CURWENSVILLE — First place and most likely the championship in the Allegheny Mountain League South Division will be on the line, and District 9 history can be rewritten by Curwensville running back Nick Sipes when the Golden Tide goes on the road to battle undefeated Johnsonburg Friday night in a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Sipes, who has 620 yards for 116 carries, is 99 yards away from becoming the district\’s all-time rushing leader. He has 4,596 yards. Aaron Cantafio ended his career at Brockway in 2001 with 4,694.
That will be the subplot, but the bigger picture is which team will emerge atop the standings. Curwensville is on a three-win roll since its 20-12 opening game loss to Coudersport, while Johnsonburg off to its best start in six seasons. A little added incentive for the Coach Andy Evanko\’s Golden Tide is revenge for last season\’s 22-16 home loss to the Rams, who overcame a 16-8 halftime deficit to beat Curwensville for the first time since it joined the AML in 1999.
\”They were a good football team last year, and they beat us,\” Evanko said. \”They are very good again this year. They are very strong defensively, as well as offensively.
\”There is a lot hinging on this game. We\’ve had four tough ones, and this is number five. It\’s been a brutal first half of the season, but that\’s the way this league is. We\’re looking to perform up to our abilities. We want to come out and play our best whole game.\”
Curwensville has defeated Elk County Catholic 14-12, Brockway 29-0 and, last week, Cameron County 46-29, a deceiving score in that the Red Raiders managed a pair of touchdowns in the final minutes when both teams had reserves on the field.
Speedy and senior-laden Johnsonburg, which has 12 letterwinners from the school\’s first playoff team (6-4) in 10 years, has allowed only one second-half TD in victories over Port Allegany 28-7, Kane 25-6, Ridgway 39-6 and Otto-Eldred 39-0. They\’ve surrendered 127, 128, 101 and 69 total yards on those games.
\”They run a nice 3-5 defense, and they come at you from all angles,\” Evanko said. \”They\’re aggressive and attack through the gaps. They have a real big nose tackle, and their linebackers are very capable.\”
He singled out Nathan Weber (6-0, 239), who lines up over the center, and linebackers Cody Rosenhoover (5-11, 203), Chuck Charney (5-8, 195) and Judd Zilcosky (5-9, 152). He cited Charney as \”exceptional\” and Zilcosky as a player who \”causes a lot of problems.\”
Calvin Grumley (6-0, 180), one of the top all-around athletes in the region, keys the Rams\’ secondary with five interceptions. He has scored 1,570 points in three seasons as a starting guard in basketball and is highly-regarded as a left-handed pitcher in baseball.
Converted from halfback to quarterback for his senior season, Grumley has become the Rams\’ do-it-all standout. He has completed 37 of 75 passes for 529 yards, second-best in District 9, and six touchdowns and run for 198 yards and six scores. In addition, he has kicked two field goals and three extra points. Against Kane, he accounted for three touchdowns and intercepted three passes. Against Ridgway, he ran for three TDs and passed for two. Last week, he had two TD passes, two interceptions and a 27-yard field goal.
After that game, Ridgway coach Mark Morelli told Ridgway Record writer Jonathan Schwab, \”We worked on containing him. We tried to keep him in the pocket,but he does things on a football field you just can\’t coach. He beat us at times with sheer athletic ability.\”
\”Honestly, I think he\’s in a class by himself,\” Evanko said. \”He\’s just a very talented, amazing athlete. They throw an awful lot, but he can tuck the ball and run. Last week, Otto took the passing game away, so they just ran.\”
Halfback Jesse Dennis (5-10, 180) is the Rams\’ leading ruusher with 247 yards and three TDs on 33 carries. He and halfback John Yonker (5-11, 148) are Grumley\’s favorite receivers, often on crossing patterns. Dennis has 14 catches for 217 yards and two TDs, Yonker 13 receptions for 210 yards and three TDs.
Like the last two teams Curwensville has played, Johnsonburg uses multiple sets that spread the defense.
\”It helps us because we\’ve seen some of that, but still it\’s different athletes, different speeds, different levels, so you still have a lot of preparation,\” Evanko said. \”I\’ve never seen so many formations. They run aces, trips, one back, one wing, double wings, just about everything. And they run quite a lot of screens. They just have a nice offense. It used to be that Brockway was the only team to run that, but now at least four or five teams are using it.\”
Curwensville\’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, something Evanko and staff emphasized in practice this week.
Offensively, the Golden Tide will rely on the running of Sipes, Brandon Hess (47-200) and quarterback Shawn Sopic (40-253), who ran nine times for 146 yards and two touchdowns last week. Sipes, who is No. 3 in rushing in District 9, has scored nine touchdowns to climb into third place on the all-time list with 62. His 71 points are among the top totals in Pennsylvania this year.
Sopic has completed 15 of 33 passes for 236 yards. Split end Jesse Hoover has seven receptions for 115 yards.
Sopic connected on only one of seven aerials last week, but three bombs resulted in interference penalties that were good for 45 yards.
\”We plan on throwing a bit more this week,\” Evanko said. \”We\’ve got good receivers, and Shawn definitely is capable of throwing the ball. We need to use some of their talents more. It\’s definitely part of our game plan.\”
Curwensville probably will be without junior center Nick Caldwell again this week because of a non-football injury. That means Nathan Russell will be over the ball with Jared Skebo at right guard. And Hoover, Evan Olson and Cody Botzman will share the snaps at split end.