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Off schedule Panther Vy. and Marian won’t play this year for first time since 1975

Rivalry week.

Two words that are reason enough to turn the intensity and enthusiasm up to 11.

Throughout the area and beyond, there are several programs who have longstanding rivalries.

Pleasant Valley and the original Pocono Mountain School District, now PM East, who play this Friday in the annual Bucket Game, have been playing consecutively since 1963, the inception of the Bears’ program and prior to the formation of what is now PM West in 2002.

Among area teams, Northern Lehigh/Slatington and Palmerton have played continuously since 1935.

And one of the most famous rivalries, Easton and Phillipsburg, has been played each year since 1914, and first played in 1894.

While those games and many others have stood the test of time and feature prominently on this year’s calendar, one contest does not.

Marian and Panther Valley, who have played continuously since 1976, will not face each other this fall.

The annual meeting is not part of this cycle for the recent Colonial League-Schuylkill League football merger. Formally announced in January 2019 after months of planning - and then delayed a year because of schedule adjustments caused by the coronavirus in 2020 - the new arrangement debuted last fall and is an opportunity to rekindle old rivalries, and maybe establish some new ones, though the loss of some contests are more impactful than others.

“It’s just expected you play each other,” said Panther Valley graduate and first-year head coach Mark Lavine. “I still remember when I looked at the schedule, and I said, ‘Where’s Marian? What happened?’”

Currently, Panther Valley is in the White Division, while Marian is in the Blue Division for football.

But the rivalry between the programs is woven into the fabric of the communities, and in many ways transcends sports.

“And what bothers me about not playing them, first of all it’s a rival,” said Lavine. “Second of all, they’re about five miles away, and we’re the same size. When you’re the same size, and I don’t care if they’re 10-0 or 0-10, when we’re the same size and close, we should be playing each other.”

Lavine, a 1991 Panther Valley graduate, knows what it’s like to experience the games as an athlete, and pointed to the enthusiasm seen in other sports when the schools play each other.

“Right now, the volleyball is a great rivalry; they’re packing the gym,” said Lavine. “And baseball has a great rivalry. The fact that we’re not playing each other is a shame.”

Panther Valley and Marian are both in Division 3 of the Schuylkil League for volleyball and baseball, as well as softball. Panther Valley is Division 1 in boys and girls basketball, while Marian is in Division 3.

While the Panthers’ football schedule includes divisional opponents Pen Argyl, Catasauqua, Minersville, Schuylkill Haven and Palisades, they also play Tri-Valley, Shenandoah Valley, Salisbury, Mahanoy and Tamaqua from the Blue and Red divisions.

Tamaqua and Salisbury are Panther Valley’s only opponents from the Red Division, which features larger schools, as does the Gold Division.

Marian plays divisional opponents Tri-Valley, Williams Valley, Shenandoah, Nativity and Mahanoy, and also crosses over to face Schuylkill Haven, Minersville, Catasauqua and Pine Grove, in addition to a non-league contest against Line Mountain, a late replacement for Sayre.

The new schedule eliminates many of the uneven contests seen between some of the bigger schools and smaller schools, but comes at the cost of several opponents who would have otherwise been staples during the year.

“It’s not right. I’m not happy with the situation. We missed Mahanoy Area for two years, and now we’re missing one of the great rivalries for two years,” Colts’ head coach Stan Dakosty said of not playing Panther Valley. “We have teams in our division that are not playing crossover games, some teams are; there’s inconsistency. Heck, our fans, no offense, but our fans don’t want to see Sayre or Line Mountain or somebody else. Even Catasauqua, that was a big win for us, but that’s not a rival.

“Put PV back on and give me another local team, and let’s go from there. That’s how I feel. I’d be in favor of making a change or do whatever we have to do to get things done. That’s not my call now, but I just don’t think it’s good for local football, especially for the smaller schools. I think if you’re in a league, you should play the league schedule then and only play so many of this and so many of that type of thing. But the big thing is missing out on rivalry games, big-time games, and PV-Marian is a classic Coal Region game and we’re not playing it this year.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow to see a run of 45 straight years of the two football programs playing each other come to an end.

“It stinks,” said Lavine. “And that’s a week you don’t have to worry about motivation at all. The week takes care of itself, the motivation takes care of itself. Practices are always a little bit different. You can do some neat things that week.”

Panther Valley also won’t be playing the likes of area teams like Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, Palmerton, Northern Lehigh or Northwestern, all of which are in Class 3A. Marian also avoids those schools, and Tamaqua, another 3A team.

“There’s a way to do it. Us and Thorpe, are on different levels right now,” said Lavine. “They’re a bigger school, they have a lot more ... I know they’re close, but we’re on different levels right now.

