Central Columbia at Loyalsock
Last meeting: Central Columbia won, 17-14, in Week 4 of 2017.
Background: A switch in Heartland Conference division affiliation brought this series to an end two years ago. Central controlled the series early in the decade before Loyalsock won three straight between 2014-16. Central has won at least eight games for a third straight year and Loyalsock is competing in districts for an eighth consecutive season. Both teams are surging with Central winning five of its last six games and Loyalsock winning five straight. If one likes defense this game could have plenty. Central and Loyalsock both are coming off quarterfinal shutouts and both have allowed just seven points in their last two games.
Central PPG–21.4, YPG–255.5, PPA–13.7, YPA–234.9
Central facts: Some thought Central might be in rebuilding mode after losing several starters from last year’s eight-win team, but the Blue Jays have simply reloaded. A well-coached and physical team, Central has let just one team top 20 points during the season’s second half and shut out a dangerous Danville team in last week’s 21-0 win, allowing only 136 yards in the process. Take away the Week 5 loss at Southern Columbia and Central is allowing just 8.9 points and 195 yards per game. Lewisburg is the only team since Week 5 that has scored multiple touchdowns against Central. Troy Johnson intercepted two passes against Danville and the Blue Jays pulled away in the second half after it was 3-0 at halftime. Central started running the Wildcat formation in the second half and Jacob Reifer ran for 98 second-half yards. Johnson and quarterback Garrett McNelis added 91 yards. Johnson needs 54 yards to reach 1,000 in his first year starting and leads the team with eight touchdowns. McNeils, a sophomore, also has played well in his first year starting and has thrown for 1,129 yards and 11 touchdowns. Dylan Devlin broke off a 99-yard touchdown run in a Week 10 win against Bloomsburg and Auston Rainer has averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Central has a special teams weapon in kicker Mason Yorty who kicked two field goals against Danville, including a 40-yarder. Yorty is 6 for 7 on field goal tries this season and kicked the game-winner in a 24-21 comeback overtime win at Lewisburg three weeks ago.
Central player to watch–Zander Bradley: A three-way threat, Bradley has been Central’s leading receiver the last two years and averages 19.3 yards per catch. Bradley caught a 64-yard touchdown last week and also leads the team in interceptions. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year.
Loyalsock PPG–28.8, YPG–315.7, PPA–17.8, YPA–223.1
Loyalsock facts: Like Central, Loyalsock features a defense that has been downright nasty over the last five weeks. Loyalsock twice shut out Mifflinburg, including 38-0 last week, and the starters have not allowed more than one score during this five-game winning streak to anyone except Warrior Run in Week 9. The Lancers’ three losses have come against teams who are a combined 29-6 and Loyalsock is the only team since Week 5 that has beaten Warrior Run. Senior linebacker Aiden Gair is having a fantastic season and returned two interceptions for touchdowns last week while adding nine tackles. Gair has a district-high 13 1/2 sacks. Senior two-way lineman Malaki Parlante has been tough in the middle, collecting 7 1/2 sacks and making 16 tackles for loss. Linebackers Joeb Schurer and Simone Mileto each have more than 90 tackles and Korie Mayer has four sacks. Aeden Holler can be a factor up front as well and he has six tackles for loss. Eli Gair and Rees Watkins have provided solid coverage in the secondary and Watkins intercepted a pass last week. Dane Armson helps anchor that secondary and averages six tackles per game while intercepting a team-high three passes. Freshman running back Davion Hill has come on strong down the stretch, producing three straight 100-yard games. Hill ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns against Mifflinburg. Quarterback Chase Cavanaugh is a dual threat who went over 1,000 passing yards for a second straight year and who has totaled 2,204 yards and 20 touchdowns. Watkins leads the area in receiving yards (941) and also has caught nine touchdowns in his first season playing high school football. Brady Dowell has shined in his first year kicking for the Lancers, making five field goals and producing an area-high 51 points.
Loyalsock player to watch–Aspen Stahl-Emig: Loyalsock’s offensive line has surged late this season and Stahl-Emig is a big reason why. The junior guard is a two-year starter who provides strength and experience up front. He will play a big role against Central’s defense tonight and has been key in sparking Loyalsock’s running game during the last five weeks.
Outlook: If one likes defense, he or she likely will love this game. These are teams similar in many ways and this has the makings of a game that could be determined by one or two plays. I have said in previous previews this season that the first team that reaches 20 points will win and that prediction has backfired. I am sticking to that call, though, on this game and wondering if either team will even reach that point.
–By CHRIS MASSE