Tony Penna Jr. and his staff have watched the video tape and read the scouting reports on Richland throughout the week.
The Johnstown High coach saw many similarities to the Rams team that went 14-1 and was a state semifinalist in Class AA last year.
“The first thing is they’re just so good at what they do,” said Penna, whose 2-1 Trojans will host undefeated Richland, the third-ranked team in the PFN state poll. “It’s a product of them playing together for as long as they did, their coaches and their system. As a coach you have to marvel at how efficient they are in every phase of the game, offense, defense and special teams.”
The Trojans lost 42-0 to Richland last season, but Johnstown holds a 10-2 mark in the all-time LHAC series against the Rams.
“Johnstown has a lot of young talent,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “They’re trying to find their identity. They’re certainly one of the more talented teams in the Laurel Highlands. We have to keep those skill kids under wraps. Hopefully that will lead to success.”
Johnstown sophomore quarterback Jeremy Updyke has displayed the poise of a veteran while completing 25 of 53 passes for 332 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Jeremy has made a ton of progress,” Penna said. “He’s a field general. I was impressed how he managed things last week. He can beat you in a multitude of ways. Every snap he gets better and better.”
“He throws the ball well, and he’s an athletic kid,” Bailey added. “It seems like he has good leadership skills. Those are things he will continue to develop and he will become one of the better quarterbacks in the league before he’s done.”
Sophomore running back Terrell Jones has a team-high 240 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns for the Trojans. Senior Jayvon Braxton had four rushing touchdowns in last week’s win at Westmont and had 121 of his 169 season total on the ground against the Hilltoppers.
Receivers Taurean Jones (four catches, 91 yards) and Willie Robinson (5-103, two touchdowns) have had success.
“When you can run the football like that it opens up a lot of doors,” Penna said, referring to Johnstown’s 398 rushing yards in a 47-18 win at Westmont. “The most important thing is we started fast. The week before we dug ourselves a big hole (in a 35-14 loss at Central Cambria).
“We took care of the football (at Westmont). We played solid defense. We limited the mistakes. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to run the football like that.”
Richland senior quarterback Matt Shaffer leads the area with 602 passing yards, completing 37 of 55 attempts. Kyle Flick has 251 yards on 11 receptions, and Nico Pecora has eight catches for 100 yards.
On the ground, senior Tanner Solarczyk has 316 rushing yards on 35 carries, including four touchdowns and 28 points.
“We’re happy with where we’re at right now,” Bailey said. “We knew coming in we were going to be one of the favorites in the area. For the most part we’ve been able to have a lot of success on offense, defense and special teams.”
When asked if his staff instructs the Trojans to ignore the hype surrounding Richland’s success, Penna said, “You can try to tell 15, 16 and 17 year olds to ignore the hype but that’s not realistic. We tell them to embrace it.
“We know who we are and what type of team we can be,” he added. “We told them to enjoy the stage and be excited about the chance to perform. This is why you play high school football, to be in games like this.”
Bishop McCort at Bedford
Bedford entered last week’s game at Richland as one of the area’s unbeaten squads. The Bisons departed Herlniger Field on the wrong side of a 53-3 rout.
Coach Kevin Steele’s team returns home and will try to shrug off the effects of a game in which Bedford gave up 567 total yards, including 435 in the first half. Prior to that setback, the Bisons posted solid wins over Bishop Guilfoyle (13-10) and at Penn Cambria (20-2).
McCort is winless and has scored only one touchdown this season. The Crushers have been in all their games against three LHAC contenders Bishop Carroll (13-3), at Forest Hills (16-14) and Somerset (21-3).
The Crushers took a late lead at Forest Hills but lost when the Rangers scored a touchdown in the final minute.
Westmont Hilltop at Somerset
Undefeated Somerset’s defense has allowed a combined 22 points in three games, with two of those on the road. The Golden Eagles beat Central Cambria (28-6) before traveling to Bishop Carroll (24-13) and Bishop McCort.
