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Central Mountain Wildcats

TIM WEIGHT/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Central Mountain’s Brett Gerlach looks at Hollidaysburg’s defense during a game last fall in the District 6 Class 5A playoffs. Gerlach returns and will look to help lead the Wildcats offense again.

Central Mountain broke through last season. For the first time since 2009, the Wildcats did not endure a losing campaign as coach Jim Renninger closed his tenure on a high note.

Now Renninger is handing the baton to former Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning who will try helping Central Mountain cross the finish line and win a district championship. He and his staff did just that at Bellefonte, helping the Red Raiders capture District 6 Class AAAA championships in 2017 and 2019.

Central Mountain went 4-4 last year, reaching the District 6 Class AAAA final and opening the season 4-1. A strong core graduated but five players are back offensively and four defensively. The Wildcats started transforming the culture a year ago and are hoping that growth will continue this season.

Before it can run, though, Central Mountain has to learn how to walk as it approaches this season.

“As a team, our number one expectation is to introduce and install our offense, defense, and special teams,” Manning said. “We will need to evaluate players in each position and evolve our schemes based on player skill sets.”

Central Mountain has not enjoyed a winning season in 12 years but Manning helped transform Bellefonte’s program and hopes to do it in Mill Hall as well. Like Tom Gravish at Jersey Shore, Manning opened his tenure with a winless season but massive strides were taken the next few years and Bellefonte won a district title by 2017. The Raiders won at least nine games in each of the next two years and won three straight games following an 0-3 start in last year’s shortened season.

Manning and his staff are installing a spread style power offense which they utilized at Bellefonte when the Raiders consistently churned out yards. The offense is built around an effective ground game, but also has some splash to it with Bellefonte quarterbacks often topping 1,000 passing yards. Central Mountain has some excellent players in place to help this new offense flourish the way it did in Bellefonte.

Quarterback Brett Gerlach returns after throwing for 655 yards and five touchdowns with just four interceptions in eight games. Gerlach likely will be running a lot more this year and rushed for two touchdowns in his first year starting while completing 53% of his passes.

The backfield returns intact with tailback Ryan Pentz and fullback Micah Walizer also returning following good seasons. Pentz ran for 845 yards and may have become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2016 had the season not been condensed. Walizer adds some thunder to the backfield and ran for 303 yards while consistently providing quality lead blocking. Keep an eye on Julian Wilt who also could have an expanded role this season.

The big holes are in the receiving core where Central Mountain must replace every starter. No returning Wildcat caught more than five passes, but there is plenty of potential there. Conner Foltz and Tyler Weaver both are players who could establish chemistry with Gerlach and keep defenses honest. Bellefonte featured strong offenses throughout Manning’s tenure and in each of its district championship seasons, it featured a 1,000-yard rusher and passer.

Although three starters must be replaced on the offensive line, Anton Statts and Ben Garlick provide a strong foundation to build around. Each player played a crucial role in helping Central Mountain top 30 points three times. Garlick is moving from tight end to the line and the 265-pounder could quickly jell with players like Zaine Counsil, Ronnie Ergott, Brian Taylor and Garrett Hendricks. Brayden Diehl, Dylan Baker and Giovanni Tarantella are newcomers who also could see extended playing time.

Stratts and Garlick also will anchor the defensive line and each is coming off an excellent season. Stratts, Garlick, Damien Galentine and Ben Herrick combined for 21 tackles for loss. Linebacker Micah Walizer is one of the area’s best at his position and made 80 tackles last year. Weaver helps fuel the secondary at strong safety and is coming off a breakout season. Foltz also could step in at one of the cornerback positions.

The Wildcats experienced a defensive resurgence last year and held four teams to single digits. They made dramatic strides and also scored three defensive touchdowns while averaging more than one sack per game.

Central Mountain is a young team, but that does not mean this is looking like a rebuilding campaign. Reaching the district final could be a launching pad. Younger players have now seen what it takes to succeed and both they and veterans vigorously attacked the offseason. Instead of these Wildcats looking at this season as starting over, they are simply trying to pick up where they left off.

“We are expecting our entire senior class to step up in a big way,” Manning said. “They are being asked to lead by example.”

Build on that example last year’s seniors set and maybe Central Mountain can start lapping the field in 2021.

Central Mountain Players to Watch

Ryan Pentz, RB/DB:

Anton Stratts, LB/OL:

Micah Walizer, LB/RB:

Tyler Weaver, LB/DB/WR:

–by CHRIS MASSE

2020 Results

Central Mountain (4-3)

Central Mountain 33, Shikellamy 6

Central Mountain 7, Selinsgrove 3

Central Mountain 7, Jersey Shore 55

Central Mountain 49, Milton 6

Central Mountain 41, Shamokin 27

Central Mountain 7, Selinsgrove 9

Central Mountain 9, Jersey Shore 21

District 6 Class AAAAA Championship

Central Mountain 12, Hollidaysburg 35

2021 Schedule

Aug. 27–at Shikellamy

Sept. 3–Shamokin

Sept. 10–Bloomsburg

Sept. 17–at Williamsport

Sept. 24–Milton

Oct. 1–at Warrior Run

Oct. 8–Selingrove

Oct. 15–at Mifflinburg

Oct. 22–Midd-West

Oct. 29–at Jersey Shore

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