Six unbeaten football teams remain in District 9 through three weeks of play. Conversely, there are six schools still searching for their first victory of the season and several more that fall someplace in the middle. But, putting the records aside for a moment, each of the three divisions are still wide open with seven weeks yet to play. Each Friday it seems a different school makes a big statement, while yet another suffers a disappointing defeat. And though most of the games have struggled to stay interesting with the lopsided scores, the storylines certainly have been. Here are a few of them from Week 2:
Large school battle: What a race it’s shaping up to be atop the large school division with Brookville, Clarion and Kane all still unbeaten at 3-0 and Ridgway, St. Marys and Karns City within a game at 2-1. At least one of those perfect records will fall this Friday as Clarion travels to Brookville, but with all ten teams playing each other once and not much room for separation, it’s a battle that is poised to come down to the last week of the regular season. Of the three unbeatens, Kane has positioned itself in the best spot by already scoring an impressive victory over Ridgway and playing Brockway (0-3) and Punxsutawney (0-3) in each of its next two games.
Clarion, meanwhile, has benefitted greatly from its co-op with Clarion-Limestone and are the clear favorites to win the league. The Bobcats have outscored their three opponents 154-28 — which included a 42-14 win over previously unbeaten Karns City last week — and boast arguably the most talented player in D9 in Austin Newcomb. Ridgway, and its defense, can never be counted out, while Brookville has the best quarterback in the league. St. Marys and Karns City, meanwhile, have plenty of question marks to sort through but have looked the part in the early going. And for those planning ahead, Kane hosts Clarion on Sept. 27.
Injuries taking toll: It’s an unfortunate theme at this point of just about every football season, but the injuries have begun to pile up and impacted rosters, particularly at the small school level. In Port Allegany, stud running back Josh Rees suffered a broken foot in last Friday’s game against Smethport and will miss the rest of the season. Rees had rushed for 121 yards and two scores and helped his Gators to a 15-13 halftime advantage over the Hubbers before the injury. It’s no surprise that Port A was shutout in the second half, and went on to lose the game. The Gators will have an uphill battle staying competitive without Rees.
In St. Marys, Elk County Catholic — which began the 2019 season with just 19 kids on its roster — is down to 16 after several injuries. Most serious among them is to starting running back Stephen Bobby, who rushed for over 1,000 yards a season ago and was off to another strong start this year. The Crusaders hung with unbeaten Redbank Valley for three quarters and found themselves trailing just 8-6 in the fourth, but the lack of an explosive offensive weapon certainly handcuffed them and they lost the game 22-6. The severity of Bobby’s injury is unknown, but how soon he returns to a shorthanded roster will go a long way in determining ECC’s (currently 1-2) fate in 2019. Coincidently, ECC and Port A play each other this week.
Aerial attacks: If it seems like teams are putting the ball in the air more through three weeks this season, you aren’t imagining it. Across the District, passing attempts, yards and touchdowns are up as teams transition their offenses to keep pace with others. Otto-Eldred’s Cole Sebastian highlighted another strong round of performances from signal-callers last week, going 25-for-32 for 428 yards and five touchdowns in the Terrors’ 38-0 win over Cameron County. In Bradford, the Owls’ first touchdown of the year came on a short pass from quarterback Caleb Nuzzo that was set up by a 71-yard catch and run just a few plays before. Kane’s Zuke Smith and Brookville’s Jack Krug are the focal points of each of their respective offenses, with the two combining for over 20 scores already on the season. The list goes on, but the ability of some of even the smallest schools to put the ball in the air has opened some eyes early on.
The winners of the three divisions this year may not only come down to who can throw the ball, but also who can best stop it.
Lopsided scores: When D9 officials and its member schools decided to dissolve the AML and the KSAC in favor of a single District 9 League two years ago, one of the major goals was to create more competitive games, and in turn, less blowouts that featured a second half running clock. And while last year provided a glimpse into what the league could be in its inaugural year with plenty of those games to go around, it’s fallen flat in year two. Through three weeks, there have been just three games — yes, three — decided by 10 points or less: Port Allegany/Otto-Eldred in Week 0; Kane/Ridgway in Week 1; Union/A-C Valley/Sheffield in Week 1. After that, the scorelines have been downright ugly. Last week saw every single game decided by at least two touchdowns with the running clock utilized in six of the games. The new league alignment has certainly helped in terms of schools with similar sizes going head-to-head, but it hasn’t produced the kind of competitive games that you’d expect to come along with that. Yet.
Looking ahead: The aforementioned Brookville-Clarion matchup would certainly qualify as the game of the week for this coming Friday, but there are plenty of other intriguing matchups. In a crossover game, Elk County Catholic (1-2) and Port Allegany (1-2) will each try to avoid dropping two games under .500 in what should be a competitive game. Otto-Eldred (1-2) will look to build on its momentum from last week’s win over Cameron Co. against a surprising Union/A-C Valley (2-1) team this Friday. And Smethport (2-0) will look to push its regular season winning streak to 11 games with a win over a struggling Curwensville (1-2) squad that has been blanked in two of its first three games.