Quarterback Tanner Stull is a dual threat passing (261 yards, three touchdowns) or running (315 yards, four touchdowns).
Winless Westmont fell 47-18 to visiting Johnstown on Saturday, the first loss in which the Hilltoppers were thoroughly outplayed. Hilltop battled Forest Hills (40-21) in a game closer than the final score indicated, and dropped a dramatic one-point game at Cambria Heights (36-35).
Sam Curry is third in the area with 345 rushing yards, Colin Barron ranks third with 224 receiving yards, and Liam Moran is fourth with 383 passing yards.
Cambria Heights at Central Cambria
Cambria Heights (1-2) hits the road after splitting a pair of home dates. The Highlanders have allowed 100 points while scoring 46, but nearly half of those points allowed came against a powerhouse Richland (48-7) squad in Week 1. Senior Josh Fees averages nearly 5 yards per carry with 251 yards and three touchdowns on 55 carries.
Central Cambria won its second consecutive game in dramatic fashion last week against visiting Penn Cambria. Colby Crimmins made a 37-yard field goal with 5 seconds left to secure a 16-13 victory.
Junior quarterback Will Seymour was effective while passing for 142 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown.
The Red Devils handed Johnstown its only loss (35-14) and fell at Somerset (28-6) in the season opener.
Portage at Meyersdale
Portage coach Gary Gouse knows Meyersdale is a difficult place to play even when the Red Raiders aren’t undefeated with a big, bruising line and talented skill position players.
“It’s so far,” Gouse said of a WestPAC road trip through two counties. “We have to stay after school. We have a dinner. We take a charter bus. The kids don’t get to go home. You’re in school all day. Then, you have to be ready to play. It’s tough mentally. It’s something you have to overcome.”
The Mustangs (2-1) will meet a Raiders (3-0) squad on a roll.
“We haven’t won down there for a long time. It’s been 10 years,” Gouse said. “We want to get that off our back. It’s a big game for the WestPAC. I’m sure a lot of people are cheering for us and that doesn’t happen often. The league is a challenge this year. It’s evenly matched.”
Portage won at Meyersdale in 2004 (47-7), but dropped games there in 2011 (35-34), 2006 (20-13) and 1996 (14-6).
Red Raiders coach Chris Schrock is preparing for a Portage wing-T offense complemented by Michael Bryja’s passing game.
“Their offense is high-powered,” Schrock said. “Over the years they really built on what we consider to be their bread-and-butter plays. They've always run the wing-T, the sweep, the jet screens and trap off of that very well. Over the last couple years they’ve really added on with their passing game. They’ve really evolved as a passing threat.”
Schrock said simulating the Mustangs in the week leading up to the game never is easy.
“For us it’s a nightmare to prepare for because they’re able to do so much with their offensive sets,” he said. “They’re not only hard to prepare for on paper but it’s extremely difficult to duplicate at practice.”
Portage rushed for 757 yards in three games, led by Luke Dividock’s 307 yards. Caleb Kephart (161) and Scott Giles (126) also are over 100. Bryja has thrown for 252 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We need to figure out a way to slow that down,” Schrock said. “We can do that in two ways. If we’re able to execute defensively, we can take away some of the things they want to do. Two, you can take away a lot of that high-powered offense by keeping the ball yourself with ball control. The offense has to help our the defense.”
Meyersdale tailback Gavin Berkley is third in the area with 359 rushing yards and tied for the scoring lead with 42 points.
“They’re huge. I thought we were big. They’re 260 up front on average,” Gouse said. “We’re going to have to deal with their size. Their backs are big. They look like they have things going in the right direction. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.”
Conemaugh Valley at Berlin Brothersvalley
Conemaugh Valley will try to regroup against undefeated conference frontrunner Berlin.
The 1-2 Blue Jays dropped back-to-back contests to North Star (39-7) and Penns Manor (48-6) after opening with a win at Ferndale (40-6). Valley sophomore Brandon Galasso ranks seventh in the area with 305 rushing yards on 61 attempts, and junior Anthony Hutzell is 13th with 240 yards on 40 carries.
