Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic broke into the win column a little later than expected this season, but now that the Marauders have a victory under their belts, they're hoping to use it to propel them to some better things.
"Anytime in the Laurel Highlands [Conference] that you get a win, it's good. It definitely was important to get that ball rolling in the right direction," Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said when asked about the significance of last Friday's 17-3 Section 1 win at Cambria Heights. "We've been struggling to find our way here a little bit, making some mistakes, and those have cost us. We still made mistakes, but we were able to get a win.
"I told the guys the next step is no mistakes and get a win."
It might take that for the Marauders to even their record at 2-2, because the margin for error looks like it will be slimmer on Saturday night as Guilfoyle returns home to Mansion Park to face District 6 Class AA power Forest Hills in LHAC Section 1 action.
The Rangers come in with a 2-1 record. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
"Last year, we won 14-0 at their place, and it was a battle the entire game," Wheeler said. "We look at this game as [having] a lot of similarity."
Game: Forest Hills Rangers (2-1) vs. Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders (1-2)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Forest Hills - Don Bailey (335-93-9, 40th year); Bishop Guilfoyle - Justin Wheeler (11-13, third year)
Series record: Forest Hills, 5-3 (first met in a 1982 playoff game)
Last meeting: Bishop Guilfoyle, 14-0 (Sept. 21, 2012)
The Marauders not only get a dangerous opponent, but they get one that is coming in smarting. Hampered by several key injuries early in the contest, the Rangers were surprised at home last week by upstart Bishop Carroll 16-0 for their first setback in three starts. Forest Hills had defeated Westmont Hilltop and Bishop McCort in its first two games.
The bright spot for the Rangers is a run defense that has given up less than 110 yards per game.
"I think our defense has played well enough to win all three games," Forest Hills coach Don Bailey said. "We've always played well against the run. We had a couple of injuries in the preseason that hurt our secondary, and we're searching for another defensive back, so we know that other teams are probably going to try to throw the football on us."
Whether Guilfoyle is in a position to exploit that, though, is a big question. The Marauders were down to their third quarterback last week when converted receiver Damon Rickens injured his shoulder and was probably lost for the year. Brandon Chadbourn, the starter at the beginning of last year and the presumptive starter heading into this season, has been limited offensively because he's been hurt, too. With them sidelined, BG only threw seven times last game and continued to be dogged by turnovers, committing four more to bring their season total to 11.
Wheeler turned to Sam McCloskey against Heights. He responded by churning out a team-best 70 yards and scoring a touchdown as Guilfoyle's offensive turned in its best offensive performance in terms of both yardage and scoring.
Wheeler didn't tip his hand as to whether Chadbourn or McCloskey will get the call under center on Saturday.
"Sammy did a lot of good things for us. With another week of reps, we think he can be even better," Wheeler said. "Sometimes you just put your best athletes in positions to help you, and Sam is definitely one of those. He stepped into that role and did a lot of great things for us Friday night and got us the win."
Because of the injuries, Wheeler has had to do some reshuffling. D.J. Kitt and Aaron Yasulitis combined for more than 100 yards on the ground against Cambria Heights. With Rickens and now McCloskey getting moved around, Nick Miller has been starting as a receiver since the first game.
Forest Hills, though, comes into the contest banged up, as well. Two-way starting linemen Paul Lauffer and Anthony Gibson both left the Carroll game in the first quarter and didn't return; neither is expected to get on the field against Bishop Guilfoyle. Ranger starting tailback/cornerback Jared Krug was hurt, too - Bailey said his playing status was questionable.
Forest Hills still has a gem in starting quarterback Joe Donoughe, who has throws for 450 yards and rushed for a team-high 208. Even so, each of the Rangers' last two games have been low scoring, and, with Guilfoyle boasting a pretty good defense, too, this matchup might follow suit.
"We're going to have to be able to establish some kind of a running game to be successful," Bailey said. "[BG's defenders] are very aggressive, they're very well-coached, they're very quick, and they gang tackle and they get to the ball. Plus, they're athletic enough to cover in the secondary."
A big play or a break either way might be enough to decide things.
"Their defense is a bunch of guys that fly around and make plays, and our defense has gotten better and has done some good things," Wheeler said. "We still feel we could explode at any moment and score some points if we can just keep from turning the ball over. If you only have 10 possessions per game, and you turn it over five times, it really limits the number of points you can score."