the team lost quarterback Paul Gresco, along with all of their top receivers, running backs and many of their key defensive players.
Despite all of that, head coach Mark Heindl, who is entering his 13th season with the team, will look to lead Ridgway to yet another season under his next-man up mentality.
Of Ridgway’s players back, Alex Bon was one of the most active offensively, as he finished his with 175 receiving yards on 12 grabs.
Last season, the Elkers lost on the road against Kane before going on a 10-game winning streak on the way to a fourth straight District 9 title and second in a row in Class 2A before finishing the season 11-2.
The Wolves return quarterback Zuke Smith, who threw for 1,098 yards last season as a junior on 62-of-146 passing for 12 touchdowns.
Cameron County (0-0) at
Elk County Catholic (0-0)
Elk County Catholic and Cameron County will be the first IU-9 teams to kick off their seasons when they meet Thursday night.
The Crusaders are coming off a 5-5 season in 2019, while Cameron County went 0-9 last season.
This season will mark the fifth year in a row the teams have played, as ECC won the previous four meetings by a combined score of 188-6, including a 41-0 victory last season.
With higher than usual numbers, ECC returns a few key players on both sides of the ball, as its offense will likely be led by Sam Kaul.
Kaul stepped into the starting running back role last season as a junior after the injury of Stephen Bobby, as he finished second in the Tri-County Area with 1,157 yards on 133 carries and 12 touchdowns.