CURWENSVILLE – Before week 10 of the high school football season, the District IX playoff picture hadn’t quite put all the pieces in place. However, as the Curwensville Area High School football team took the night off, the image that unfolded was exactly what the Golden Tide had printed on its box top. Curwensville emerged as the top seed in the Class A bracket via Brockway’s 57-22 victory over Cameron County in the Alleghany Mountain League Championship game.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things played out,” said Curwensville head coach Andy Evanko. “I’m very proud of the way our team has performed so far this year. They deserved the top seed, and we love being able to play one more game at home.”
Had the Red Raiders won the AML title game, they would have taken the number one seed, and Curwensville probably would have slipped to No. 3 – the KSAC winner is awarded the automatic second seed. Brockway’s win secured the No. 1 seed in the Class AA tournament for the Rovers, while the Red Raiders slipped into the fifth spot in Class A. The rest of the Class A bracket unfolds this way: 2- Redbank Valley, 3 – Elk County Catholic, 4 – Clarion, 6 – Port Allegany, 7 – Kane and 8 – Smethport. Redbank, who lost to Clarion earlier this season 21-19, earned the second position through a power rating system that is part of the KSAC by-laws.
Smethport (4-5) slipped into the final spot when Johnsonburg dropped its final game to Keystone 30-26 last week to go 4-6 on the year. The Ram’s school policy toward games won and lost prohibited the team from going to the playoffs.
The Hubbers bring a three-game winning streak into Friday’s game and will come into Riverside stadium for the second time this year. Curwensville bested Smethport 49-26 in the first week of the season, but this week’s team will look different to the hosts.
Smethport was missing at least nine players in week one due to illness, injury or ineligibility. The most noted missing player was senior running back Ryan Wells. Wells has come on to be the Hubbers’ top ground gainer with 899 yards on 114 carries. He has also turned into the leading receiver with 245 yards on 16 catches. Wells has scored 12 offensive touchdowns on the year and has been a big part of the recent victories for Smethport.
“We’re going to be looking at a completely different team than we faced before,” said Evanko. “They’re more experienced with better personnel. They’ve won three games in a row and have nothing to lose now.
“This is when you want to be playing your best football, and Smethport has improved every week. They’ve earned their way into the playoffs. You don’t start out 1-5 and not deserve to be there if you make it.”
With the addition of Wells, the Hubbers have been able to implement an inside running game that is three dimensional. Junior quarterback Kevin Lord utilizes his keys well to either dive through the line, option to Wells or sling the ball on a quick pass. Lord has thrown the ball 86 times this season and totaled 608 yards on 35 completions. Lord has also run for 542 yards on 81 carries and pulled in two receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Other offensive threats for Smethport include senior Brain Zetwick, who has run for 343 yards on the season, Andrew Paulik and Jory Okerland. Okerland has pulled in 9 catches for 165 yards to date and also has thrown the ball five times on the season. Paulik, who was also absent in the first meeting, has six receptions for 111 yards.
“We have to be disciplined against these kids,” Evanko noted. “They’ve thrown the ball more lately, but they run the middle-line game very well. That’s our main concern. The quarterback is a very capable player and they do a lot of good things with the football.”
Defensively for the Hubbers, Wells and Paulik were also missed in the first game. Wells has recorded three-and-a-half sacks on the season while Paulik has three of the teams 12 interceptions. On the line, the big threat all season has been Tyler Smead with five sacks.
Undoubtedly, Smethport has been putting targets on the Tide’s backs as well. Perhaps the biggest target will be placed on junior running back Alex Holland. Holland has 1842 yards on the season on 217 carries and 22 rushing touchdowns. He also has one receiving TD along with 7 receptions for 53 yards.
When not blocking for Holland, senior Zack Dimmick has carried the ball 78 times for 426 yards and eight scores. Sophomore Josh Greslick has also run the ball well with 246 yards on 35 carries.
The Tide quarterbacks have proven effective as well with sophomore Hunter McCracken throwing nine touchdown passes among his 26 completions totaling 450 yards. Senior Alec Starr has completed 20 passes for 305 yards and four TD’s.
On the receiving end of most of the Tide passes have been Shae Best and Shane Hoover. Both have caught six touchdown passes with Best pulling in 15 receptions for 350 yards and Hoover accounting for 286 yards on 16 grabs.
Defensively, Curwensville has posted one more sack than their opponent at 12. Starr and Kyle Barrett each have three-and-a-half quarterback knock downs while Jesse Zorger holds two. Dimmick leads the team with two interceptions on the year.
“We have to anticipate what they are going to do with the ball to be successful,” Evanko said. “Our mentality is the same as theirs – we have nothing to lose in this game. If you don’t take care of business Friday night, you’ll have nothing left to do Saturday morning.”
Taking care of business this Friday will ensure the Tide a game next week with the opponent to be determined at Clarion University between Clarion and Cameron County. The places and times of the semi-final round will be determined after this week’s action.
All of the first round District IX Class A games are set to kick off at 7:00 p.m.