“But us and Marian, are probably very similar in kids, very similar in size, very similar in demographics. We should be playing each other. And it’s frustrating, and it’s also frustrating that it’s a two-year cycle, so it’s not next year either.”

There have been plenty of intriguing matchups, such as Lehighton playing Palmerton, Tamaqua taking on Northwestern and Jim Thorpe facing Northern Lehigh, among others, on this year’s schedule.

The Indians continue their series with the Olympians to close out the season, while the Bombers and Bulldogs also meet again in the season finale and the Raiders conclude with the Panthers. The Colts finish the year with Pine Grove.

There will be no less passion for any of those or other contests on each team’s schedule. But the loss of a Coal Region classic will be hard to replace.

“You get kids who go through it, and you remember PV-Marian,” said Lavine. “Wins, losses, whatever. You remember it. It’s a shame that these guys aren’t going to experience that. I don’t know what happened in the past or what it was or why it didn’t happen, but it’s a shame.

“The ideas of this league, there’s a lot of good things, but there’s stuff that got missed as well. And that’s one of them. PV not playing Marian is one of them. Not only that, that would be a nice gate for both schools. It helps booster clubs, it helps everything.”

Dakosty echoed those sentiments.

“I want what’s best for our football programs,” stressed Dakosty. “I think everybody wants the natural rivalries. No matter what the record was at PV-Marian, the place was going to be packed. And you miss out on that.”


COMEBACK KIDS ... Pleasant Valley erased a 16-6 deficit last Friday against Dieruff and pulled away in the second half for a 41-16 victory.

The last time the Bears rallied from being down double digits was Oct. 23, 2015 when they trailed East Stroudsburg North 13-0 but rebounded to score the game’s final 21 points.

Over the past 35 years, PV has more double-digit wins than any other area team. The Bears have come back from 10-or-more points 14 times now. The next closest to them is Jim Thorpe with 11. Also, over that time span Pleasant Valley also has the largest comeback, overcoming a 23-point deficit against East Stroudsburg South during the 2014 season.


BOMBER RECORD PART I ... Palmerton’s Matt Machalik and Dalton Drake both had record-setting performances for Palmerton (THE BOMBERS) in last week’s win over Jim Thorpe. Machalik threw for 305 yards, breaking the school record of 302 he set the previous week. Drake, meanwhile, caught eight passes for 189 yards, which broke the school’s single-game mark of 153 set by Steve Endres in 1989.

With his back-to-back 300-yard passing game, Machalik is just one of two area players to accomplish that feat over the past 35 years. The only other quarterback to do that was Panther Valley’s Cazzie Kosciolek, who threw for 325 yards on Nov. 6, 1992 and then totaled 307 the following week on Nov. 14, 1992.

As for Drake, his 189 yards is tied with Lehighton’s JT Keer (10/2/09) for the 14th highest in the area over the past 35 years. The most in a game is Panther Valley’s Fenton Black, who accounted for 252 of the 307 yards Kosciolek threw for in the Nov. 14, 1992 contest.


BOMBER RECORD PART II? ... Palmerton may have set another school record in last week’s game.

With Machalik also leading a rushing attack that posted 289 yards, the Bombers finished the contest with 594 yards of offense.

Since 1987, that’s the most yards gained by a Palmerton team in a single game. Its previous high was 558 against Bangor on Sept. 18, 2015.

The 594 yards are also the fifth most among area teams (since 1987). Lehighton has three of the four highest totals (643, 617 and 596), while Pleasant Valley boasts the other one (617).


RARICK’S PICK-SIX ... Lehighton’s Ian Rarick helped seal his team’s win against Wilson last Saturday when he intercepted a pass in the third quarter and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown.

The last time an Indian player had a pick-six that long was Aug. 29, 2014 - 91 games ago - when Tegan Durishin snared an enemy pass and took it 73 yards the other way.

Rarick’s 67-yarder is the fifth longest at Lehighton over the past 30 years. Beside Durishin, the others belong to Jon Strauss (92 yards on Sep. 2, 2011), J.T. Keer (72 yards on Sept. 4, 2009) and Nate Rabenold (70 yards on Sept. 2, 2004).


SPREADING THE WEALTH ... Panther Valley rolled to a 33-8 victory over Shenandoah Valley last Thursday. In the game, five different players (Mergim Bushati, Austin Hadley, Michael Pascoe, Trey McAndrew and Brennan Kunkel) scored touchdowns.

The last time the Panthers had five different players cross the goal line in a contest was Oct. 7, 2016 - 54 games ago - during a 34-30 victory over Shenandoah. The players recording touchdowns included Xander Skoutelas-Kern, Danny Gilberry, Josue Rodriguez, Hunter Kennedy and Tristan Blasko.