FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Backyard Brawl, playoff spots up for grabs in Week 9

It’s Backyard Brawl time once again.

Bragging rights are on the line when Eisenhower makes the 18-mile trip to Youngsville High School on Friday night, as the Knights look to keep their 13-game Region 2 win streak alive against the 0-8 Eagles.

However, in games that matter more to playoff races, Warren will play host to Franklin in a crucial Region 5 match-up, and Sheffield travels to Curwensville for one last regular season match-up before next week’s Allegheny Mountain League title game against Kane.

With the regular season winding down, the pressure is on for teams hoping to find themselves in the playoff picture come November.

Eisenhower (6-2) at Youngsville (0-8), Youngsville High School, 7 p.m., Friday

Eisenhower has already clinched a region title and a District 10 Class A playoff spot while Youngsville has long been eliminated from the playoff picture, but that doesn’t mean either team is taking Friday night’s Backyard Brawl lightly. A win for Ike would wrap up yet another season with an undefeated Region 2 record, while a Youngsville win would be a huge bright spot in an otherwise dismal season on the gridiron.

“Rivalries like the Backyard Brawl is what makes playing and coaching sports exciting,” said Youngsville coach John Victor. “Records don’t mean anything and anything can happen in these games. For us to win we need to play aggressively, stay disciplined, and match Ike’s physical style of football. If we can accomplish those aspects of the game I strongly believe we have a shot at it.”

“Over the years these have been physical and tough games, no matter the record. I expect this year to be no different,” said Knights’ coach Jim Penley. “They have struggled, but they have some real nice size and talent. We respect them as a team, which is what the rivalry is all about.”

The Knights are led by a talented group of seniors including quarterback Rob Wilston (48-of-92, 863 yards, 11 touchdowns), running back Alex Johnson (114 carries, 895 yards, 10 touchdowns), junior receiver Jarrett Johnson (13 catches, 261 yards, five touchdowns) as well as an experienced offensive and defensive line.

For Youngsville, Jake Lauffenburger has completed 47-of-115 passes for 446 yards and rushed for another 217 yards while splitting time between quarterback and running back. Josh Taydus and Hayden Victor have also taken snaps at quarterback while Tyler Hoffman and James Frazier are the leading receivers, each with over 100 yards.

Last year’s meeting: Eisenhower 67, Youngsville 26.

Franklin (2-6) at Warren (5-3), War Memorial Field, 7 p.m., Friday

A win over Franklin, and Warren is all but assured the final spot in the District 10 Class AAA playoffs. A loss, and things become a little more complicated. Losing to the Knights could leave Warren in a three way tie with a 2-4 Region 5 record, or worse, the Dragons could be jumped in the standings altogether by Meadville. Still, Warren is in a position to control its own destiny on Senior Night Friday at War Memorial Field. Franklin’s defense has allowed 387 points in eight games this season, including four losses in which they surrendered 50 or more. Offensively, quarterback Kyle Ritchey has thrown for 867 yards, six touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Four of those touchdowns have been to Kahlil West, who has 552 receiving yards on 31 catches.

“Franklin has a good football team,” said Warren coach Greg Latimer. “They run a spread offense with an elusive quarterback. We must keep him contained and not release from the receivers when he is scrambling in the backfield. We need to have some young athletes grow into becoming starters this week. Our team has a few starters who are ill or injured.”

The Dragons’ offense is led by junior quarterback D.J. Fehlman, who has completed 80-of-141 passes for 1,444 yards and 21 touchdowns on the year. His main weapons are Tanner Stanz with 24 catches for 420 yards, Ryan Shattuck with 17 catches for 415 yards, and Luke Wortman with 16 catches for 274 yards. Wortman also has 343 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Kyle Kulka has 500 yards and four touchdowns on 69 carries.

“Our team goals remain the same,” added Latimer. “We focus on each opponent one week at a time. Our job this week is to beat Franklin and give one-hundred and ten percent each and every play as a team. We’ll focus on the postseason after the end of our regular season.”

Last year’s meeting: Warren 64, Franklin 8.

Sheffield (5-3) at Curwensville (7-1), Curwensville High School, 7 p.m., Friday

It would be hard to blame Sheffield for looking past this week’s game against Curwensville, but that probably isn’t the case seeing as how the Wolverines have a chance to beat the Golden Tide for the first time in recent history. The Tide’s only loss this season came at the hands of the Kane Wolves – who Sheffield will take on next week in the AML Championship game – by a score of 42-8 in Week 5. The Wolverine defense will be tasked with stopping Zach Tibbens, who is one of District 9’s best rushers with 1,612 yards and 19 touchdowns on 217 carries.

“It will be a challenge to stop (Tibbens), but I believe our kids have what it takes,” said Sheffield coach Dave Fitch. “These kids have fought and clawed in every game we have played this year and I expect them to do the same this week. The kids are believing more and more each week and there are no limits to as to what they can accomplish when they work together and play their game.”

The Wolverines’ run game is led by sophomore Jereek Jackson, who has racked up 748 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 97 carries this season. Junior quarterback Adam Higby commands the passing attack with 879 yards and nine touchdowns, and Noah Heeter is the main target with 29 catches for 462 yards and four scores.

“The playoff picture will start to get clearer after this week. The thing we know for sure is that we control our own destiny,” added Fitch. “We started to talk a few weeks ago about every game between then and the end of the year becoming bigger each week. Last week was for the AML North title, this week we play a team that we have never beat and will move us closer to a home playoff game, next week is the AML title game, and then we start the playoffs which is a lose and you’re out game. We have worked to get the kids prepared physically, but stay mentally loose.”

The Wolverines’ AML North title doesn’t guarantee them a spot District 9 playoffs. Only the overall winner of the league – Sheffield or Kane – gets an automatic bid. District 9 uses overall record to determine playoff seeding, which could actually leave the Wolverines behind Smethport or Coudersport at the end of the year, despite beating both of those teams in the regular season. It’s unlikely that the Wolverines would be left out of the postseason, but a win over Curwensville on Friday would cement them as one of the eight Class A teams to advance.

Last year’s meeting: Curwensville 50, Sheffield 28.