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Pennsylvania football - Improved teams face difficult schedules

September 02, 2005|by MARK KELLER

keller@herald-mail.com

By almost all accounts, the five Pennsylvania high school football teams in the Tri-State area are better now than they were a year ago.

Unfortunately, that fact is not going to make the 2005 season any easier for those teams.

The four area teams which play in the Mid-Penn Conference would still have their hands full had they improved by leaps and bounds - and a couple have - simply because of the difficulty of their schedule.

And the fifth team - Mercersburg Academy - plays in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League, which features some of the top schools in New Jersey and some of the nation's top recruits.

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The last time an area school made the Pennsylvania football playoffs was in 1998, when both Greencastle-Antrim and Chambersburg made the District 3 postseason. Only Greencastle and Mercersburg have posted winning seasons since and no school has finished above .500 since 2000.

Still, hopes are high throughout south central Pennsylvania as kickoff approaches tonight.

James Buchanan opens on the road at Greencastle. The Blue Devils, who finished 5-5 in 2004, won last year's meeting - their first since 2001 - at JB, 44-16.

The Devils lost quarterback Blake Border and receiver Erick Burkholder - one of the top tandems in the area the last two years - to graduation and will rely on the running of Ty Thrush and Conrad Myers.

The Rockets are coming off a 2-8 campaign, but Kevin Gustafson is optimistic in what he says is his best team in his seven years as coach. They return nine starters on defense.

James Buchanan is seeking its first winning season since 1995, a streak exceeded only by Waynesboro, one of the Rockets' rivals in the Mid-Penn Capital.

The Indians also went 2-8 last season, snapping a 19-game losing streak by beating James Buchanan in Week 4, 26-6.

Waynesboro put a scare into Jefferson in the final week of the season, hanging with the rejuvenated West Virginia squad until the Cougars pulled out a 28-21 win in the final two minutes.

The Indians return running back Mike McKenzie, a 1,000-yard rusher last year and one of the top athletes in the area. They are seeking their first winning season since 1992.

On Saturday, Chambersburg will open the season "at home" against Harrisburg. "Home" for the Trojans will be Shippensburg University until mid-October as Trojan Stadium undergoes major renovations.

Chambersburg is after its first winning season since its 1998 playoff year. The Trojans were 3-7 last season, their best mark under fourth-year coach Shawn Kimple. The return of running back Tyler Perry will help, but every opponent in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth is a monster.

Mercersburg Academy beat Kiski School in the final week of the season to avoid a winless year in 2004. The Blue Storm opens at home Saturday against John Carroll.

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