It’s two games in as many nights during Autumn Leaf Festival Week in New Bethlehem and Rimersburg.
In two 7 p.m. kickoffs, the 6-0 Redbank Valley Bulldogs host 1-5 Curwensville Thursday while on Homecoming Night at Union High School, the Falcon Knights host 5-1 Keystone on Friday.
Both are Small School-South Division games with title and playoff seeding implications for sure. If the Falcon Knights beat Keystone, they’ll travel to Redbank Valley in two weeks to play for the division title. A Keystone win creates a three-way tie possibility if the Falcon Knights could knock off the Bulldogs.
However, if Redbank Valley beats the Tide and Falcon Knights, the outright title goes its way.
In the playoff standings, both teams look to solidify things in what’s looking to be a five-team field with the Bulldogs, Coudersport (5-0), Union/ACV (5-1), Smethport (4-1) and Elk County Catholic (3-3) lined up in that order.
So if the playoffs started today, it would be Union/ACV playing Coudersport in the 2/3 game and Redbank Valley seeded No. 1 waiting for the Smethport/ECC winner in the other semifinal.
Here’s a look at this week’s games:
THURSDAY, Oct. 3
Curwensville (1-5) at
Redbank Valley (6-0)
The Bulldogs knocked off one of the three old Allegheny Mountain League teams that beat them last year with the Hubbers last week. Thursday, it’s the Golden Tide who beat the Bulldogs 37-21.
Since 2006, the Bulldogs are 1-5 against the Tide, three of the losses in the playoffs and the only win coming in the 2013 Class 1A semifinals, a 28-22 win at DuBois.
Gold, of course, is using past shortcomings against the traditional power-running, physical Golden Tide as motivation.
“Obviously, our focus right now is Curwensville, because we’ve never beaten them since I’ve been coaching here,” Gold said. “I know they’re down, but that’s a physical football team that has manhandled us in the past. We have the (Coudersport) coming, but we’re focused on (Curwensville).”
The Golden Tide indeed have struggled, their lone win a 20-0 shutout of winless Cameron County in the second weekend of the season. The Tide have been shut out in four of their five losses — 21-0 to Elk County Catholic, 24-0 to Union/ACV, 26-0 to Smethport and 44-0 last week at home against Coudersport. They lost one late at home in a 14-7 loss to Keystone two weeks ago.
Obviously, the Tide have struggled offensively, averaging just 110 yards per game — 58 rushing, 52 passing. Freshman quarterback Dan McGarry (35-for-75, 310 yards, 2 TDs, 6 Ints.), junior running back Duane Brady (68-168, 1 TD) and junior receiver Jake McCracken (16-207, 2 TDs) are the leading skill players.
Brady (9.0) and sophomore Andrew Freyer (7.8) are the leading tacklers on defense while McCracken has three interceptions.
The Bulldogs steam into Thursday looking for their first 7-0 start since 2014. They haven’t been better than that since way back in 1996 when the Bulldogs won their first 11 games and lost to Wilmington in the PIAA playoffs.
The Bulldogs are putting up 380 yards per game offensively — 276 rushing, 104 passing — with quarterback Gunner Mangiantini coming off a strong game against Smethport, running for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He’s one of four Bulldogs with over 200 yards rushing at 307 on 36 carries. He’s one of three rushers with a team-high six TDs.
Also out of the backfield are Ray Shreckengost (50-462, 6 TDs), Kobe Bonanno (45-347, 6 TDs) and Hudson Martz (38-233, 5 TDs).
Mangiantini has completed 54 of 90 passes for 599 yards with three TDs and three interceptions. His top receiving targets are Ethan Hetrick (13-255, 2 TDs), Dalton Bish (13-112) and Javin Brentzel (14-106).
Hetrick leads a Bulldogs defense that’s giving up 10 points and 224 yards (84 rushing, 140 passing) per game with a turnover ratio of plus-5 (13 takeaways, 8 giveaways).
Against the run, the Bulldogs are yielding just 501 yards on 2.8 yards per carry. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 56 of 121 passes for 842 yards with eight interceptions.
Last week, the Bulldogs were very stingy in dominating the line of scrimmage against the Hubbers’ offense, limiting them to just 78 yards on 52 plays from scrimmage.
Individually, Hetrick and Chase Bish lead the team in tackles per game at 5.8 with Joe Mansfield third at 5.3. Hetrick, from his end spot, is up to 11 1/2 sacks after his 3 1/2-sack performance last week.
Defensive back Sam Hetrick leads the team with three interceptions.
FRIDAY, Oct. 4
Keystone (5-1) at
It’s a pair of resurgent programs locking up on Homecoming in Rimersburg.
The Falcon Knights haven’t been off to a start this good since the co-operative setup began in 2016 while the Panthers’ haven’t been this hot to start the year since the 1989 squad took an unbeaten record into the PIAA Championship game before losing.
“We’ve been able to get better and better each week and put up five wins in a row and obviously it’s a tough stretch coming, but nothing more important than Keystone,” Union/ACV head coach Brad Dittman said. “We’re both 5-1 at home and it’s a huge game Friday.”
In last Saturday’s 32-7 win at Port Allegany, the Falcon Knights got a big game from junior Tanner Merwin, who had three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns while catching four passes for 55 yards and another TD.
For the year, Merwin is up to four pickoffs while sharing the team lead with quarterback Luke Bowser in touchdowns with six. Merwin is second on the team in receiving (18-288, 2 TDs) and all-purpose yards per game (counts return yardage) at 104 per game behind sophomore Caden Rainey.
However, Rainey won’t be in uniform Friday since he was ejected near the end of last week’s game. Rainey (22-313, 2 TDs) had been Bowser’s top receiving target with Merwin. Bowser has completed 54 of 107 passes for 689 yards with seven TDs and 10 interceptions. He’s also rushed for 150 yards on 29 carries with his team-high six TDs.
Kyler Culbertson (45-332, 3 TDs) is the leading rusher while Tony Thompson (32-143, 1 TDs) will get carries as well.
While Union/ACV averages 266 yards (149 passing, 117 rushing) per game offensively, Keystone weighs in at 400 yards per game (227 rushing, 173 passing).
“Keystone has a really good football team, they’re well-coached with a lot of athletes who make plays,” Dittman said. “Their quarterback can make all the throws. We just need to play sound defense, tackle well and limit the big plays.
“Offensively, we need to continue to do what we’re doing, be physical up front, move chains and not make mistakes.”
Panthers quarterback Isaak Jones (48-for-80, 952 yards, 12 TDs, 5 Ints.) nears a 1,000-yard passing season while junior running backs Nick Weaver (60-454, 3 TDs) and Taylar Altman (55-424, 4 TDs) share most of the workload out of the backfield. Jones’ top receiving targets are seniors Jayden Blazosky (15-265, 4 TDs) and Alex Rapp (11-300, 5 TDs).
The teams share three common foes so far. Keystone beat Port Allegany (29-6), Curwensville (14-7) and Sheffield (57-0) while Union/ACV did the same with Port last week, Curwensville (24-0) and Sheffield (20-14).