Playoff Preview: Curwensville Golden Tide (4-5) Travels to Undefeated Kane (10-0)

CURWENSVILLE – After winning four of their last five games, the Curwensville Area High School gridders still needed a Brookville victory over Clarion last week to land a berth in the District 9 Class A Playoffs, and the Blue Raiders ended the Bobcats\’ postseason hopes, 29-7.
 
The Golden Tide\’s reward, if one can call it that, is a trip to Kane Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the winningest and arguably the best team in the Northern Tier school\’s history.
 
The Wolves, who earned the No. 1 seed by defeating Cameron County 21-13 in the Allegheny Mountain League championship game Friday, are 10-0 and deservedly ranked No. 7 in the state by The Pennsylvania Football News and No. 9 by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
 
Curwensville coach Andy Evanko, in his eighth season at his alma mater, knows the challenge facing his predominately-underclassman squad that is 4-5 and seeded eighth.
 
So does the Golden Tide, which lost 32-0 at Kane in Week 6, with all of the scoring coming in the first half.
 
\”They\’re well balanced with a nice running game and a real nice passing game, and they\’re very, very stingy on defense,\” Evanko praised the Wolves. \”The thing that impressed me the most in the first game was how well they played defensively.
 
\”They\’re very physical, very talented and very athletic. And they have a lot of speed.\”
 
Second-year coach Jason Barner\’s veteran-laden AML South champs, coming off a 3-7 season when they had only two seniors, steamrolled Sheffield 55-0, Johnsonburg 42-16, Elk County Catholic 33-7, Port Allegany 32-7, Ridgway 42-27, Curwensville, Otto-Eldred 59-13, Brockway 51-0 and Coudersport 39-7 en route to Kane\’s first perfect record since the 1962 squad finished 8-0.
 
The Wolves are No. 2 in District 9 in points (406) and points allowed (90).
 
They present a very balanced offense with 1,957 yards rushing and 1,650 passing, according to D9Sports.com statistics.
 
It all starts with quarterback Zach Anderson, who sparkled as a sophomore but saw his junior season end early in the opener when he suffered a broken arm.
 
The 6-0, 185-pounder has been in sync with his receivers all season, hitting 85 of 142 aerials for 1,644 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 59.8 completion percentage is second only to Coudersport senior Boomer Wetzel\’s 60.0 in the district.
 
Anderson, who also is the placekicker, has been intercepted five times, twice by Curwensville cornerback David Kalgren in October.
 
His favorite targets are big tight end John Bizzak (6-3, 210) with 16 receptions for 529 yards and seven TDs, running back Matt Mix (6-1, 190) with 21 catches for 295 yards and four scores and wide receiver Deryk Smith (5-9, 145) with 19 catches for 268 yards and one score.
 
Dustin Moran (5-9, 155) keys the ground game with 930 yards and a district-high 20 touchdowns on just 150 carries. He also has grabbed 11 passes for 208 yards and a pair of TDs.
 
Mix has carried 66 times for 350 yards and four scores, while the versatile speedy Mike Punk (5-9, 160) is averaging 13 yards rushing with 298 yards and five TDs on only 23 carries and 20.6 yards receiving with 11 catches for 208 yards and two TDs.
 
Kane\’s offense is very difficult to prepare for, according to Evanko.
 
\”They run the spread, empty (backfield), trips, twins and Power-I,\” he said. \”A big part of our practices have been geared to defense (so we\’re) not confused with all their sets.\” 
 
Kane\’s rugged 4-3 defense features standouts up front in junior Ross Nicholson (6-3, 210), at linebacker in Mix and in the secondary in D.J. Horton (5-9, 145).
 
Nicholson is the leading tackler with more than 80 stops, including a sack count approaching double figures, while Mix and the ballhawking Horton have five interceptions apiece.
 
Curwensville cannot afford any letdowns by special teams, either. Punk has taken two punts and one kickoff to paydirt. He also has returned an interception for a score.
 
The Golden Tide season mirrors Kane\’s 2006 situation in that Trevor Horton and Derek Johnson are the only seniors who play. Nick Caldwell, counted on to help anchor both lines, went down with an injury prior to the opener.
 
The way his young players have responded, especially after a rocky 0-4 start, has impressed Evanko.
 
\”I have never been as proud of a team in my life as I am with these kids, what they\’ve been able to accomplish so far,\” he said. \”And we expect to see a lot more out of them.
 
\”They have improved steadily each week and so much in almost every area, whether it be reading their keys and stepping up and hitting on defense or learning how to block and who to block on offense. And they\’ve improved tremendously throwing the ball, catching the ball, running the ball.\”
 
Except for Horton and sophomore Brian Zemba at guards and freshman Kyle Irwin at tackle, all of the offensive starters are juniors.
 
Center Nathan Russell and tackle Justin Maney are the other interior linemen. Russell returned to center from left tackle when sophomore Jonathan Michaels sustained an injury last month. Michaels was just starting to settle in at center after being switched from tackle so that Russell could team with Horton on the left side of the line. 
 
Tight end Derek Dixon and slotback Jeff Thomas are utilized more as extra blockers than as receivers.
 
Split end Jesse Hoover has 33 of the Golden Tide\’s 58 receptions, 479 of the 798 receiving yards, and two of the three passing TDs.
 
Late season success has improved Kalgren\’s completion percentage to 45.2. He\’s hit 57 of 126 passes for 789 yards. He also is a threat to run on rollouts with 258 yards and six touchdowns for 60 carries.
 
Ben McGary and Cory Bloom are the starting running backs, but sophomore Jed Greslick shares the workload and actually leads the team with 577 yards on 76 carries, a 7.6 average, with six TDs.
 
McGary has rushed 105 times for 506 yards and six TDs, while Bloom has gained 153 yards and scored twice in 55 trips.
 
Defensively, the Golden Tide will line up in its 4-4 with Horton and Russell on the flanks, freshman Curtis McCormick and junior Tyler Bennett inside, Johnson and Hoover the outside linebackers, Bloom and Andrew Starr the inside linebackers, Kalgren and McGary the corners and sophomore Sam Gardner the safety.
 
Curwensville\’s four wins have come against Johnsonburg 29-27, Sheffield 28-8, Ridgway 14-2 and Sheffield 49-27. Those teams with a combined 7-29 record.
 
In the first month, the Gold and Black lost to Coudersport 48-0, Elk County Catholic 53-20, Brockway 35-20 and Cameron County 59-22.
 
Evanko is anxious to see how the Golden Tide reacts in the playoff situation.
 
\”We\’re starting to use our athletic talents and show our abilities,\” he said. \”We\’re not as tentative. We\’re a lot more aggressive and a lot more confident, much more sure of what we\’re doing, and we\’ve been playing that way.
 
\”Granted, we\’re playing the top seed, you\’re going to see the top teams in the district (sooner or later). It just so happens we\’re going to see them the first week.
 
\”We want to give it our best shot, like anybody would want at this stage of the season.\”
 
The winner will move on to the semifinals Friday, Nov. 16, against No. 4 seed Coudersport (7-2) or No. 5 Port Allegany (6-3). They meet Saturday at Coudy, with the kickoff moved back to 8 p.m.
 
In the lower bracket, No. 2 Redbank Valley (9-1) hosts No. 7 Elk County Catholic (5-5) Friday and No. 3 Cameron County (9-1) entertains No. 6 Keystone (6-4) Saturday.
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