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FROM THE PRESS BOX: WEEK 1 — RIVALRY GAMES KICK OFF SEASON (2020-09-11)

The 2020 season is upon us, and it’s nothing like we’ve seen before.

The NTL schedules are a mishmash in an abbreviated season, but it’s better than nothing, which is exactly what New York State is providing its student-athletes, having postponed the football season until March.

With no postseason guaranteed, the highlight of the NTL season is likely to be tonight as three of the league’s big rivalry games — the Rusty Rail, Old Shoe, and Bronze Helmet —will be played as season openers, instead of season finales.

With no football in New York, we will be picking NTL games this season. I’ll be joined again by a trio of fellow pickers in The Mick, Country Bob, and Little Red — all three coaches in the Valley, who wish to remain anonymous.

The tandem of Country Bob and Little Red look to repeat their tag-team success of last year against The Mick and myself. Let the games begin.

Sayre at Athens, 7 p.m. @ Alumni Field: The Redskins are coming off an 8-3 season, including a 21-14 win over Athens in the regular-season finale, while the Wildcats went 1-10, including a season-ending six-game losing streak.

Athens returns nearly en tact, with sophomore QB Mason Lister, and junior tailback Shayne Reid leading the offense.

Sayre graduated a ton of skill-position players, and lost starting QB Brayden Horton, possibly for the season, to a thumb injury in last week’s scrimmage at Canton. The Redskins do, however, return a deep and talented group in the trenches.

Prediction: The Wildcats have a lot to prove in 2020. If their big guys in the trenches produce, they could be a team to watch. … The Redskins have a slew of athletes in the skill positions, but few have big-game experience. … If this game was played later in the season, I might take Sayre, but … ATHENS 21, SAYRE 20.

THE MICK: Athens 26, Sayre 18 … COUNTRY BOB: Sayre 30, Athens 12 … LITTLE RED: Sayre 34, Athens 22.

Canton at Troy, 7 p.m. @ Alparon Park: This is the “Game of the Year” between the two best teams in the NTL.

The Trojans are coming off a 10-2 season, which ended with a 53-28 loss to Mount Carmel in the District 4, Class AA playoffs, while the Warriors were 9-3, losing to Muncy, 23-19, in the Class A championship game.

During the 2019 regular season, Troy handed Canton a 21-14 home loss.

Troy is still big up front, and returns junior running back Damien Landon, who rushed for a school-record 2,232 yards and 29 TDs.

Canton also returns a lot of talent, but lost QB Uriah Bailie to graduation, and senior Timmy Ward to injury during last weekend’s scrimmage against Sayre.

Prediction: The injury to Ward obviously hurts the Warriors on the field because he was arguably their best player, but the emotional impact on the rest of the team is yet to be determined. Overcoming the loss of Ward in one week against the other premier team in the league is going to be difficult. … TROY 26, CANTON 20.

THE MICK: Canton 21, Troy 20 … COUNTRY BOB: Canton 18, Troy 14 … LITTLE RED: Canton 28, Troy 13.

Wyalusing at Towanda, 7 p.m.: The Black Knights are coming off a 3-8 season that ended with a 75-0 loss to Southern Columbia in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, while the Rams finished with a 2-8 mark, including a 35-32 loss to Towanda in the season finale.

While this game may not look like much on paper, it has two things going for it. It’s a rivalry game, and it pits two teams against each other trying to make a statement in the season opener.

The Rams return a slew of talented skill-position players, led by QB Mitchell Burke and wideout Kaswhan Cameron. They should be able to score points.

Towanda graduated its top two running backs and all-everything quarterback Tanner Kunkle, but brings back a trio of talented receivers.

Prediction: The Rams should be able to score points this season. The question is, will they be able to improve defensively after allowing 40.7 points per game last season. … The Black Knights will be breaking in several new players at key positions, and that’s tough to do, especially in a  rivalry game against a team that knows what you do very well. … WYALUSING 34, TOWANDA 26.

THE MICK: Towanda 28, Wyalusing 6 … COUNTRY BOB: Towanda 28, Wyalusing 12 … LITTLE RED: Towanda 33, Wyalusing 15.

Wellsboro at Cowanesque Valley, 7 p.m.: The Green Hornets are coming off a 9-2 season that ended with a disappointing 17-14 loss to North Penn in the Class AA semifinals, while the Indians were 3-7, including a season-opening 53-6 loss at Wellsboro.

Wellsboro graduated a good group of seniors, including stud running back Aidan Hauser, but brings back a strong core of returners, including a good group of freshmen.

CV lost some quality players to graduation, but returns a strong junior class. They could surprise a few teams this season.

Prediction: Wellsboro has more than enough to handle CV as it prepares for its Week 2 showdown with arch-rival North Penn-Mansfield. … WELLSBORO 35, CV 6.

THE MICK: Wellsboro 29, CV 7 … COUNTRY BOB: Wellsboro 46, CV 6 … LITTLE RED: Wellsboro 32, CV 6.

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