It’s somewhat later than usual, and it will be much different than ever before, but high school football in Centre County will be back beginning on Friday.
There will be a full slate of games involving all four Mountain League teams. State College is currently scheduled to start on Sept. 25.
All the games will be played under strict COVID-19 precautions.
Generally speaking, the games will go on with limited spectators, and the schools are working to bring the action to fans using online and TV networks.
But even though the stands will be emptier than usual, it will still be football. There’s every reason to believe the games will be as intense and competitive as they have always been.
The four local Mountain League teams will jump right into their league schedule, and State College will begin its season on September 25 at home against Mid Penn foe Central Dauphin East, pending approval of fall competitions by the SCASD school board.
Here’s a brief look at the matchups:
CLEARFIELD (0-0) AT PENNS VALLEY (0-0)
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11, 7 P.M. SPRING MILLS
Talk about jumping right into the deep end.
Last season the Penns Valley, Clearfield matchup was one of the marquee games of the 2019 season. It happened early in the season, Sept. 6, and the two teams ran up and down the field all night.
The score was tied, 35-35, going into the final period, and Clearfield outscored PV 21-14 down the stretch to take a wild, 56-49 win.
Both teams finished with outstanding seasons. PV went 10-2, including a 48-12 playoff win over Marion Center.
The Bison were 9-3, but had things ruined by two losses to arch-rival Bellefonte, the second of which came in the first round of the District 6 AAAA playoffs.
Now the two teams are set to go at it again, but Penns Valley has far more graduation holes to fill than the Bison.
The biggest loss for PV was senior all-everything quarterback Aaron Tobias. Tobias had mind-bending stats in 2019: he completed 228-of-342 passes for 3,534 yards and 54 touchdowns.
He also ran 53 times for 374 yards and five more touchdowns. In all, he accounted for just under 4,000 total yards and 59 touchdowns.
The Rams also lost their top receiver and all-purpose back Logan Snyder, but top running backs Seth Baney and Tanner Illgen return.
Clearfield, however, has no such problems. Even though top runner Brett Zattoni graduated, highly-rated quarterback Oliver Billotte and all four of his top receivers are back for the 2020 season.
Billotte, a junior, passed for 1,903 yards and ran for another 400 yards. He accounted for 31 Bison touchdowns, and the team will be counting on him to continue or improve on that pace.
On paper, advantage to Clearfield. But Penns Valley’s size and toughness could keep the Rams right there in this game.
Where to watch: WHVL-TV | Penns Valley Area School District on Facebook
CENTRAL MARTINSBURG (0-0) AT BALD EAGLE AREA (0-0)
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11, 7 P.M. WINGATE
What a season Bald Eagle Area had in 2019.
The Bald Eagles finished 11-5, won the D-6 Championship, and played all the way to the PIAA state semifinals.
Their playoff run included a 2-point win over this week’s opponent, Central Martinsburg, a blowout over Westmont-Hilltop, and incredible back-to-back 21-20 wins over Bedford and Sharon in the state tournament. The run finally ended with a 45-0 loss to District 7 Champion and eventual state runner-up Central Valley.
The Eagles, however, were hit hard by graduation and will have to replace nearly every top skill position player on the roster.
Arguably the biggest hit was the loss of dual-threat quarterback Jaden Jones. Jones was the backbone of the offense, passing for 2,085 yards and 25 touchdowns and running for 435 yards and five more touchdowns.
Along with Jones, the Eagles lost running backs Gage McClenahan, Kaden Bittinger (who also filled in at quarterback) and Tommy Snyder and receiver Matthew Reese.
The good news is that, even though McClenahan, Bittinger, Snyder and Reese were major contributors on defense, the Eagles return as many as 26 defensive players who saw playing time in 2019.
Central comes in after a sub-par (for them) 4-7 campaign in 2019. The Dragons uncharacteristically gained just 105 yards per game on the ground, and relied more on the pass (171 ypg).
But most of the top backs and receivers on the team will return with just quarterback Braden Kitt and Ben Smith graduating.
Kitt threw for 1,066 yards and five touchdowns, but he gradually gave way — moving over to running back — to freshman Jeff Hoenstine. Hoenstine threw 15 touchdown passes and for 756 yards in 10 games and also ran for 756 yards. As a sophomore, he will present headaches for opposing teams.
In addition, 23 defensive players will return, including top tacklers Parker Gregg, Ethan Eicher and Branson Dodson.
