Week 1 of the 2012 high school football season is upon us, and with it comes the first sighting of my all-time favorite football prognosticator: “Smooth” Jimmy Apollo, whom you may remember from the “Lisa the Greek” episode of third season of “The Simpsons.”
(Having just realized that a good portion of my audience was born well after that particular episode first aired, chances are you don’t remember him at all. Also, I am feeling very old right now.)
Anyway, Jimmy Apollo’s slogan always made me laugh: “When you’re right 52 percent of the time, you’re wrong 48 percent of the time.”
Jimmy liked to set the bar low.
My success rate with my weekly predictions last year was a little better than Jimmy’s — I went 115-23, which was good enough to beat my peers in the print edition (hi, guys!).
But as you can tell, I hate to boast about that. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to equal or better that mark this fall.
After the break, we’ll have a look at Week 1, starting with the game that I’ll be doing my live blog from.
Warwick at Manheim Central: Only in Manheim would a second-place finish in Section 2 and a first-round exit from the District 3 Class AAA playoffs be considered a sub-par season. But that’s the burden these Barons carry as they take the field Friday night looking to re-establish themselves as a Section 2 and District 3 title contender. They fielded a young squad that took its lumps last year, even as it went 8-3. Warwick limped to a 2-8 season last year, as injuries took their toll. They’re looking to turn things around as well. They’re new in the backfield, but they’re solid up front on both sides of the ball. The pick: It feels like Central is going old school on us this year, putting together a team that Manheim fans hope will be playing well into November. But the longest journey starts with the first step, and that’s getting a win here. They’ll get it. Give me Central.
Cheap plug/reminder: I’ll be blogging live from this one Friday night, starting around 6:45 p.m. There will be a link to the blog posted here at The Huddle and on the LancasterOnline main page. I’ll also post the link on my Twitter feed.
Hempfield at Lampeter-Strasburg: L-S has had its way with Hempfield in last year’s opener, but the Pioneers are replacing all of their skill players from that team. Meanwhile, the Black Knights will field an experienced, hungry group looking to fight its way into the Section 1 race. Even a depleted L-S squad would be a nice pelt for Hempfield to put on its wall. This is the first of back-to-back games against Section 1 competition for the Pioneers, who face another stiff test against Penn Manor next week. So their new faces in the backfield are in for a baptism under fire. The pick: Hempfield really needs a win here with Manheim Central looming next week. I think the Black Knights get it. Give me Hempfield, in a mild upset.
Penn Manor at Solanco: The Comets have the look of a Section 1 contender, with several skill players — including highly regarded QB Adam Sahd — back in the fold. There are a few question marks on both the offensive and defensive lines, but Penn Manor still looks like a team on the rise. Solanco was cleaned out pretty thoroughly by graduation, especially in the backfield. Several starters on both sides of the ball will be seeing their first major varsity action when the lights go on in Quarryville. The pick: It’s imperative for Penn Manor to get off to a good start, since the Comets have the Section 1 gauntlet looming ahead in the coming weeks. I think they get it done here. Give me Penn Manor.
Elizabethtown at Donegal: This backyard battle has one of the week’s more interesting subplots, as Donegal coach Jeff Polites leads the Indians against his former team. Polites was running the ship the last time E-town factored into the Section 2 race; the Bears split a section crown with Solanco back in 2007, and made its last district playoff appearance a year later. Polites left for Donegal prior to the 2009 season, and E-town has gone 6-24 since. Donegal has struggled a bit as well, but the program appears to be on the upswing. The pick: Donegal looks primed to contend for the Section 3 title. The Bears have a veteran group — but it’s one that’s coming off an 0-10 campaign last fall. I like the Indians in this one. Give me Donegal.
Central Dauphin at Manheim Township: It’s the first game of a new era at Township, as the Blue Streaks take the field for the first time under new coach Mark Evans, who moved in from Elco to replace the departed Mike Melnyk. Township has some holes up front, but brings back all-star QB Brennan Scott to guide the offense. Central Dauphin, the defending PIAA Class AAAA champ, brings its No. 23 preseason national ranking from USA Today into Neffsville — along most of the skill players from last year’s squad, led by Penn State recruit Zayid Issah. The pick: CD comes into this one as a heavy favorite, and rightfully so. But Township nearly knocked off the Rams last year, falling 28-21. So it’s not like CD is out of the Streaks’ league. Still, CD has a big edge in experience — and probably an even bigger one in team speed. Those factors should be the difference. I’ll take the Rams.
