Unbeatens include surprises

Less than one-third of the high school football season is a small sample size, but most coaches and players still have the right to be thrilled about a 3-0 start.

Penn Cambria and Chestnut Ridge each enter tonight’s fourth Friday of the season with 3-0 records in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, and in the case of the Panthers, this year’s start is a refreshing contrast to what was a difficult 2017 campaign.

Penn Cambria, which hosts Bedford (2-1) in a 7 p.m. conference game tonight at the Penn Cambria High School Athletic Field, went winless in 10 games last fall.

Penn Cambria coach John Franco said that this year’s 3-0 start is a step in the right direction and a morale-booster for his team, but he also cautioned against putting too much stock in the early-season success.

“It gives you a lot of positive feedback about the work that you’ve put in, particularly when you’re coming off the season that we had last year,” Franco said. “I think it does give you an extra boost of confidence and it kind of sets the tone for the rest of the season.

“But we’re still a work in progress,” Franco said. “One thing about starting 3-0 is that you’ve got to keep things in perspective. There is still a lot of season to go, and you can’t get too overblown with yourself just because you’ve started the season out fast. It’s nice to have a good, quick start. But there’s too much of the season still to go by — ask me after seven or eight games, when I’ll have a better perspective on things.”

Unlike Penn Cambria, Chestnut Ridge has experienced much recent success and is just continuing the trend with this year’s 3-0 start.

The Lions, who won District 5-8 Class 2A championships in both of the past two seasons, are coming off a 41-9 road drubbing of Somerset last week. Ridge opened the season with an impressive 28-12 win at Forest Hills, followed by a storm-abbreviated 22-0 shutout of Johnstown in the second game of the season.

Ridge hosts Westmont Hilltop (2-1) in a LHAC matchup at 7 p.m. tonight.

Ridge coach Max Shoemaker believes that his team’s early success is important.

“Certainly, it’s critical,” Shoemaker said. “Every year, you want to get off to a good start, and build from that foundation. We hope that we can continue to improve and get better, and get some of our younger guys more experience that will only make us stronger as the season unfolds.”

Franco said that senior leadership has been a big factor in Penn Cambria’s turnaround. Franco doled out special kudos to senior Marcus Wirfel, a two-way starter at guard and linebacker.

“I think that probably the key guy who has been the focal point for us has been Marcus Wirfel,” Franco said. “He’s been the leader on both sides of the ball, out in public, and in the locker room. He was one of our best leaders last year as a junior. He sets the tone for the team.”