Loyalsock at Shamokin

Loyalsock facts: The Lancers are in familiar territory entering tonight’s game. For a second straight season, Loyalsock is trying to bounce back from a heart-breaking opening loss against Mount Carmel. Loyalsock lost by a nearly identical score to last season, falling 43-41 this time. The Lancers rallied from a 21-point second-quarter deficit and tied it twice in the second half but were unable to make the key stops at key times after doing so. Still, the offense looks potentially explosive and junior quarterback Connor Watkins could be headed for a big season. Watkins is receiving some Division I interest and showed why against Mount Carmel. The three-year starter completed 10 of 14 passes for 262 yards and four touchdowns while also running for a team-high 95 yards and a score. Cole Cavanaugh topped 1,000 yards last year and added 86 yards and a touchdown against Loyalsock. Gerald Ross, Sam Newton and Jaiden Cioffi all made outstanding catches on touchdowns and Brock Hepler is back after finishing second on the team in receptions last year. The defense struggled, especially against the run, allowing 300 yards. The defense faces a tough task tonight, playing without all-state linebacker Hunter Webb who was ejected in the fourth quarter last week after making 18 tackles and adding a sack. Linebacker Dom Fischetti could be the defensive leader tonight after making 15 tackles, including 12 solos against Mount Carmel. Cavanaugh is a three-year starter and is tough in the secondary as is safety Derek Gee who made 10 tackles last week. Carmen Barone can be a difference-maker up front and had two tackles for loss while Brandon Bauman added a sack.

Loyalsock player to watch–Geno Ginobile: The senior defensive lineman could be a factor on both sides of the ball this season and made a nice impact against Mount Carmel. Ginobile made seven tackles, including five solos, impressive numbers for a lineman. Shamokin likes to run the ball so Ginobile will be key to tonight’s outcome.

Shamokin facts: The Indians are coming off a blowout loss to Southern Columbia but nearly every team Southern plays this season likely will be blown out so basing Shamokin’s potential on that game would be foolish. The bottom line is Shamokin returns the majority of the starters who helped it nearly beat Loyalsock on the road a year ago. Loyalsock and Shamokin traded big plays and leads last season before the Lancers prevailed, 35-28 in overtime. Shamokin made plays in all three facets in that game and forced overtime on the final play of regulation. Running back Devin Pietkiewicz gave Loyalsock fits in that game, running for 121 yards and two touchdowns, returning a punt for a score and throwing a 52-yard touchdown pass off a halfback option to force overtime. Pietkiewicz led Shamokin in rushing last season, finishing with 827 yards and six touchdowns. Keep an eye on Jake Jeremiah who ran for a 32-yard touchdown against Southern. Jeremiah will be utilized as both a runner and receiver and is one of the team’s top returning receivers. Quarterback Nathan Grimes took over the starting duties late last season and threw for 76 yards and a touchdown against Danville.

Shamokin player to watch–Mark Wetzel: The hard-nosed running back started 2016 strong before an early-season injury ended his year. Wetzel ran for 89 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener and helped Shamokin take a halftime lead that night but his season ended just two weeks later. Wetzel could form a potentially strong duo with Pietkiewicz and Shamokin likely will use both to try and probe Loyalsock’s run defense early and often.

Outlook: The vibe around District 4 seems to be many thinking Loyalsock bounces back in impressive fashion last week. But that was the vibe last year too when Shamokin was a play from pulling the upset. This will not be an easy road game for Loyalsock, especially with Shamokin desperate to make a statement.

–by CHRIS MASSE

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