Coach Justin Wheeler has been touting his Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School Marauders as a potential playoff football team, and they went a long way to showing he wasn't blowing any smoke by beating Cambria Heights last week.
"It was a big win for us. Cambria Heights is a great team," Wheeler said. "They're well-coached. They're athletic. For us to get down early, fight to come back and get a win after that was just great for our kids, for our program.
"The only problem is, in the Laurel Highlands, there's never a week off."
Wheeler definitely isn't blowing any smoke with that comment, either. The Marauders' reward for an affirming win over one of the preseason playoff favorites in District 6 Class AA is a trip to Sidman, where they'll try to end a three-year, 13-game road losing streak against a Forest Hills team that has won nine district titles and is off to a 2-1 start this year with a pair of shutout wins.
Kickoff for tonight's LHAC Section 1 game at G.H. Miller Stadium is 7 p.m.
"We enjoyed Friday night," Wheeler said. "Saturday, we got together as a team. We watched the film. After it was over, we said, 'It's Forest Hills week.' In the Laurel Highlands, there's never a week to rest. It's tough team after tough team. We definitely have to get back to work."
Game: Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders (2-1) vs. Forest Hills Rangers (2-1)
Where: G.H. Miller Stadium, Sidman
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Bishop Guilfoyle - Justin Wheeler (3-9, second year); Forest Hills - Don Bailey (326-89-8, 39th year)
Series record: Forest Hills, 5-2
Last meeting: Forest Hills, 49-14 (Sept. 23, 2011)
Although it entered the season short on returnees and with one of the lowest player turnouts in Don Bailey's four decades as coach, Forest Hills is a 10-6 loss to Bishop McCort from being undefeated.
"We're going to see a balanced football team," Wheeler said of the Rangers. "They've had some huge success running the ball. They threw the ball well last week. We're going to have to be a disciplined football team this week."
Shawn Dell and Jared Shope, two of the Rangers' few known commodities entering the season, have gotten off to good starts. Dell has rushed for 282 yards and is averaging more than 10 yards per carry, while Shope has caught 17 passes.
The big revelation has been sophomore quarterback Joe Donoughe, who is completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 545 yards and also has run for nearly 100 yards.
"We brought him down as a freshman last year maybe hoping he could be the quarterback of the future, and we give him plays we think he can be successful with," Bailey said. "He's a different quarterback than we've had in the past in that he's a runner as well as a thrower. He's got excellent speed. He's a lot like [Guilfoyle sophomore quarterback Brandon] Chadbourn."
After getting outmuscled early by Heights last week, the Marauder defense punched back, holding the physical Highlanders to less than 200 yards as Jextin Pugh and Cody Rossman made 11 tackles apiece and Nick Little chipped in with nine. Wheeler said the decision was made to go to a goal-line defense to stop Heights' running game; he feels the defensive line's play will be pivotal again tonight.
"If we can stop the run, I think that's the first thing you have to do. If Coach Bailey can run the ball, he's going to," Wheeler said. "Offensively and defensively, first down is crucial that we stop the run and that we get some yardage. If they get in second-and-short, that opens up their entire playbook and puts our defense at a disadvantage."
Last week's game against Bishop Carroll was the first time this season the Rangers gave up more than 170 yards, but they still posted a 27-0 shutout.
"We've beaten two teams that haven't won any games, so the schedule has been in our favor, but you can't take credit away from the good things we've done, and we have played good defense," Bailey said. "Our secondary's been playing very well - and they'll probably be tested by Guilfoyle's young quarterback - and our defensive front's been doing well. We've been changing up a lot on defense. We move around quite a bit. We're not very big, but we think we have a bit of quickness."
Chadbourn has thrown for three touchdowns without being picked off so far, while Rossman is coming off his second straight 80-yard rushing performance for the Marauders.
This game kicks off what Bailey called the "meat of the schedule" for the Rangers, who then face Heights and Penn Cambria in two of the following three games. For Guilfoyle, this marks the third game in a hazardous four-game stretch that began with defending 6-AA finalist Richland and concludes next Saturday against undefeated Penn Cambria.
A win tonight assures the Marauders at least a split.
"You know what you're going to get with Forest Hills. They're going to be tremendous kids," Wheeler said. "They've had a lot of lot there, so those kids believe they can win. We know they're going to be ready to play. But we told our kids after the Richland game we have to take care of ourselves."