Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic entered the 2013 season with designs on capturing the District 6 Class A football championship trophy.
The Marauders still might be the best single-A team in the district, but the unforgiving nature of the Laurel Highlands Conference has put their backs up against the wall to the point that survival the regular season is a bigger priority than playoff glory at the current time.
"We can't even talk about the playoffs right now. I told the guys you can't get eight wins unless you get one," Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. "We have to focus on the one in front of us right now."
And that one isn't going to be a cakewalk either as the 0-2 Marauders make the half-hour trip northwest on Route 36 to take on a Cambria Heights squad that is 1-1 and looking to make a playoff return trip of its own.
Kickoff on Friday at Patton Stadium for the LHAC Section 1 opener for both schools is slated for 7 p.m.
Heights looked like it might be looking for its first win, as well, but the Highlanders came up big in the fourth quarter last week without their starting quarterback to pull off a thrilling 36-35 win against visiting Westmont Hilltop.
Game: Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders (0-2) vs. Cambria Heights Highlanders (1-1)
Where: Patton Stadium, Patton
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Bishop Guilfoyle - Justin Wheeler (10-13, third year); Cambria Heights - Jarrod Lewis (13-10, third year)
Series record: Bishop Guilfoyle, 16-4 (first met in 1961)
Last meeting: Bishop Guilfoyle, 17-7 (Sept. 14, 2012)
"Anytime you get that first win of the year, it's a great thing. Obviously the sooner the better," Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said. "I thought we did some good things. We fixed some mistakes from week 1. I thought our line play was pretty good. Having some guys out, some guys stepped up in a big way and really helped the team. There's still a lot of areas where we can improve. We need to clean up some of our mistakes and take care of the football a little bit better."
With two-way starter Richard Legros out because of injury, Heights got 130 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Josh Fees to rally for victory. It was the second week in a row that the Highlanders accumulated more than 200 yards on the ground, a regular occurrence when the team made the District 6 Class AA playoffs for the first time in more than a decade last year.
That's something sure to grab Wheeler's attention. Guilfoyle is allowed more than 270 yards per game rushing this season in losses to Bedford and Richland.
"What they do best is run the ball between the tackles," Wheeler said. "They've got a big offensive line and big backs, and Fees is a tough kid."
Legros is likely to miss this week's game, too; if so, Shawn Lacue will spell him in the secondary, and sophomore Eddie Link will step in at quarterback. Link was 3-for-7 for 35 yards against Westmont. Defensive back Clayton Schinkle also is an injury question mark.
"We have a lot of confidence in Eddie. We kept the same gameplan as we had for Richard. We thought Eddie did a good job. He made some sophomore mistakes, but we felt he got better as the game went along and that week of confidence is going to be good for him going forward," Lewis said.
The Marauders could use some confidence themselves right about now, although many teams probably wouldn't have fared much better against their first two opponents.
"They [our players] know that if we don't make some mistakes and we make a couple of more plays, we feel like we could have hung in there and fought to the end," Wheeler said. "We looked at those games and haven't felt we've done the things that we needed to do."
Guilfoyle has been playing without its starting quarterback, too: Wheeler said Brandon Chadbourn, who has been getting spot time at other positions on offense and playing defense, with Damon Rickens again playing quarterback instead of receiver.
Lewis doesn't think Guilfoyle's record reflects the team's ability.
"There's so much parity in the Laurel Highlands. You know they're much better than that record. We're in for a dogfight. They're a tremendous football team," Lewis said.
To make the playoffs, Guilfoyle might almost have to win out.
"We feel pretty confident the rest of the season that we're not going to face teams that are way ahead of us in terms of talent. We feel we're pretty talented," Wheeler said. "We know it's going to be tough in the Laurel Highlands, but we made a nice run last year and had a lot of experience coming back. We just need to catch a break and put four quarters of good football together. If we can do that, we can start getting on the right side of the scoreboard."