Penn Cambria doesn't have a rusher with more than 206 yards, a receiver with more than seven catches, a quarterback with more than 11 completions or the services of one of its top returning players and his younger brother.
What the Panthers do have through four games this season is four wins, all by at least 25 points, three by the mercy rule.
"It's really been a nice thing when so many different kids play. We play a lot of kids," Penn Cambria coach Ernie Fetzer said. "We've just been really pleased with the number of kids that have performed."
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn Cambria’s Justin Fuller looks to make a cut in a recent game for the Panthers.
Fetzer's 30th season as a head high school football coach is shaping up as one of his best, as the Panthers, despite being double-A, have essentially completely different starting units on offense and defense, with only three or four players starting both ways. That's even without injured James Mardula, who has been a Mirror all-star in the past, and his sophomore brother, Mark, who hasn't played after leading Penn Cambria in rushing in the first game of the season.
For the Panthers to remain perfect, though, they'll have to find a way to overcome a 3-1 Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic team with a big, powerful front line and an outstanding defense. The Marauders also are coached by Justin Wheeler, a star player at Penn Cambria in the 1990s and a former assistant of Fetzer's.
Kickoff Saturday night at Mansion Park in the game for first place in Section 1 of the Laurel Highlands Conference is 7 p.m.
Game: Penn Cambria Panthers (4-0) vs. Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders (3-1)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Penn Cambria - Ernie Fetzer (182-122-3, 30th year); Bishop Guilfoyle - Justin Wheeler (4-9, second year)
Series record: Bishop Guilfoyle, 9-8-1
Last meeting: Penn Cambria, 29-7 (Sept. 30, 2011)
Guilfoyle has held three opponents to seven points or fewer and is coming off its second shutout of the season at Forest Hills. This game marks the conclusion of a difficult four-game stretch in the Marauder schedule that began at still-unbeaten Richland and then brought Guilfoyle home to face Cambria Heights. Wheeler sees this week's encounter as a fitting climax.
"We know this is a tremendous team. We think this is the best team we'll see all year," Wheeler said.
High praise, but certainly earned so far this season. After going 9-3 last year, the Panthers returned many key components from that playoff squad, including the elder Mardula, standout linebackers Mack Behe and Devin Lawhead and 6-foot-6 receiver Nathan Keagy. Behe made all-state last year, and Lawhead is leading a defense that only has given up 21 points this season in tackles.
Fetzer alternates two quarterbacks - Brendan Eckenrode and Chad Tsikalas - and they've combined for 400 yards while completing nearly 50 percent of their throws. The PC running game averages more than 235 yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry with seven different ballcarriers having toted the ball at least 11 times.
"It's definitely difficult [to prepare]. Penn Cambria, in the past, has had primarily one back that it counted on. This year is different. They depend on everybody a little bit," Wheeler said.
Guilfoyle, though, counters with a pretty good defense. Richland is the only team to gain more than 182 yards on the Marauders, who've also forced 11 turnovers. It starts with a formidable group up front that includes 270-pound Mike Pleva, 250-pound Jextin Pugh, 230-pound Nick Little and 220-pound Nick Ceschini.
"Their front four on defense are really good. I'm not saying the other kids aren't, just that those four kids really stand out and pose a lot of problems," Fetzer said. "They have a very solid team, and they are very well-rounded."
One player it doesn't look like Fetzer will have to worry about is Marauder dual-threat quarterback and defensive back Brandon Chadbourn. The star sophomore was injured last week, and Wheeler said he wouldn't play against Penn Cambria.
Wheeler, though, entered the preseason with three candidates to line up under center. Pat Irwin was the starter last year but moved to receiver this year. Damon Rickens came in last week after Chadbourn was forced from the game.
"It was a tight race for the second position. We're working them both," Wheeler said. "We like that position."
As if there wasn't enough hype surrounding this game, there's also the fact that Wheeler coached the Panther seniors when they were sophomores. He still is an administrator in the Penn Cambria Middle School and comes in contact with the players there.
"The kids are great. They know it's in good fun. They've been stopping by this week a little more often," Wheeler said.
Wheeler's staff includes others with Penn Cambria ties, like James Poldiak and Jordan Plunkett. It's something else for Fetzer to think about as his team starts a pivotal four-game stretch that includes games against Heights, Forest Hills and Richland.
"I'm happy for them," Fetzer said. "Do I get consumed with it? As long as I don't have to play against Poldiak and Wheeler, I'm OK. But no, the bottom line is that it's their kids against our kids."