Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School's football team was just trying to survive Justin Wheeler's first season as coach, but a 42-0 opening game win over Bedford has raised the bar dramatically in Wheeler's second season at the helm.
"My first thought is that we're healthy," said a chuckling Wheeler, whose Marauders lost six players to injury in the first game of 2011 and were banged up all year. "We're healthy, and we played well. I was really happy. A few days later, I continue to be happy with that performance. We got to experience starting out on a positive note."
The Marauders rushed for more than 300 yards, allowed 103 total and posted their second shutout win in just over four seasons. Now they'll try to keep their momentum while winning back-to-back games for the first time since September 2009 as they begin a brutal stretch of their schedule on Friday night at defending District 5-6 Class AA finalist Richland.
Kickoff between the two 1-0 Laurel Highlands Conference teams is slated for 7 p.m.
"Richland is just a tremendous team. It's back to work," Wheeler said.
The Rams were the pick of Laurel Highlands Conference Section 2 coaches as the preseason favorite there, but few expected Richland to go into Patton and jump all over a veteran Cambria Heights team in week 1, 38-20.
"The staff did a great job getting our kids ready. We were very happy with the way they handled the trip up there on Friday night and just came out with a workmanlike, businesslike attitude. I really felt we dominated both sides of the ball," Rams coach Brandon Bailey said.
Although running back-linebacker John Rizzo has graduated after four years of giving Ram foes a handful, Richland's offense didn't miss a beat, with quarterbacks Matt Shaffer and Nico Pecora teaming up to complete 18-of-24 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rams rushed for 167 yards, too.
"They almost have become a more balanced team this year," Wheeler said. "They seem to be willing to do more different things, which poses a problem defensively for us."
Wheeler said the toughest job will fall to his linebackers, who will have to be aware of both the run and the pass and up to containing both. Cody Rossman, Rob Luciano, Owen Wolf, D.J. Kitt and Matt Gormley will be in the Marauders' rotation at linebacker; Rossman had 10 tackles, Kitt a sack and Luciano a forced fumble against Bedford.
Even if Guilfoyle gives up points, the Marauders showed the ability to put some on the board themselves. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Chadbourn rushed for more than 160 yards in the opener and had a long touchdown run. BG has good size up front and depth, as well.
"They certainly don't look like the 1-9 team we played last year," Bailey said. "Coach Wheeler has done a nice job. They've got a lot of young talent, and they mix in some veteran leadership. They looked really good in the scrimmages we scouted, and, against Bedford, they were definitely the dominant team."
The Marauders looked like a team that could be a strong contender for a deep run into the Class A playoffs in their opener. However, with only the top eight teams going in this season, it might take six wins just to qualify, and Guilfoyle's schedule is brutal.
The next month is particularly tough. After Richland, BG faces, in order, the top three teams in Section 1 of the LHAC: Cambria Heights, Forest Hills and Penn Cambria.
"It's been easy [to keep the players focused], because last year was a difficult season, and they've been working really hard. After getting that first win, they're actually a hungry football team," Wheeler said. "If we bring our 'A' game every week, I think we have a shot at the end."