Dallastown at Lancaster Catholic: The Crusaders have a nice test here in their season opener. Dallastown brings back most of the offensive and defensive linemen from a team that slipped into the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs last year in spite of its 4-6 overall record. The Wildcats are expected to contend for the YAIAA Division I title, with a solid nucleus of starters back and eager to atone for their first losing season since 2006. Catholic has some new starters in the trenches, but most of them saw plenty of action as platoon players last season (and given the amount of Mercy Rule games the Crusaders had during last year’s Class AA state championship run, the backups played almost as much as the starters during the regular season). And with RB Roman Clay and WR Sean Titus leading a solid cast of skill players, Catholic looks dangerous again. The pick: The Crusaders are playing their first game as a Class AAA team, and Dallastown could test them. But Clay and the skill guys will be tough to stop. Give me Catholic.
Reading at McCaskey: Nice to see this matchup back on the schedule, as these two teams used to torch the field when they were Section 1 neighbors. Reading is coming off a 1-9 campaign in the Berks League last year, but the Red Knights bring back seven starters on offense — most of them speedy skill people. McCaskey went 3-7 last year after starting the season with six straight losses. The Red Tornado’s skill spots look solid, with returning WR Diante Cherry joining RB Aaron Swinton to form a lethal 1-2 punch. The pick: Both teams have some major question marks on defense, so this one’s got “shootout” written all over it. The Tornado hopes to build on the momentum it established at the end of last season. I think they’ll do it this week. Give me McCaskey.
Daniel Boone at Cocalico: The Blazers journey to Denver for their first game under new coach Bill Parks, who has the unenviable task of replacing Dave Bodolus — the most successful coach in Boone history, and the guy who turned a Berks League laughingstock into a perennial playoff participant. Parks inherits a team that must replace 18 of 22 starters from last year’s squad, which went 10-2, captured the Berks League Section 2 title and made its ninth straight appearance in the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs. Cocalico, meanwhile, is fielding a hungry group of veterans under coach Dave Gingrich. The pick: I expect Cocalico to be right in the thick of the Section 2 title chase. I think the Eagles get off to a good start here against Boone, which has just one starter coming back on offense. Give me Cocalico.
Ephrata at Exeter: After two years of taking its lumps in Section 1, Ephrata is back in familiar territory after dropping to Section 2 this fall. But the Mountaineers were almost completely cleaned out by graduation, so first-year coach Scott Shelley will have his hands full as he attempts to rebuild the program from scratch. He’s got a good staff with him, as his former boss at Cocalico, Phil Kauffman, left the Blue Ridge TV pressbox to roam the sidelines and run Shelley’s offense. Yes, the Veer offense is alive and well in Cloister town. Exeter brings back seven offensive starters from a team that went 7-4 and reached the District 3 Class AAAA playoffs, including the tandem of all-Berks WR Alex Dundore and QB Kyle Yocum. The pick: Even with question marks on both lines, the Eagles have too much firepower for Ephrata. I’ll take Exeter.
Conestoga Valley at Cedar Cliff: Nice little subplot here — current Cedar Cliff coach Jim Cantafio cut his teeth at CV before stops at Wyoming Valley West, Wilson and finally his current gig. Cantafio’s team took a big hit before practice even started when Penn State-bound tight end Adam Breneman was lost to a knee injury. But the Colts bring back half of their QB platoon from last year (Andrew Ford), their leading rusher (Xavier Baney) and their two top wideouts (Kyler Smith and Nate Orris). There are questions up front, though — on both sides of the ball. CV has leading rusher Anthony Brown back to lead a talented group of skill players, but the Buckskins are replacing a lot of experience in the trenches. The pick: This one comes down to how Cedar Cliff’s front seven handles a pounding from Brown — and whether CV’s defense can slow down the Colts. Give me Cedar Cliff in a close one.
Twin Valley at Garden Spot: The Spartans embark on their first season as a member of Section 3 with a familiar non-league foe. The two teams have met four times in season openers since 2006, and Garden Spot has yet to lose. Twin Valley is coming off a 2-8 campaign, but brings back several starters. The Raiders switched to a Flexbone offense midway through last season, and are sticking with it this year. Garden Spot has to replace last year’s dangerous tandem of QB John Armbrust and WR Connor Schlegel, along with several starters up front and both starting RBs. But they are boosted by the return of RB Adam Haas, who missed all of last season after rushing for nearly 900 yards as a sophomore. And the defense, with eight starters back, has got serious potential. The pick: Haas gives the coach Matt Zamperini the prototypical tailback he wants, and the Spartan defense should be strong. I’ll take Garden Spot.
