As the North offense prepared for tonight’s Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star game at Trojan Stadium on the campus of Greater Johnstown High School, tightening up issues with timing and terminology was at the top of the unit’s to-do list.
If the North’s offense takes the field and operates with machine-like precision tonight, it can thank the intersquad scrimmage on Tuesday as the breakthrough point of the group’s progress during the week.
That at least is the opinion of the team’s head coach and a sampling of its offensive personnel.
“When you get into that situation that has more of a game feel, we had some kids make plays,” North coach Greg Page of Homer-Center said. “We made some better connections as far as throwing the ball. The guys up front were starting to jell and understand the terminology, which takes a couple days at the very least. In this kind of game where the time frame is all condensed, it has to be accelerated. So I give those guys credit with the timing and the blocking schemes. It’s gotten a lot better throughout the week.
“We’re just hoping to execute the best we can, get the ball into the hands of the people who can make plays and see what happens.”
Quarterbacking the Union squad will be either Blake Over (Northern Bedford) or Tyler Potutschnig (Glendale). Page noted that looks are in place for both signal callers to play up to their strengths on the field.
“We have different packages offensively for each of those guys,” Page said. “But the bottom line is: With what we’re doing, they both have to be able to do it and execute it. They’re both pretty athletic guys. Over’s a taller guy, but he can still move well. He’s more of the pocket passer. Potutschnig just looks athletic and he gives you the ability to roll out to boot and maybe take off and scramble, too.”
For Over, having a Northern Bedford teammate – Kyler Diehl – as one of his targets helped him ease into the role as one of the North’s passers.
“We already had that connection (at Northern Bedford) so he’s going to be one of my No. 1 options,” Over said. “The other guys all came in and at first I had trouble lining up how far to throw and how fast they were. Now I feel confident in every receiver that I have.”
The St. Francis-bound Over was also quick to look at Tuesday’s scrimmage as a turning point for the team.
“The defense, they already know how to play defense,” Over said. “There’s no new things to learn. For the offense, we had to learn a completely new offense that we didn’t know along with working people that we didn’t really know.
“It took us a day, a day and a half to learn how to run that offense effectively and work together the right way ... During the squad scrimmage, we started to come together a little more.”
C.W. Miller (Portage), Kody Blevins (Bedford), Joe Randazzo (Portage), Travis Hickey (Bedford), Tyler Janosik (Bishop Carroll), Darrin Sipes (Tussey Mountain) and Joe Frontino (Northern Cambria) will assume various skill-position roles for the North.
Page notes that Janosik, Frontino, Sipes and Blevins will take on the brunt of the rushing load. Randazzo, Diehl, Miller and Hickey will line up as pass catchers with Sipes and Blevins also getting a few looks in the slot receiver position.
Being among a group of talented playmakers helps to give Janosik – a running back in the North’s scheme – confidence and a peppier step moving into tonight’s game.
“It’s a lot different than the regular season with guys that were good, but not all-stars,” Janosik said. “I’m excited to see what we can do together.”
Up front, the pass and run blocking for the North will be handled by John Stupic (Penns Manor), Luke Ratkus (Blairsville), Joseph Krisko (Portage), Lucas Monko (Homer-Center), Alec Jones (Bedford), Justin Weist (Everett), Austin Buttry (Chestnut Ridge) and Shawn Steffee (Homer-Center).
The line tips the scales at an average of 245.6 pounds, with Buttry listed at 245 pounds. It’s across-the-line size that few teams in the area – including Buttry’s Lions – have experienced in recent years, if ever.
“Whenever I played with my high school team, I was the second biggest lineman and our center wasn’t much bigger,” Buttry said. “But to come up here and be one of the smaller linemen and have everyone around me so big, it makes you want to play up to where they’re at and their standard. It does feel like I’m playing, not in a high school game, but in a college game with the size of kids and the speed of them.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.