NB, Tussey thinking D5 hardware

Traditionally, Northern Bedford’s been one of the most successful high school football programs in the Mirror coverage area.

As hard as it might be to believe, though, the Black Panthers only have captured a pair of district championships in their history. The Panthers walked off with the District 5 Class A title in 1992 and then again in 1995.

Since then, there’ve been a couple of close calls, but no hardware to show for it.

It’s not just a Panther problem either.

No team from Bedford County has prevailed in District 5 Class A in 18 years.

Both NBC and Tussey Mountain are aiming to end that drought this year, and both the Panthers and Titans have the tools to do it, although they go about their business in much different ways.

The two schools from the Mirror coverage area will start off what they hope ends with one of them hoisting the 5-A trophy as part of a seven-team tournament on Friday night. Northern Bedford, the second seed, hosts seventh-seeded Shade, while No. 3 Tussey entertains sixth-ranked North Star. If both local entries win this week, one of them definitely will play in the district final, because they are in the same side of the bracket.

Northern and Tussey are 8-2. Defending champion Berlin Brothersvalley is the top seed and gets a bye into the semifinals with a 9-1 mark.

“We’ve had a few nicks and bruises, a few injury issues. We’re hoping that takes care of itself this week,” Northern Bedford coach Jeff Batzel said. “We’re improved during the season. I’m elated with the 8-2 regular season considering we had fewer starters coming back than a Northern Bedford team has had in a long, long time. I’m excited.”

Batzel has five seniors on this team and just had starters back at five positions. However, the development of Blake Over from a very good to great passer has spearheaded the Panthers ability to enter the postseason without really losing much of a step.

Over should surpass the 2,400-yard passing mark this week and, judging by past performances, has a chance to surpass the 2,600-yard plateau for the season. Over has had different leading receivers each week and has complimented his throwing with more than 500 yards running the ball.

Even in this day and age, a passer with that kind of proficiency is a rare thing and presents an unusual challenge for any secondary.

“I think it’s very beneficial because we can put up a lot of points,” Batzel said. “We’re dangerous on any given play. On any play, we can score. The biggest benefit is we can have a subpar defensive effort and still outscore people.”

Ironically, the Panthers open against a Shade team coached by Don Fyfe, who was a pretty fair passer himself when he went to high school at nearby Chestnut Ridge. Shade, also nicknamed the Panthers, takes a 5-5 mark into the playoffs.

“They have a very diverse and creative offense that is capable of putting up some points and giving us some problems,” Batzel said. “We’re going to have to be prepared for everything that they do and the multiple formations that they give us.”

Shade hasn’t been much of a playoff factor in District 5 in the last 25 years. The same can’t be said for Tussey’s opponent in the quarterfinals, North Star.

“We definitely have a hard test with North Star to start,” Tussey coach Josh Smith said.

The Cougars are the biggest school in the classification and have won five district championships in seven years. However, North Star is coming off a surprising 10-0 loss against Conemaugh Township and Tussey, which rebounded from a close loss at Mount Union by winning at Meyersdale – knocking the Red Raiders from the top seed in the process – looks like it should be able to advance.

“It’s always good to rebound on the road and build some confidence going into the playoffs against good teams,” Smith said. “We have a lot of confidence. This definitely is one of the best offensive teams we’ve ever put together, and, defensively, we’ve been pretty strong.”

While Northern Bedford has been winning through the air, Tussey Mountain has been achieving success on the ground. The Titans average more than 8 yards per carry and have scored 41 rushing touchdowns this season. Both Darrin Sipes and Daniel Taylor have 1,000 rushing yards and average more than 10 yards per rush.

“Not only do we have special athletes in Dan Taylor and Darrin Sipes at halfback, but it’s a testament to our line, the way they’ve played. They do a great job up front,” Smith said. “Our pass game has helped them out some more, because if they want to load up the box, we can go over the top of them.”

The Titans will be looking for some payback if they and Northern Bedford make it to the semifinals: The teams played in week 2, with the Panthers coming away with a 28-20 victory.

Berlin, which gashes opponents with a highly proficient running game, still looks like the favorite, but the Mountaineers probably won’t have an easy go of it. The Mountaineers will start off with the winner of the Windber-Meyersdale game. Meyersdale, the only team to beat Berlin all season, seems the probable opponent, but the Raiders had trouble with the Ramblers when they played in the second week of the year, so it they can’t afford to look ahead.

Berlin averages almost 300 yards per game on the ground. Sophomore Braden Fochtman leads the Mountaineers with more than 1,800 yards rushing. If Northern or Tussey are to bring a district championship back to Bedford County, they’ll have to find a way to contain him.