Bishop Guilfoyle facing huge challenge in Richland

If Justin Wheeler was looking for an easy bounce-back game for his Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School football team this week, he didn’t do a very good job finding it.

The Marauders return home after their season-opening loss at Bedford to host Richland, which returns the core of a team that went all the was to the PIAA Class AA semifinals last year.

Kickoff at Mansion Park for the Laurel Highlands Conference intersectional clash will be at 7 p.m. Wheeler doesn’t think the challenge of the game can be overstated.

“If Richland doesn’t compete for a state championship this year, I’m sure they’ll be disappointed. That’s how good they are. Our kids know that,” Wheeler said of the 1-0 Rams. “But I told our kids it wasn’t about the opponent Friday night. It’s not about the opponent this week. It’s about us getting better as a football team each and every week and limiting mistakes. Our goals are a district title this year.”

Richland is the ideal measuring stick, then. The Rams are coming off a 48-7 pasting of Cambria Heights in which they ran for 221 yards, passed for 210 yards and came up with three turnovers.

“We’re very happy. We got out to I think a 41-7 halftime lead and kind of coasted in from there,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said.

The Rams have quite a dangerous two-headed monster in the backfield. Quarterback Matt Shaffer threw for 198 yards and four touchdowns against Heights and also tacked on a 73-yard touchdown run. Meanwhile, Tanner Solarczyk ran for 81 yards on just 10 carries and scored a TD. Shaffer threw for more than 2,000 yards last year, while Solarczyk rushed for more than 2,000.

On top of that, Richland receiver Kyle Flick is coming off a 57-catch season. He had three receptions for 109 yards and a score in the Rams’ opener.

“I’m not sure how many times they punted in the last year,” Wheeler said. “It’s a difficult matchup. They have probably three of the top four top kids in the league. For us, it’s about trying to control the ball and don’t give them turnovers.”

The Marauders gave the ball away four times last week and roughed the punter once to give the ball back to Bedford. All of those loomed large in a 13-10 loss.

“Coming away from that game, it’s all about us taking care of our own things,” Wheeler said. “We did some things to really hurt ourself.

“Last year, we were at the top of the area in turnover margin. We really focus on taking care of the ball. We did have some bad breaks. We also had some kids without much experience make some mistakes. It was just one of those nights.”

Wheeler had to deviate from his plan of using Brandon Chadbourn as the Marauders starting quarterback because of injury; Chadbourn played defense and saw spot time in the backfield. Damon Rickens moved from wideout to quarterback, accounting for 156 yards in total offense.

Wheeler said he expected Rickens to see most of the time under center this week, as well.

“Damon’s skill set is a little bit different. He is more of a true quarterback. It limits [what we do] a little bit, but, at times against Bedford, he was our best runner,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got to support him. The rest of the team has to rally around him.”

Bailey sees this as a potentially dangerous matchup early in the year.

“We know they’re very talented,” Bailey said. “On defense, we need to play assignment football and not give up any big plays.”

Guilfoyle was in a similar situation last year, but Pat Irwin stepped in at quarterback when Chadbourn got hurt and led the Marauders to the District 6 Class A semifinals.

“This is definitely a journey. It did not start the way we wanted. We just need to take a step in the right direction this week,” Wheeler said.