Big 8 should be well represented at playoff time

The 2002 scholastic football season is now just beyond its midpoint and several Big 8 Conference teams are in a position to make a run at the post-season.
Huntingdon and Indian Valley, like last season, are the cream of the Class AAA ranks. Both teams are unbeaten at 4-0 (the ‘Cats are 3-0 in the league while the Warriors are 1-0) and they’re tied for the top spot in the District standings with 420 points. Bellefonte holds the third spot at 2-2 with 200 points and with games remaining against Lewistown and Bald Eagle Area could easily slide into a playoff berth with a 5-4 season.
In Class AA, Tyrone currently holds the fifth spot with 270 points behind Forest Hills, Bishop McCort, Penns Valley and Bedford. Tyrone’s remaining schedule includes one Class AAA opponent in Indian Valley and one Class AAAA opponent in Punxsutawney, as well as Class A power Pius X. Tyrone could earn valuable power points with wins over Indian Valley and Punxsy that could catapult them as high as third when the final playoff pairings are announced.
MVP Season
Every coach in the Big 8 has a player he’d choose to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. At Tyrone, it’s senior quarterback Tyler Mertiff. At Bellefonte, it’s running back Corey Mislinski.
But it’s hard to imagine any of the conference’s money players who are more valuable to their team that Huntingdon’s Jon Riley. The 5-6, 160-pound senior is currently averaging 6.7 yards per carry with eight rushing touchdowns on a team with more talented skill players than any other in the Big 8.
In last week’s mauling of Philipsburg-Osceola, Riley ran for 147 yards and four touchdowns to lead a 41-0 rout. The week before, in a 21-14 win over Bellefonte, he scored what would become the game-winning score on a 35-yard pass from Geoff Kozak. In Week 2, it was Riley’s 51-yard sprint on fourth-and-1 that sealed Huntingdon’s 29-20 win over Tyrone.
What’s most impressive about Riley’s numbers is that he’s posting them while splitting time with junior Jerrod Smith, a strategy devised by coach Jim Zauzig in the pre-season to keep each rusher constantly looking over his shoulder at his competition in practice.
The strategy has worked to a T through four weeks. The ‘Cats are leading the Big 8 at 3-0 and are currently averaging 31.5 points per game.
Hard To Stop
Indian Valley’s offense is having a nice season, to say the least, averaging 39 points and over 400 yards of offense per game.
In fact, the Warriors have barely been pushed, with their closest game coming in Week 1 in a 22-14 win over West Perry. Since then, no team has been able to hold Valley under 40 points, with their season-high coming in a 47-0 win over North Pocono in Week 2.
Valley has had three different rushers gain over 100 yards at least once, and last week watched quarterback Jeff Hayes pass for 182 yards against Bald Eagle Area.
What that means for scholastic football fans is that a showdown is brewing in the Big 8 Conference. With wins tonight, both the Warriors and Huntingdon would enter their Week 6 battle at War Vets Field unbeaten and possessing the two most potent offenses in the league.
Top Performers
Bald Eagle Area’s Dave Morgan was the top rusher in the Big 8 last week with his 15-carry, 172-yard performance against Valley in a 45-30 loss. Riley’s 147 put him second, and Bellefonte’s Corey Mislinski was third with a gritty 27-carry, 127-yard effort against Tyrone.
Hayes led Big 8 passers with his 8-11, 182-yard night against BEA. Tyrone’s Mertiff, who threw for 149 yards on 11-of-16, is yet to lead the conference in a single week in passing, but continues to lead the Big 8’s season totals.
Tyrone’s Aaron Jeffries led the Big 8 in receiving, grabbing six passes for 87 yards against the Raiders while scoring one touchdown.