Bishop Carroll Catholic football coach Greg Snyder went to Johnstown the first Saturday of the high school football season to scout the Forest Hills/Westmont Hilltop game and noticed a bunch of his Husky players intermingled with those from Laurel Highlands Conference Section 1 rival Central Cambria, located a couple of deep passes away from BC on the outskirts of Ebensburg.
"They all carpooled down together," Snyder said. "They're friends. It's funny. A couple of Central Cambria kids were at our game congratulating our kids after the win [last] Saturday night."
Snyder knows Huskies and Red Devils will be doing the same this Saturday, but not nearly as eagerly, because this week they face off against each other in a clash of two of the surprise teams not only in the LHAC but in the entire area.
Kickoff at St. Francis' DeGol Field is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The teams combined for three victories all of last year and six over the last two years but both entire this week's clash at 3-1 and 2-0 in the section. Central Cambria coach Bill Corrente, though, isn't as shocked about the Red Devils' turnaround as most are.
"This senior class is a good class," Corrente, in his first year as a head coach after a lengthy stint as an assistant at Portage, said. "I thought if they could pick things up quickly enough, we could be competitive. They're a smart group of kids, and they have."
There are a number of similarities for the teams beyond their records, their location and that many of their players have grown up next door or across the street from each other. For one thing, losses to unbeaten Somerset are the only thing that separates either from sporting perfect marks themselves as they close on the midpoint of the season. For another, neither team really is an offensive juggernaut: They've combined for 130 points in the first month of the 2013 schedule.
That dovetails nicely, however, in what has made the Huskies and Devils winners so far - they boast two of the best defenses around.
Fresh off shutouts of Forest Hills and Penn Cambria, Bishop Carroll leads the area in points allowed by a wide margin, only surrendering 27. Central Cambria checks in at sixth with its opponents having scored all of 62 points.
Carroll's defense has been the model of balance. Eight Huskies have at least 20 tackles, but team-leader Alex Keim only has 39. BC's Brody Shuty is tied for the area lead in interceptions with three, while Marty Lessard had come up with three sacks.
"We talked a lot in the offseason about the focal point being our defense," said Snyder, whose team gave up 268 points last year. "It was just a matter of finding a couple of key cogs. We have a couple of seniors this year that have been injury-plagued, like our one linebacker, Ken Wyland. He missed his freshman, sophomore and junior year due to a very, very bad injury. He came back this year and has been such a great surprise. He actually won a starting position at linebacker."
The key to Central Cambria's success, meanwhile, has been opportunism. The Devils defense has come up with 13 turnovers already. Tanner Ambrisco is tied with Shuty for the area lead in interceptions.
"The centerpiece, I think, is our linebacking crew," Corrente said. "Both linebackers are back, Micah Magley and Scott Bauer. They are doing a phenomenal job from the inside out. Plus, we have a couple of kids that came on board with us this year that didn't play last year."
Bauer comes into the game with 51 stops, Magley with 49. They'll have to deal with a Carroll offense that hasn't put up gaudy numbers but has become more efficient and productive as the year has progressed.
Central Cambria has a three-game winning streak on the line.
"The first game, we moved the ball, we just couldn't finish," Corrente said. "Against Johnstown, we finished a few things. We blocked better, we hit the hole better, we learned to adjust."
Corrente has brought the Delaware Wing-T with him from Portage, and the Devils are averaging more than 5 yards per carry. Bauer tops the team with 273 yards on the ground, and quarterback Will Seymour has 378 passing to go with 229 rushing.
It's been a few years since Ebensburg has had much to be excited about football-wise, but this matchup seems to have given fans an opportunity to make up for lost time.
"It just adds to the great rivalry in this town," Snyder said. "I've already been hearing it [on Monday]. People were talking about how excited they were to go to the game. That makes me feel good. That has to make the kids feel good, too."