Bedford High School football coach Kevin Steele and his players know the importance of a quick start.
Last season against Bald Eagle Area, the Bisons found that maintaining a fast pace also is imperative.
District 5-8-9 Class AAA subregional champion Bedford (10-2) will play District 6-AAA champion Bald Eagle Area (9-3) in a PIAA playoff game at 7 p.m. on Friday at Hollidaysburg Junior High. The game will be a rematch of last year’s playoff contest the Bald Eagles won 35-14.
“We’re somewhat familiar with them from last year but every year is new and different,” Steele said. “I hope we’ll be better on the defensive side to start.
“We gave up a ton of points to them on a lot of big plays. We have to not give up big plays. We have to create turnovers. We have to do a better job of sustaining our running game. We didn’t play to the best of our ability last year.”
Bald Eagle Area scored on its first four possessions, and the teams combined for five TDs in the first quarter of last year’s game in the same round.
Bedford’s Steven Ressler had a 62-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-all, and then-senior Dylan Arnold ran 2 yards for a touchdown that later tied the game at 14-all.
Bald Eagle Area’s Jaden Jones completed 11 of 16 passes for 191 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bisons last year. He threw for 2,966 yards and 31 TDs as a junior.
This season as a senior, Jones has completed 101 of 181 passes for 1,573 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions.
“He’s a 3-year starting quarterback and one of the best in the state,” Bald Eagle Area coach Jesse Nagle said of Jones.
“We felt very confident with him having the ball in his hands and letting him go to work. All year long, we’ve been banged up. (Saturday), we were as close to fully healthy as we have been. It was the second week in a row that we have our weapons.
“The timing and stuff came back and he looked outstanding.”
Last week against Westmont Hilltop, Jones was 21-for-28 with 391 passing yards and six touchdowns, as the Bald Eagles repeated as 6-AAA champion.
“Jones is a threat both running and throwing the football,” Steele said. “He hurt us with both last year.”
Senior Kaden Bittinger has 431 rushing yards and seven TDs, and 36 catches for 543 yards and eight TDs. He made 10 receptions for 140 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Hilltoppers.
Senior Matthew Reese has 18 catches for 484 yards and eight TDs, including two scores against Westmont after he had six receptions and a pair of touchdowns.
“Matthew Reese is still playing with a fractured collar bone,” Nagle said. “Bittinger has a hammy issue and a back issue. Jaden was hurt earlier. We’ve had a couple linemen injured. We definitely figured it out and got healthy at the right time.”
Bedford is led by sophomore quarterback Mercury Swaim, who has passed for 893 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 736 yards and 15 scores. Junior Elijah Cook has 918 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns and junior Steven Ressler has 417 rushing yards and 490 receiving yards for a combined six touchdowns.
The Bisons beat Westinghouse 26-0 in the subregional championship game last week. The Bisons carried 56 times for 237 yards.
“Our kids have worked exceptionally hard all year,” Steele said. “We have a good group of kids who want to work hard to be successful. They have been very successful. They meet with coaches, go over game plans, ask questions. They’re hungry to win. They want to keep playing.”