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FOOTBALL IS BACK: Central Mountain looks improved, Bellefonte aims for repeat district title

Central Mountain High School (left) and Bellefonte High School (right) face off at the line of scrimmage before a play during a high school football game in the 2017 season. The Red Raiders won that game against the Wildcats, 34-31, in 3OT. (The Express/Tim Weight)

It’s that time of the year again, folks! Football is back!

Particularly high school football, and that means it’s time again for my predictions.

To start things off for the 2018 campaign, I will be having a season preview and predictions for each of the five schools: Central Mountain, Bellefonte, Jersey Shore, Bald Eagle Area and Bucktail.

On Friday, I will have the first edition of the weekly game picks.

So let’s get right into it!

CENTRAL MOUNTAIN

HIGH SCHOOL

ANALYSIS: Central Mountain is coming off a 1-9 (1-4) season in 2017, and a lot of uncertainty surrounds the program. After initially firing head coach James Renninger, the Wildcats decided to bring back Renninger for his third season. It may sound negative, however, I think a positive spotlight should be put on this situation. After having a magnitude of consistent coaching changes from Central Mountain, the Wildcats have decided to commit to Renninger to let the program develop. It also should be pointed out that Renninger is loved by his players, and you can expect a lot of unity out of this team coming into the new year. It also sounds like a Disney film waiting to happen with the way the team has been performing in the offseason — spectacular play, especially from RB Rocco Stark, and a ‘change of culture’ mindset has definitely been on display in Mill Hall. I see a situation that was originally bad, translating to a few wins this year and overall improvement for the program. If Central Mountain stays on course since it has been since summer workouts, the future is bright for Wildcats football.

SEASON PREDICTION: 3-7, No Playoffs (Wins against Lewisburg, Shamokin and Mifflinburg) — In my opinion, a 3-7 finish in 2018 would be a success story after what happened earlier in the year as well as last season, and would also lead to improvement and momentum for the future. Wildcats fans should be happy if this is the result. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But Renninger will be well on his way to building a quality Wildcats football program.

FIRST WIN (Lewisburg): The Green Dragons are coming off a 4-7 season and are expected to have similar results. After a road game in week one, I predict the Wildcats to have an energetic and explosive first home game of the season against Lewisburg, and with a win to start off the new culture on a great note.

SECOND WIN (Shamokin): The next week after Lewisburg, the Wildcats go into Shamokin to face off against the Indians in the first game of the Touchdowns Against Cancer series. Shamokin is coming off a 1-10 season and lost to the Wildcats last year, 28-14. I expect another victory for CM.

THIRD WIN (Mifflinburg): Yes, this is a road game for Central Mountain, but last year was also a road game against Mifflinburg — a game that CM nearly won. They would lose that game, 35-28. Coming off a 2-9 season, I expect Mifflinburg to be the same team. On the other end, I expect Central Mountain to be much improved, and will get the win as a result.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Rocco Stark, QB Zane Probst

BELLEFONTE

HIGH SCHOOL

ANALYSIS: The Bellefonte Red Raiders are coming off a magnificent season — finishing with a 10-3 (6-1) overall record, a district championship and an appearance in the PIAA State Championships. But there is one problem: The Red Raiders have lost their best player from last season due to graduation, Dylan Deitrich. In passing, Deitrich had numbers of 1,210 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with a 92.8 quarterback rating. On the rushing side of things, Deitrich racked up 1,601 yards with an incredible number of 25 touchdowns. Needless to say, that production will be incredibly missed by head coach Shanon Manning and staff. However, I do see RB CJ Funk stepping in with a larger work load to try and fill the shoes of Deitrich in regards of rushing, and see it going quite well. Funk was effective in 2017 with 438 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore. Look for a potential 1,000 yard season from Funk in his junior season. Filling the shoes at the quarterback position will be transfer Kyle Myles, who had a great season in both passing and rushing in 2017 for West Branch High School. His statline in passing included 800 yards and seven touchdowns, and in rushing he compiled 840 yards and eight touchdowns — outstanding numbers that the Bellefonte program has to be happy with, and someone who they can be content with to replace Deitrich. I expect Bellefonte to have another great season with Myles and Funk at the helm.

