PINE TWP., Pa. — It’s the same old story all over again … won’t you lay it on the line.
High school football teams’ success almost always depends on the strength of the offensive line, and last season Pine-Richland was one of the strongest.
After graduating all five starters, four of which went on to play college football, Friday was our first chance to see this year’s edition of the Pine-Richland starting line, and they did not disappoint.
Seniors Ethan O’Neill and Trent Miller were joined by juniors Harrison Hayes, Miguel Jackson and John Swisher to help lead the Rams to a 21-0 victory over Penn Hills in the teams’ Week Zero matchup.
The Rams offense churned out 342 yards in the win including 139 on the ground. Pine-Richland held the ball for just 18:01 in the game, but that suits the offense just fine.
“We’re trying to get down the field quick, get the ball in our receivers and running backs’ hands quick,” said O’Neil. “One of our coaches said we’re trained different, and it shows when we’re going down the field as fast as we can.”
Junior quarterback Cole Spencer had the benefit of playing behind that massive offensive line last season, but with the new group this year he seemed to be satisfied with the short passes and the big-chunk plays leading to scores.
“If we have a big defensive line (against us), if we get on the ball quick, and they’re running behind us, it’s five yards, so we’re trying to get on the ball quick and get the defense talking,” said Spencer.
The first of the Rams’ three touchdowns came on a fourth-and-two short pass from Spencer to Meckler, who quickly turned up field and wove his way through the defense for a 45-yard touchdown.
“I kind of had to be the leader of the offense. It really helps to have D’Avay Johnson, Luke Miller and Eli Jochem all returning starters and to have Luke Meckler at running back. They all played last year, they all know what they’re doing.
Spencer took responsibility for a few false starts in the first quarter, but said the group got together at the half and tightened things up.
“Our part, we did really well,” said Miguel Jackson. “There are some things to work on, but at the end of the season, we should be good.”
There was the occasional quarterback hurry, and a lot of the plays were designed quarterback runs, but Spencer appeared poised and made the right reads throughout the night.
“As soon as we got the rhythm, we were good. We like that tempo. When we have that tempo, other teams can’t stop us,” said Jackson.
NOTES FROM THE PRESS BOX
· Miguel Jackson is going to be a problem this season. Listed at 6-foot-2 245-pounds, the junior looked unblockable at times coming off the edge. He was able to put his hand in the dirt as well as play a more traditional outside linebacker, but when he came it was usually a problem.
Without any official defensive states, Jackson had four or five tackles for loss, a half sack and another few tackles. It was a good start to the season after posting 57 tackles, 14 sacks and 15 tackles for loss as a sophomore last season.
· The scoreboard won’t show it, but Aakeem Snell played a strong game defensively for Penn Hills. The senior, who has offers from the likes of Ball State, Buffalo and Bowling Green, had one interception and was a few steps behind two others throughout the night.
Snell is a true ball-hawk in the middle of the field and will definitely see his interception total go up after he gets his timing down through another few games.
· Penn Hills looks to be in good hands at quarterback after the graduation of Hollis Mathis. In his first game as a starter, senior Eddie McKissick finished 13-22 for 152 yards and an interception late in the game.
McKissick started the game 10-10 but was conservative on a lot of his throws according to coach Brian Tarrant, who filled in for John LeDonne, who had to serve a one game suspension.
“It was a good first game,” said Tarrant. “He could have pushed the ball inot that intermediate range. He had some receivers open, but he was a little gun shy, trying not to make mistakes. We thought he could do a little bit more.
“We don’t usually tag receivers; you need to make your progressions and find the open guy. He was really checking down to the open guy they were leaving open, he was almost working into their plan in a certain way.”