PV to face tough foe
Before his Panthers began the season, Panther Valley head coach Frank Damian was well aware of what teams were going to be serious contenders in the Anthracite Football League.
"We knew coming back that (the AFL) would have some good, solid teams that had a lot of people coming back," Damian said. "If they stayed injury free, they're all going to be tough in the league.
"North Schuylkill being one, Tamaqua being another, and Haven as well."
While North Schuylkill and Tamaqua have lived up to expectations as they both remain undefeated at 4-0, Panther Valley will now enter the brunt of its league schedule after handling its first two opponents Mahanoy Area (48-8) and Jim Thorpe (50-6) with ease.
Come Friday night, Damian and his coaching staff will lead the Panthers straight into "Hurricane Territory" prior to taking on Tamaqua and North Schuylkill the following weeks.
Despite losing All-State running back Zack Barket, Damian doesn't expect anything different from the defending AFL champions, who are 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the AFL.
"We know Schuylkill Haven is a great team and a great program," Damian said. "Just because of who (Haven) lost and everything, they still had eight kids coming back on a great team and a great program. We just want to take the momentum we gained last week into this week.
"If we do things right and don't turn the ball over and make mistakes, we'll be able to put ourselves into a good position."
The Panthers will have to start by slowing things down in the trenches.
Despite Barket taking a career mark of 4,187 yards on 406 carries with him to Lehigh University, the third-year Panthers' mentor guarantees the Hurricanes will stick with the ground game.
"They're still run oriented," Damian said. "They're still the tough Schuylkill Haven team that will come right at you. And you have to be physical with them because they're going to be physical with you.
"So, we expect a physical game - both offensively and defensively."
Although they won't have to worry about Barket putting up some unreal numbers 30 carries, 261 yards, four touchdowns against them, the Panthers will have to focus on 5-8, 205-pound senior running back Evan Fink, who has compiled 665 yards on 91 carries, eight touchdowns, and Matt Naftzinger (14-82, two touchdowns), who sat out last week with an injury.
The Hurricanes' quarterback Brian Murphy (5-11, 185-pounds) likes to scramble as well. The junior signal-caller has completed only 13 of his 29 passes for 176 yards, which includes two interceptions and no touchdowns, but is second on the team in rushing yards.
"Murphy does have a very good arm, but he's dangerous with his legs as well," said Damian of Murphy, who has 32 carries for 222 yards and three touchdowns. "He really impresses me. He has the ability to scramble and make big plays with his legs."
Murphy may drop back to look for his two favorite targets, who are Tyler Naus (six catches, 83 yards) and tight end Evan Marceau.
When the Panthers have the ball, the Hurricanes defense will stick with what they do best.
"I don't think they're going to change for us," said Damian, of Haven's selection of either a 5-2 or 4-3. "They're going to put the defense out there that they have been running all year and will try to stop us. I really don't think they're going to do anything special. They're just going to keep playing their good brand of defense and match us up that way.
"We just have a tremendous amount of respect for Schuylkill Haven and their program," Damian said. "And for us to be considered a good program, we have to be able to beat the top tier teams. Until we do that, we realize we're not going to be considered in there."