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FROM THE PRESS BOX: A GLIMPSE INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL, AND THE 2021 FOOTBALL SEASON (AND A STATE TITLE?) (2021-07-27)

From Sayre having three of its six games canceled due to Covid concerns to Waverly and Tioga playing its schedule in March and April, the 2020-21 high school football season in the Valley was nothing like we’ve ever seen — and, hopefully, will never see again.

Athens wrote the best story of the fall. Coming off a 1-10 campaign in 2019 — one of the worst in school history, the Wildcats went 5-1 in the regular season, but saw their season come to a screeching halt in the opening game of the District 4 playoffs.

Sayre was 1-2, with both losses by three points, but Covid fears ended up wiping three games from their schedule.

This spring, Tioga was its usual dominant self, but Newark Valley rallied to win the “Game of the Year” on a Saturday afternoon in April.

Waverly finished its spring season at 1-4, a result that was borne out of injuries and a rugged schedule that included games against Tioga, Newark Valley, Owego, and Horseheads.

What does all that mean in relation to the 2021 fall football season?

Let’s take a look into the crystal ball:

Athens Wildcats: While the Wildcats were 5-1 in the 2020 regular season, four of those wins came against Small School foes. Their “Covid” schedule did not include games against Wellsboro, Troy, or North Penn / Mansfield, but the 2021 schedule does.

Stop me if this sounds like a broken record, but success for the Wildcats this season will be determined by their play in the trenches. They graduated four starters from the offensive line that will need to be replaced.

Again, it’s like a broken record, but the Wildcats have a ton of skill-position players, led by senior tailback Shayne Reid and junior QB Mason Lister. Junior Caleb Nichols and Chris Bathgate, and senior Troy Jennings also return in the backfield, while seniors Karter Rude, J.J. Babcock, Tucker Brown, and junior Jaden Wright will return at receiver.

Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace its defensive line, including big Ian Wright and all-everything defensive end Ben Pernaselli. Their back seven should be athletic and deep. Again, it comes down to what they can come up with in the trenches.

Prediction:
Canton lost a strong group of seniors, but returns a fantastic junior class, as well as senior QB Cooper Kitchen, and are likely the team to beat in the Large School Division. … Wellsboro returns quite a bit and could be a team to watch. … Troy and North Penn had some heavy losses to graduation, but both coaching staffs have done a nice job in recent years in similar circumstances. … Athens has the experienced and talented skill-position players to be a factor in the Large School title chase, if their offensive line gels. — 2021 record: 6-5, season ends in District 4, Class AAA quarterfinals.

Sayre Redskins: The Redskins graduated a handful of key seniors, but return a wealth of talent in 2021.

Like Athens, the key will be the offensive line. Replacing Zach Belles and Jordan Goodrich will be Sayre’s biggest task.

If the line gels, watch out. The Redskins return senior QB Brayden Horton, running backs seniors Jake Bennett and David Northrup, and juniors Zack Garrity and Glenn Romberger, and wideouts junior Lucas Horton and Dom Fabbri, and junior Jackson Hubbard.

Those same names, led by Garrity and Romberger, should comprise a defense that will be quick and athletic.

Prediction: Muncy returns the majority of its team, and is the clear-cut favorite in the NTL Small School Division and District 4, Class A. … Cowanesque Valley could be the surprise team in the division in 2021, and I expect South Williamsport to be improved, but I don’t think either will compete against Muncy and Sayre. … The Redskins should go at least 5-1 in divisional play. — 2021 record: 7-4, season ends in District 4, Class A semifinals.

Tioga Tigers:
Like Athens and Sayre, Tioga will be looking to replace a couple key linemen lost to graduation. What the Tigers have than no one else does in their effort to re-build the line is senior tailback Emmett Wood, who has 5,055 yards and 65 TDs in his three-year varsity career.

The Tigers actually have an embarrassment of riches in the skill positions for any team, much less a Class D program.

Seniors Gavin Godfrey and Isaac Peterson join Wood in the backfield, while senior Cobe Whitmore, and sophomore Ethan Perry return at wide receiver. Sophomores Valentino Rossi and Evan Sickler will also be immediate threats at wideout for the Tigers.

The only real question for the Tigers is at quarterback, but those around the program believe sophomore Caden Bellis will transition from JV to varsity flawlessly. From what I’ve seen of him, he throws a very accurate and catchable ball, and executes the option extremely well.

Defensively, this group could be as good as any coach Nick Aiello has had in his 11 years on the sidelines. They will be quick and physical, and will feature some big-time playmakers.

Prediction: The Tigers may tested early in the season with a home game against O-M / Watkins Glen, followed by back-to-back Saturday afternoon road games at Walton and Delhi, then a home game with Newark Valley. … Tioga’s divisional games are at Sidney, at home with Newark Valley, and on the road at Harpursville. The Tigers should run through their division, especially considering Newark Valley faces the challenge of replacing 20 seniors from last year’s team. … I don’t see anyone in Class D in Section IV or Section III knocking off the Tigers, which puts them back in the state semifinals for the ninth time since 2011. … Section V and VI have some very good Class D programs (as evidenced by Tioga’s 1-7 record in the state semis), but none of them will bring to the table the type of state playoff experience this Tioga team has. … I’ve never written this before, but I believe Tioga will win a state title — the second in school history. — 2021 record: 13-0.

Waverly Wolverines: Waverly graduated a solid group of seniors, but will bring back a lot of young players, who got five games of experience this spring.

The Wolverines return three starters up front — juniors Ty Beeman and Zach Vanderpool, and senior Cayden Turcsik, and two more who saw quite a bit of game time.

They also return sophomore QB Joey Tomasso and sophomore running back / wide receiver Jay Pipher, who showed big-play potential in the spring. Juniors Isaiah Bretz and Nate DeLill seem poised to become big contributors for the Wolverines, and seniors Brady Blauvelt and Thomas Hand should also be contributors.

Defensively, Beeman, Turcsik, D.J. Shaw, and Logan Shipman will likely anchor the front seven. The Wolverine secondary will be athletic, but not very big.

Prediction: The Wolverines appear to have all their bases covered, but depth may be a concern. … Waverly’s hopes for a division title will likely come down to its trip to O-M / Watkins Glen in Week 6. …   Once the postseason rolls around, Waverly will likely match up against either Chenango Forks or Susquehanna Valley in the Class C semifinals. (Some things never change.) — 2021 record: 5-5, season ends in Section IV, Class B semifinals.

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