Penn Cambria hoping to turn things around against BG

The Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School football team seems to have found itself, now the Marauders will look to keep on the right path against an opponent looking to do the same.

“It’s always tough when you’re losing,” Penn Cambria coach Jason Grassi said. “The kid’s attitudes have been great. We just reiterate we’re staying positive. We’re getting better. We’re better each game.”

Grassi’s Panthers don’t have much to show for it yet – they are 0-4 – but they’re hoping to change that on Friday night when they host Guilfoyle, coached by former Penn Cambria standout and current middle school administrator Justin Wheeler in a Laurel Highlands Conference Section 1 matchup.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. BG is 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the section after an 0-2 start. Penn Cambria is 0-2 in section play.

“I actually work in the same building as Coach Grassi and Coach [Ben] Watt, one of [Penn Cambria’s] O-Line/D-Line coaches. We see each other quite a bit, and we talk about this and that. They’re a good group of guys, and they work extremely hard,” Wheeler said. “They’re going to find their way just fine. They’re going to do a good job.

“It’s pretty exciting for me each year to go back to Penn Cambria. It’s definitely emotional. It’s definitely one we want to win each year.”

The Marauders definitely enter the game as the favorite this season, but Wheeler needs little reminder of just how tenuous that position can be. Last year, Penn Cambria arrived at Mansion Park as an undefeated favorite and dropped a 14-8 decision.

Plus, it wasn’t all that long ago that Guilfoyle was trying to answer many of the same questions the Panthers are trying to answer now. In its first two games this season, BG was 0-2 and only had scored 24 points.

The Panthers come in having only allowed 85 points through four games, just 12 more than the Marauders have surrendered this season. Linebacker Payton Behe already has 61 tackles, including 16 in the opposing backfield. Tyler Strasser has 36 tackles and six tackles for loss.

“We know they have some talent and some skill. It’s just some new guys with a new system. I know what it’s like installing it the first year. It’s tough that first year to kind of get things rolling,” said Wheeler, who went 1-8 in his first year at the Pleasant Valley school before turning it around and going 9-3 last year, making the playoffs. “But, any week, that could change.”

The problem for the Panthers has been getting the talent that has performed well on the defensive end to translate to offense. Penn Cambria ranks at the bottom of area teams in scoring with just 22 points. It hasn’t helped that the Panthers have turned the ball over 11 times so far, another thing with which Wheeler and Guilfoyle (13 giveaways) can sympathize.

The Panthers are averaging 137.8 yards per game and are coming off a shutout loss at Bishop Carroll. PC also was held without a touchdown by Bedford. However, they came up just short of knocking off 3-1 Central Cambria two weeks ago.

“We’re flying around. We’re bending and we’re not breaking. But the defense has been on the field entirely too long,” Grassi said. “Offensively, we’re just trying to find an identity. We’re struggling a little bit offensively. I obviously thought by now offensively we’d be moving a little bit better than we have been. We’re killing ourselves with penalties and a breakdown here or there.

“Hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll break out.”

Grassi thinks no time would be better than the present.

“We need to move the ball and keep [their offense] off the field as much as possible,” Grassi said. “They’re athletic and they’re big and a physical football team. We know they’re going to come right at you, and we have to find a way to move the ball offensively.”

Easier said than done. Keyed by its terrific secondary of Sam McCloskey, Matt Young and brothers Brandon and Evan Chadbourn, the Marauders have held their last two foes to 17 points combined. Brandon Chadbourn also returned a pair of punts for touchdowns and got his first start of the year at quarterback in Guilfoyle’s surprisingly easy 40-14 win over Forest Hills, while the Marauders rushed for better than 200 yards for the second straight game.

“I think we all took a breath like now we’re where we thought we would be. This is the team we thought we had and just haven’t played to our potential,” Wheeler said. “We were excited. Getting Brandon back at quarterback might have been just the spark we needed.”