ARMAGH – At the combined Heritage/WestPAC Football Media Day on Friday at United High School, coaches from both conferences selected who they thought would be the top dogs in their respective leagues and who they thought would be competing in the fourth annual Appalachian Bowl at the season’s end.
The Heritage coaches had a clear-cut favorite in three-time overall champion Ligonier Valley, while in the WestPAC, coaches were much more divided, with Portage, Meyersdale and Berlin Brothersvalley all earning first-place votes.
Rams coach Roger Beitel, whose team went 12-1 last season, falling in the District 6 Class AA title game, said that his Rams have high expectations again.
“It’s our standard and we have a high level of accountability with our kids,” Beitel said. “With myself and our coaching staff, and when you see the type of work that these kids have put in over the years and you see the fruits of their labors paying off, (we) definitely (have) high expectations.”
With nine of 10 coaches submitting votes, Purchase Line was ranked second, followed by Northern Cambria, West Shamokin and Marion Center.
Sixth place was Homer-Center, followed by Saltsburg and Penns Manor in a tie for seventh. Rounding out the top 10 were United and Blairsville.
Ligonier Valley senior Christian Jablonski, one of three Rams linemen who has received a Division I offer, said that his team loves earning the respect of the rest of the league as the top team overall.
“We love this because it just encourages us to do better,” Jablonski said.
“We know that we have a target on our chest and everyone wants to take us down because we have this incredible (conference) win streak (28 games).
“Every team in the conference wants to be the team to end that win streak and beat Ligonier.”
In the WestPAC, just seven coaches returned ballots with Portage and Meyersdale both earning three first-place votes, but the Red Raiders took the overall top spot. The Mountaineers were third followed by Windber and Blacklick Valley.
Conemaugh Township was sixth, and defending champion Shade was seventh, with Ferndale, North Star and Conemaugh Valley rounding out the top 10.
“We are expecting to be in this, along with Portage and Berlin,” Red Raiders second-year coach Ryan Donaldson said. “I think Portage is going to be tough and Berlin has their entire backfield back, but with us, we have nine guys returning on both sides of the ball.”
Gouse says that his team feels that the Mustangs should be competing for the WestPAC title and also be a force in District 6.
“The kids that we have back, Connor Price is a three-year starter and rushed for over 1,200 yards last year,” Gouse said. “We have some big guys back on the line and some great skill kids returning, with a lot of experience from last year.”
The Mountaineers took their lumps in 2018 and return this season with plenty of resolve.
“We have 22 letterwinners coming back, nine returning on defense and seven back on offense,” Berlin Brothersvalley coach Doug Paul said. “Nine of our 11 games last year, we were leading at halftime. We just couldn’t finish games last year.”
The Mustangs have 11 returning lettermen with five returning on both offense and defense.
“We have a really big line that is very good and I rely on them a lot,” Price said. “We also have a lot of skill kids and pretty big roster in general.”
Meyersdale is depending on its strong core of 15 seniors to lead the way.
“The group that we have right now has been playing the game of football for a long time together,” said senior lineman Riley Whitfield. “We are hoping that this year we all click and can get the job done.”