Eastern York at Columbia: This is the ninth straight time that the Crimson Tide and the Knights have squared off in the season opener. Columbia holds a commanding 6-2 lead in the series, including a 36-13 triumph last year. The Tide is replacing several key figures from the 2011 squad, which got hot in the playoffs and captured the District 3 Class A championship before bowing out in the first round of States. Eastern York, a YAIAA Division 3 team, is coming off a 4-6 campaign as it journeys across the Wrightsville Bridge to take on the Tide. The Knights are replacing 15 starters, including their entire offensive line. But they do have York County’s leader rusher last year, RB Alex Cooley, who had 1,950 yards and 18 TDs as a junior. The pick: Columbia is replacing a lot of talent on offense, most notably WR Mike Burke IV, a Villanova recruit and former all-state player. But the Tide has six starters back on defense and a handful of promising skill players set to inherit larger roles on offense. It should be enough to handle their neighbors from across the Susquehanna. I’ll take Columbia.
York Tech at Pequea Valley: The Braves made some strides in Eric Breisblatt’s first season at the helm last year, and are looking to build on that momentum. But they lost a large chunk of last year’s offense to graduation — seven starters in all are gone. PV’s biggest progress came on defense, which is Breisblatt’s specialty. The Braves ranked eighth in the L-L League there in 2011. But since most of the offensive players started on defense as well, PV will be starting a lot of new players. The pick: York Tech could offer a good test for the Braves’ defense; the Spartans bring back a talented backfield and run the Triple-Option offense, which isn’t easy to prep for. But Tech was downy soft on defense last year, allowing 33 points per game. The Braves should be able to move the ball, even with their young offensive starters. I’ll take PV.
Cedar Crest at Lebanon: Another season-opening Cedar Bowl is upon us as these crosstown rivals battle it out for bragging rights in Bologna Town. Both teams would like to put last year’s struggles in the rearview mirror and get off to a good start. But Lebanon appears to be in better position to pull that off, with playmakers Mark Pyles and Jeremy De La Cruz looking like potential stars on both sides of the ball. Cedar Crest, coming off a 1-9 campaign last year, looks like it’s in for another long season. The pick: Lebanon has more experience and better talent on hand. Look for the Air Raid offense to drop some bombs on Crest. I’ll take Lebanon.
Governor Mifflin at Wilson: The Mustangs were the only team to top Wilson in the regular season last year, taking advantage of Rodney Gillin’s absence to pull off a 34-28 victory. Now Gillin’s gone for good after graduating in the spring. But even though it will be breaking in a lot of new faces on offense, Wilson brings back a sturdy-looking defense. And Mifflin is going through some rebuilding of its own, having graduated 10 of its 11 offensvie starters. But the Mustang defense, Berks County’s top unit last year, returns virtually intact. The pick: The marquee Week 1 matchup in Berks County, this will be the seventh straight season-opening showdown between the two teams, who have split the previous six meetings (before Mifflin left the L-L League, they used to meet all the time as Section 1 rivals). Both teams are breaking in a lot of new people on offense, but both defenses look lethal. Points will be hard to come by in this one. I’ll take Wilson in a squeaker.
Tri Valley at Annville-Cleona: Both teams are coming off losing seasons; the Bulldogs went 3-7 last year, while A-C was 1-9. But the Little Dutchmen bring back a total of 16 starters on both sides of the ball and are eager to turn things around, while Tri-Valley looks pretty young at spots. One big preseason question about the Dutchmen will be answered Friday: Will they go with Elco transfer Anthony Pletz at QB, or did Mitch Rodkey get the starting gig? Or will both see time? The pick: A-C’s defense was a weakness last year, and Tri Valley still has versatile back Blake Bowman lurking in the backfield, which makes them dangerous. But I think the Dutchmen will find a way to get it done. Give me Annville-Cleona.
Hamburg at Elco: It’s Miller Time in Myerstown (sorry, folks — I couldn’t resist), as the Raiders play their first game with Bob Miller at the helm. But the successor to Mark Evans inherits a team that is low on roster numbers and short on experience. That’s the case with Hamburg as well. The Hawks bring back just seven starters from last year’s team, which went 4-6 in Section 2 of the Berks League. They also reportedly lost their starting QB to a season-ending injury in the preseason, and will be playing a freshman under center on Friday. The pick: The Raiders look young, and Hamburg has a good group of skill players coming back, even though they’re also plugging a lot of graduation holes. I’ll take the Hawks.
Northern Lebanon at Pine Grove: After two years of dominating the Tri-Valley League and two straight trips to the District 11 Class AA playoffs, Pine Grove has been wiped out by graduation. The Cardinals bring back just two starters on offense and three on defense. And much like Northern Lebanon, Pine Grove really got stung at the skill spots — their four top offensive players are all gone. The Vikings can relate; they’re looking to replace the high-powered trio of Colton Ryan, Ryan Daub and Tanner Dresch. But they look a little more solid up front. The pick: This is the ninth straight season-opening meeting between Pine Grove and Northern Lebanon. The Cardinals have won the last two meetings and lead the series 5-3. But I like the Vikings to get back into it on Friday. Give me Northern Lebanon.
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