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Panther Vy.-Marian ready for matchup

For much of the 2021 football season, Marian and Panther Valley have struggled with injuries and inexperience at many of the skill and line positions, resulting in just one win between them.

Against powerhouse teams such as Williams Valley and Palmerton, the Colts and Panthers seemed to have been playing uphill when they had the ball, while their opponents’ offenses were running and throwing downhill in what turned into several one-sided losses.

This Friday, both schools will play each other on a much more level playing field in what could very well be a highly competitive contest in the Times News Game of the Week.

If either team has an advantage, it might be Marian who last week stunned Nativity in overtime for its first win. Panther Valley will have to dust itself off from a shutout loss to Tri-Valley and be ready for any carry-over confidence the young Colts will surely bring to Lansford.

Since 1978, Marian leads the series, 30-14-1, including an eight-game winning streak from 2011-2018. PV won the last two years convincingly by a combined score of 68-24.

Marian coach Stan Dakosty is looking forward to what he describes as the “biggest coal region rivalry” in the area.

“The nature of Marian versus Panther Valley is that the records coming into the game don’t matter,” said the veteran mentor, who looks to stop PV’s modest two-game winning streak in the series.

Panthers’ coach Rick Jones agrees with Dakosty about the competitive motivation for these two rival teams.

“If you can’t get emotionally ready to play this game,” said Jones, “then I don’t know why you’d even want to step on the field.”

Statistical similarities between the teams are quite extensive.

Marian has been outscored this season 264-47, and Panther Valley by a margin of 228-41. The first halves of their games have not been kind to either team, with the Colts scoring only nine points, and the Panthers tallying 14 in the first two quarters all year long.

Both teams have workhorses in the backfield. Matt Martin has lugged the rock 147 times for 725 yards and nearly five yards a carry for Marian, while Michael Pascoe has gained 367 yards on 106 carries for nearly four yards a pop for PV.

The Colts have a slight advantage in the air at 292-161 yards gained, but overall it’s been mistakes and turnovers that have cost them opportunities for success. The Colts have lost 15 fumbles this season and thrown eight interceptions, for 23 turnovers, which won’t win many football games.

“Against Tri-Valley and Schuylkill Haven, we had nice drives into the red zone, but we couldn’t finish because of turnovers,” said Dakosty.

For PV, it’s been the mental mistakes that have the Panthers still looking for their first win. They had three leads against Shenandoah - including one late in the fourth quarter - but breakdowns in pass coverage ended up costing them the game.

“Sometimes, we’re not in the right coverage or we give too much cushion,” said Jones. “It’s not for a lack of effort, and we’ve progressed every week, but we need to keep our focus. On offense, it’s been the same thing. We’re not getting open sometimes because we’re not running the right routes.”

Both coaches expect to run a heavy dose of Martin and Pascoe between the tackles.

“Neither team has shown great speed,” said Jones. “We will have to stop the run, and they’ll have to stop ours, but a big pass play here or there can definitely have an impact on the outcome.”

Speaking of pass plays, expect the yet-to-be-named Marian starting quarterback to look for Luis Teron, who had some big catches against Nativity. Other key targets will be Mike Gelatako and Michael Silliman. For the Panthers, look for Trey McAndrew, Shyiem Ervine and Mergim Bushati to get downfield for Pascoe.

“Their QB is a playmaker,” said Dakosty of Pascoe, “and they have a good line and some decent receivers.”

“We’ll have to match their aggressiveness and their confidence from their win last week,” said Jones. “That will be a challenge for us because it’s hard to have confidence when you haven’t had success.”

Both coaches feel a good start - something neither team has achieved this season - can be a big momentum builder.

“Rick does a good job at Panther Valley,” said Dakosty. “His team will be chomping at the bit right from the opening kickoff.”

“We’ve both played tough schedules,” said Jones, “so getting off to a good start will be important for sure. I just want our kids to stay upbeat. and go out and have some fun.”

One team will look to get two victories in a row, while the other will strive to get into the win column for the first time this year.

Therefore, the motivation should be sky-high for the Times News Game of the Week.