SEASON PREDICTION: 8-2, District Champions, PIAA State Championships Appearance (Losses against Jersey Shore and Huntingdon) — I expect Bellefonte to steamroll the vast majority of their schedule in 2018, and a lot of blowouts to go along with it similar to 2017. With Myers at QB and Funk at RB, I also see a repeat district championship and another state playoffs appearance for the Red Raiders. If you’re a Red Raiders fan, you should be hyped about the new season.

BIGGEST WIN: The Red Raiders won a 34-31 3OT rivalry game against Central Mountain in 2017 at Bellefonte. This year with the game in Mill Hall and the Wildcats being improved, I expect this game to be a classic once again with the upset alert enacted in favor of Central Mountain. I still think the Red Raiders will get the victory, but you might want to grow your nails for this one. Bellefonte will be able to take pride in this tough-fought rivalry victory.

WORST LOSS: This can’t be considered a ‘bad’ loss due to the amount of talent the Bulldogs have, but it would be a frustrating loss for Bellefonte to lose to Jersey Shore. The Red Raiders lose homefield advantage for the game on Friday due to their stadium being under construction, and not to mention this is a rivalry game and one of the biggest matchups on Bellefonte’s schedule. Uncontrollable circumstances may unfortunately come into play for this one for the Red Raiders, but on the other hand, Bellefonte did pull an upset in Jersey Shore last year.

PLAYOFFS: I expect the duo of Myers-Funk to not only steamroll throughout the regular season, but also in the district playoffs for a repeat championship and PIAA State Championships appearance. A first round exit will happen in the state playoffs due to the simple reason of tough competition.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Kyle Myers, RB CJ Funk

JERSEY SHORE

HIGH SCHOOL

ANALYSIS: After a winning 7-4 (3-2) record in 2017, the Bulldogs come into the 2018 season facing off against a powerhouse schedule. A schedule that includes 2017 district qualifiers, multiple district champions and one undefeated defending state champion. “In order to be the best, you must be the best” comes to mind. And that’s exactly what Jersey Shore is aimed at this season. Led by workhorse runningback Kyle Tomb, the Bulldogs are locked in to have yet another exceptional year. Tomb had a dominant 1,664 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. Expect Tomb’s workload and production to increase even more in the new season, as Jersey Shore is going to need him against the tough schedule and with a new quarterback due to Elijah Shemory graduating. You can read my full preview on 2018 Jersey Shore Football in today’s edition of The Express in our Fall Sports Guide.

SEASON PREDICTION: 7-3, District Playoffs Appearance (Losses against Selinsgrove, Shikellamy and Southern Columbia Area) — I see another repeat 7-3 regular season performance from the Bulldogs in 2018. If it wasn’t due to tough competition of Southern Columbia Area and Selinsgrove, Jersey Shore could be looking at a potential undefeated season this year. Still, you can expect quality football coming from the program — again. And with it being Tomb’s senior year, maybe an upset or two can be pulled by the Bulldogs.

BIGGEST WIN: The biggest win of 2018 will certainly be the barnburner in week one against Bellefonte. Similar to last year, the game between the Bulldogs and Red Raiders will be remembered throughout the entirety of the season. It’ll be a classic rivalry game where anybody can win, but I do see Jersey Shore pulling it out with Tomb’s production and homefield advantage.

WORST LOSS: The Bulldogs need to figure out a way to get around the Selinsgrove program. That is the only program I see in the way of Jersey Shore having consistent chances at undefeated seasons, district championships and state playoffs appearances. If head coach Tom Gravish and Co. can figure their way around Selinsgrove, the future is looking pretty for Bulldogs football.

