BACK TO HERALD...
Coaching debuts, local matchups highlight opening night
By Brad Isles
Herald Sports Writer
Scholastic football's opening weekend of 1997 features intriguing matchups between local rivals, coaching debuts and, for Hickory, its first home game since Oct. 27, 1995.
Jeff Bell makes his head coaching debut at Grove City against the Eagles' head man last year _ Clair Altemus _ who is now coaching at Pine-Richland. Other coaches making their first appearances are Roger Shoaff (Reynolds), Jim Walter (Lakeview), Rick Resatar (West Middlesex) and Jeff Bruno (Brookfield).
Here is a quick rundown of this weekend's games:
Reynolds at GreenvilleThese two programs are among the most successful in Mercer County history. The all-time series is tied at 15-15-2.
Reynolds (2-7) gets to see what it has heading into its MCAC AA schedule, while Greenville (13-1) will make a run at a second straight District 10 Class AAA title via the Northwest Conference.
Veteran Trojans' coach Bob Stone hates using the expression ``last year,'' but it will be a year fans around the community remember: Greenville dominated the NWC before losing to Blackhawk _ the same school to beat them in 1993 _ in the Western Regional championship.
Gone, however, are 20 seniors, including nine of 11 on offense and 10 of 11 on defense. Joe Korcinsky is the key returnee, having gained 2,330 yards and scoring 41 TDs.
Quarterback Chad Holzshu is the top Raiders' returnee, and he will look to Bill Miller for help out of the backfield.
Wilmington at LaurelOn paper, this is the weekend's premier match, as the state's No. 1-ranked (Harrisburg Patriot-News poll) Greyhounds take on the WPIAL's top-ranked Spartans.
The Greyhounds (12-1) began last season with eight consecutive shutouts, including a 20-0 season-opening win over Laurel; had a victory over Sharon in, arguably, the area's biggest game in the '90s, and stormed their way to a third consecutive D-10 Class AA championship. However there still lingers the bitter taste of a second straight loss to Tyrone in the state quarterfinals.
Carrying those memories into '97 are returning quarterback Todd Smargiasso, one of the area's best, if not the best last year, and speedsters Jon Tekac and Doug Dudash, a pair of running backs, and split end Demetrious Rich.
Laurel is a perennial power in the Tri-County League and advanced to the '96 WPIAL semis.
Brookfield at HickoryThe emotions at the newly refurbished Hickory High Stadium will surely be running high as the home fans finally won't have to travel all over the county to see the Hornets play.
Hickory (3-6 last year) blasted Brookfield, 27-6, in last season's opener.
Coach Guy Gibbs returns 12 seniors and eight juniors, led by starting quarterback Jeff Trott and all-purpose Tony Pozar, who is the team's all-around leader.
On the other side of the field, Bruno will be on Brookfield's sideline for the first time, coming to the Warriors from Springfield Local. He inherits a team with three wins over the past two seasons, including a 1-9 slate last year.
Leading the Warriors' offense is 6-1, 195-pound sophomore running back Jason Sanata. Starting for Brookfield could be quarterback Steve Blasko, who transferred from Springfield Local, where he played for Bruno.
Pine-Richland at Grove CityBell said he's in a no-win situation going up against Altemus, that is, if his team doesn't win by 40 points. The Eagles lambasted the Rams, 47-0, in last year's opener en route to a 4-5 record.
Bell's son, Justin, is the starting quarterback and played in five games last year, missing four due to a shoulder injury. His top target is Mike Schuessler, a 6-5, 265-pound tight end. In the backfield are Jason Russell (5-11, 240) and Anthony Errera (5-9, 160).
Ursuline at SharonThere's no doubt Sharon (8-1 in '96) still has a bitter taste from last year's season-ending loss to Wilmington. Coach Jim Wildman should have no trouble getting his team, ranked eighth in the state in AA, geared up to make another run at the D-10 title and another state playoff berth.
Leading the way is seasoned quarterback Jeff Valentino, a junior who has started since late in his freshman year, and junior tailback T.J. Phillips, who led the MCAC last year by gaining more than 1,400 yards.
Ursuline (7-4 in '96) finished second last year in Ohio's Steel Valley Conference, but coach Scott Niedzwiecki is in his first year and must replace three starters now playing for Division I programs: running back Sean Penny (Ohio State), split end Mike Echols (Wisconsin) and tight end Matt Cessna (Colorado State).
Shenango at MercerThe numbers are up and the enthusiasm is back at Mercer under the tutelage of coach Frank Makarevich.
Shenango (6-4 in '96) defeated Mercer, 27-13, in last season's opener and sent the Mustangs tumbling to a 3-7 record. The year was a learning experience for first-year signal-caller Joe Ziccardi, but he thrived in Makarevich's system, finishing the year 58 of 137 for 966 yards and 6 TDs.
Sharpsville at Union CityThe expectations are high at Sharpsville after an 8-3 record and a berth in the D-10 Class A title game.
Looking to fulfill those expectations are quarterback John Napotnik, entering his fourth year as a starter. His career stats are impressive: 228 of 478 for 2,693 yards and 21 TDs.
Lakeview at LinesvilleWalter makes his debut for the Sailors (2-8 in '96) but, unfortunately, he's going up against one of the FCVC's top teams.
West Middlesex at UnionResatar, bringing a winning background, leads his new-look Big Reds into New Castle.
West Middlesex (1-9 in '96) is looking to get on the winning track early in the season.
Slippery Rock at MohawkSlippery Rock (5-5 in '96) coach Mike Kish will be starting an inexperienced quarterback, whether it be sophomore Greg Grupp (5-10, 150), senior Matt Lucco (5-8, 160) or junior Josh Reinert (5-10, 130).
Canfield at HubbardHubbard narrowly missed a playoff berth last year after posting a school-record 9-1 slate.
The school's all-time leading ground gainer, Frank Harris, and 12 other letterwinners are back.
SATURDAY NIGHT The 2-time defending PIAA Class A champion Steelers begin their quest for a 3-peat in this interesting matchup between schools less than a mile apart.