Berlin sophomore Braden Fochtman has an area-best 578 rushing yards and 42 points on 50 carries. The Mountaineers have outscored opponents 110-27. Coach Doug Paul’s team had a signature win against visiting Portage (28-14) in Week 2.
Windber at Blacklick Valley
Windber replaced Rockwood with WPIAL program Brentwood last week, and the Ramblers earned a hard-fought 35-20 victory that might serve as a springboard.
The Ramblers had dropped a disappointing 36-28 game at Meyersdale in Week 2 and needed a lift. Dustin Blough and Matt Barkley each had two touchdowns against Brentwood.
Blacklick Valley is 0-2 after last week’s 42-14 loss at Purchase Line. The Vikings took a Week 2 bye in Rockwood’s place on the schedule. Blacklick has given up 84 points in two games while scoring 17.
Ferndale at Shade
Ferndale is looking for its first win after falling 47-0 to Berln last week. The Jackets have allowed 124 points while scoring 22.
Ferndale has a big-play threat in senior Isaiah Sajatovich.
Shade fell 50-14 against Portage last week. The Panthers are led by Nash Walker’s 148 passing yards and 258 rushing yards, but Walker left last week’s game with an injury and did not return. Tyler Kline has 149 rushing yards on 38 attempts.
Marion Center at Ligonier Valley
Marion Center fell by a three-touchdown margin last week against Homer-Center (28-6). The Stingers lost by six to Blairsville (20-14) and won by three at Saltsburg (21-18).
John Lucas has a team-high 159 rushing yards. Blake Orr has thrown for 274 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Ligonier is 3-0 after a big 21-17 win at Blairsville, one of the conference’s top contenders.
Ligonier’s Alec Bloom ranks fourth in the area with 211 receiving yards on 13 catches, including a pivotal 8-yard touchdown reception on his lone catch last week at Blairsville. Quarterback Scott Fennell is among the area leaders with 371 passing yards (23 of 34).
The Rams rebounded in the second half to edge a Bobcats team that outgained them 372-166 and limited the typcially potent Ligonier offense to six first downs.
United at Penns Manor
Winless United and undefeated Penns Manor are streaking in opposite directions.
Five turnovers hurt the Lions in last week’s 53-7 setback to Northern Cambria. United has scored a cumulative 17 points while giving up 126.
Penns Manor built a four-touchdown advantage in the first half last week against Marion Center at Saltsburg and held on to win 28-12.
Northern Cambria at Blairsville
Blairsville (2-1) will try to bounce back from the loss to Ligonier behind the two-pronged attack of quarterback Scott Thompson and running back Deion Robinson.
Thompson has thrown for 557 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions, and he’s rushed for 120 yards and three scores. Robinson has gained 345 yards on 73 carries, an average of 4.7 per run.
Northern Cambria got its first win last week against United, winning by 46 points.
Dartagnan Suchar has 270 rushing yards, and Nolan Paronish gained 234 yards as the Colts have 758 rushing yards.
North Star at Saltsburg
North Star is 2-1 and led by senior Tom Miller’s 518 rushing yards. Miller gained 235 yards and scored three touchdowns in last week’s 39-7 win at Conemaugh Valley. The Cougars have won two straight since Portage blanked them 41-0 in Week 1.
Saltsburg is winless. Quarterback Frank Plowman has thrown for 186 yards. Tyler Frassenei has passed for 87 yards.
Bald Eagle Area at Chestnut Ridge
Undefeated Bald Eagle Area fell behind to Penns Valley before rallying to a 47-19 victory.
Senior running back Dakota Bartley gained 152 yards and scored three touchdowns against the Rams. Overall, Bartley has 368 yards and six touchdowns on 50 carries. Junior quarterback Jason Jones is 21 of 27 for 432 passing yards.
Chestnut Ridge is 1-2 with losses to highly-touted teams Central (33-6) and Berks Catholic (41-7) as well as a win over Carrick (23-13). The Lions are fronted by senior quarterback-defensive end Beau Bosch.