This game will feature many untested Eagle players going against a more veteran Dragon team. BEA however has been building a solid football culture under head coach Jesse Nagle and don’t be surprised if the Eagles are competitive all night.
Where to watch: Eagle Ambassadors Inc. on YouTube
BELLEFONTE (0-0) AT TYRONE (0-0)
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11, 7 P.M. TYRONE
Bellefonte muscled its way to a 9-3 season and a District 6 Championship in 2019 with its only losses coming against Penns Valley, non-league Jersey Shore, and PIAA playoff foe Erie Cathedral Prep.
Otherwise, the Red Raiders swept through their schedule with a tough defense and an almost unstoppable running game.
That running game was led by senior CJ Funk who tore through defenses for 1,488 yards on 137 carries and scored 14 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Funk has moved on, but the Red Raiders had a relatively young roster and most of their skill people will return.
The list includes quarterback Ethan Rossman (90 ypg passing, 680 yards running, 17 total touchdowns), running backs Jalen Emel, Nick Capparelle, and Jacob Hummel and receiver Isiah Nadolsky.
Most of the Red Raider defense will return as well, which on paper indicates that Bellefonte will be back as strong in 2020 as it was in 2019.
First on the schedule will be a Mountain League contest at long-time rival Tyrone.
Tyrone, in 2019, struggled to a 2-8 overall record and a 2-6 league mark. The Golden Eagles began the season 2-2, but some injuries and a thin roster led to six straight losses to finish the season.
On a brighter note, the Eagles lost virtually no seniors to graduation, so hopes are that a year of maturity will transfer onto the field in 2020.
Bellefonte, however, will present big problems on opening night.
Where to watch: Bellefonte Athletics on YouTube
PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA (0-0) AT HUNTINGDON (0-0)
FRIDAY, SEPT. 11, 7 P.M. HUNTINGDON
The Philipsburg-Osceola Mountie football team will return to the field when the team travels to Huntingdon for a Mountain League opening game with the Bearcats on Friday, Sept. 11.
Last year, the Mounties cancelled their final two games after a wave of injuries left their roster at a critically low level. The school decided that it would be too dangerous for the remaining players (many just ninth graders) to continue and called off the scheduled games with Penns Valley and Clearfield.
Now, P-O is back and will be embarking on what will be a very different and fluid 2020 season.
With a new head coach in Jeff Vroman, who had a previous stint as P-O’s coach, and a healthy roster, the Mounties will be looking to be competitive in what is always a very tough Mountain League schedule.
The Mounties lost eight seniors from the 2019-20 team including heavy contributors Andrew Sypa, Dakota Hofe, kicker Aaron Parks, Chase Chapman, Devon Maines and Tyler Anderson.
But the team was a young one and there is a solid group of skill position and offensive players returning for the new season.
That group is led by 6-foot-6, 190-pound senior quarterback Ryan Whitehead. Whitehead set the pace for P-O with his passing and running abilities, but he was also one of the players lost to injury.
When healthy, Whitehead completed 56 percent of his passes for an average of 130 yards per game and five touchdowns. He also was second on the team with an average of 20 yards rushing per game.
The leading rusher, Kaleb Stamm, will also return for 2020. Stamm ran 113 times for 406 yards in eight games and scored four touchdowns. Whitehead’s brother, Jeremy, was the third leading runner and took over for Ryan as quarterback after Ryan’s injury. Unfortunately, he also went down with a season-ending injury.
In all, P-O returns eight players who ran for more than 30 yards in 2019.
The top two receivers, Hunter Weitoish and Aaron Depto, will also return. Weitoish caught 10 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns, while Depto caught 13 for 156 and a score.
The Mounties began last season on a high note with a 41-16 win at West Branch. Unfortunately, that would be their lone win of the year as only five of their top offensive players appeared in all eight games.
The final game P-O played last year was at Huntingdon, and its inexperience and depleted roster were evident in a 56-0 loss. After that night, the school decided to cancel the rest of the season.
This year, meeting the Bearcats early may work out to be an advantage for P-O.
Huntingdon was hit hard by graduation, especially on offense. The Bearcats lost their top passer and second-leading rusher in quarterback Nick Troha, their top and third leading runners, Seth Emel and Derrick Fultz and their top receiver and Andrew Miller.
The graduation losses mean the Bearcats will be running their offense with new players for the first time, and it would only take a few Huntingdon mistakes at the wrong time for P-O to be right there in this game.
Where to watch: Huntingdon Bearcat Football on YouTube