PLAYOFFS: Similiar to the ‘WORST LOSS’ section, Jersey Shore needs to figure their way around Selinsgrove. I see another district playoffs apperance from the Bulldogs, but I once again see the Seals getting in the way.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Kyle Tomb, QB Tanner Lorson

BALD EAGLE AREA

HIGH SCHOOL

ANALYSIS: Despite a 4-6 regular season in 2017, Bald Eagle Area still managed to make an appearance in the district playoffs. This year with BEA trying to prove it’s not a fluke, I see some good football coming out of Wingate for 2018. Led by Gage McClennahan on offense and AJ Markle on defense, a good brand of football will be in play by the Bald Eagles. McClennahan was effective last season with 462 rushing yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. I don’t expect BEA to be an elite team, but I do expect a lot of toughness, scrappiness and making it difficult for opposing teams — putting some like Jersey Shore and Bellefonte on upset alert. I see an improvement, even an winning season, from the 2018 Bald Eagles.

SEASON PREDICTION: 6-4, District Playoffs Appearance (Losses against Central, Huntingdon, Jersey Shore and Bellefonte) — I expect BEA to prove the ‘it was just a fluke’ people wrong with not only a repeat playoffs performance, but also a winning record. Like I said, BEA won’t be an elite football team, but you can definitely expect them to be a good football team.

BIGGEST WIN: Last year, the Bald Eagles lost to the Tyrone Golden Eagles on the road, a game they nearly won. This year with Tyrone coming to Wingate for BEA’s homecoming game, I see a different result. I see Bald Eagle Area defeating Tyrone, and this win will be one of the contributors to the Bald Eagles’ winning season in 2018.

WORST LOSS: I have two of them for Bald Eagle Area: Bellefonte and Jersey Shore. If the Bald Eagles can catch up to the play of their rivals, life would be so much sweeter for the BEA football program. Fortunately for the Bald Eagles, they’re getting closer to them.

PLAYOFFS: I see a repeat a repeat district playoffs appearance from the Bald Eagles, and that alone makes this is a successful season for the BEA program — and a 6-4 record attached to it isn’t bad either.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Gage McClennahan, LB AJ Markle

BUCKTAIL HIGH SCHOOL

ANALYSIS: Last year, Bucktail entered the 2017 season extremely understaffed and basrely had enough starters to play, but somehow still managed to finish 4-6 in the regular season and make a playoff apperance. This season, they enter with the exact same narrative of being understaffed, can they repeat that performance? The biggest force from Bucktail will be their running game. Tanner Riggle and Gage Sutliff will be a duo that will be carrying the workload for the Bucks, and I see success for the entire Bucktail team due to their production.

SEASON PREDICTION: 3-6, No Playoffs (Wins against Columbia Montour Vo-Tech, Cowanesque Valley and again Columbia Montour Vo-Tech) — I think the same grit and toughness will be on this season’s Bucktail squad as last year’s, and they’ll be able to grind out three wins as a result. For this back-to-back understaffed football team, that will be an accomplished 2018.

FIRST WIN (Columbia Montour Vo-Tech): Last year in Bloomsburg, Bucktail was able to get a 22-20 win against the Rams. This year with another meeting in Bloomsburg, I see the Bucks once again getting the best of the Rams — but it’ll be a close one.

SECOND WIN (Cowanesque Valley): In Westfield last season, Bucktail once again would get a close win — this time against Cowanesque Valley. This year, the Indians and Bucks meet in Farwell. That alone is the reason why I have to give the edge to Bucktail in this one, but like the game against the Rams, this will also be a close one.

THIRD WIN (Columbia Montour Vo-Tech): The series between Bucktail and Columbia Montour Vo-Tech could easily be a split, but I have the advantage on the side of the Bucks in both games. Again, this will be a nailbiter.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Tanner Riggle, RB Gage Sutliff

SEASON PREDICTIONS ROUNDUP:

CENTRAL MOUNTAIN: 3-7, No Playoffs

BELLEFONTE: 8-2, District Champions, PIAA State Championships Appearance

JERSEY SHORE: 7-3, District Playoffs Appearance

BALD EAGLE AREA: 6-4, District Playoffs Appearance

BUCKTAIL: 3-6, No Playoffs

The first games begin on Friday, August 24. All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:00 PM.

Are you ready for some football?!

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