Being part of the Laurel Highlands Conference has made it more difficult for Bedford Area High School to maintain some of its closest rivalries.
The District 5-8 Class AA playoffs are the perfect place for the Bisons to renew them.
If the second-seeded Bisons are to play for a third district title in four years, they are going to have to beat neighboring Everett, which Bedford hasn't played in almost 20 years, on Saturday night. And, to win in the finals, Bedford probably is going to have to find a way to defeat Chestnut Ridge, who the Bisons have been playing to wrap up their season for the better part of the last 30 years but won't face in the regular season beginning next year.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Bedford quarterback Austin Montgomery will lead the second-seeded Bisons into the District 5-8 Class AA playoffs.
"It's high school football, and it's the playoffs," Bedford coach Kevin Steele said. "At the same time, we have to worry about what we do, and not what Everett does or the opponent. We've got to do what we do and do it well. We didn't necessarily do a great job of that [last] Friday night. We'll have to do better on Saturday than we did last Friday."
Steele's Bisons were positioned to be the No. 1 seed but were taken down by Ridge on their home field. Both Ridge and Bedford head into the four-team tournament with 7-3 marks, but the Lions had a slightly better rating to go along with the head-to-head victory.
Ridge, the defending champion which has stepped up its play in the second half of the year now that quarterback Beau Bosch is back healthy, kicks off tonight at home against Pittsburgh City League representative Westinghouse.
Steele thinks last week's setback might have been the eye-opener the Bisons, who actually are fairly youthful overall, needed.
"I think the mentality of our kids is positive. They recognize that we were a little bit overconfident going into that game, and we didn't play our best football. Obviously, give Chestnut Ridge credit, as well, but our kids know we made some mistakes, and we're going to work like crazy to correct those mistakes," Steele said.
Averaging more than 200 yards rushing and allowing around 150, Bedford was outgained on the ground 312-97 by Ridge. Only Richland held the Bisons to fewer rushing yards this year or ran for more.
And that is a concern against an Everett team that averages more than 250 pounds across its front line and can put the ball in the hand of speedsters like Kyle Sheaffer and Trevon Ward.
"They have some big-play potential. Certainly, we're going to have to do a good job of controlling their offense by being fundamentally sound," Steele said. "They have very impressive size on their O-line and D-line. That's going to present a challenge for our kids. Hopefully we'll be able to execute our assignments."
Everett lost to Ridge in last year's district final by a point and many of Mark Kirk's starters from that game are back. The Warriors, however, ended the regular season dropping four of five, and their lone win was by a single point against 2-8 Southern Huntingdon.
Kirk sees the postseason as a fresh start, though.
"We look at it as the second season. This is a one-game-a-week season," Kirk said. "We said at the beginning of the season we wanted to get back to that District 5 championship game. We kind of wiggled our way back into the playoffs. Our approach was to get back into that championship game, and, if we play well Saturday night, we'll be back in it."
For all its beef up front, the Warriors have struggled against the run down the stretch, and it won't be able to stay on course if that trend continues against Bedford.
"We're both ball-control teams," Kirk said. "I'm kind of an old Bill Parcells kind of guy. Sometimes your offense is your best defense. We need to stay on the field and chew up some clock."
Kirk is from the Harrisburg area, but the significance of this game isn't lost on him. The towns are eight miles apart and the series dates back to 1913, but the Warriors haven't played the Bisons since 1996.
"That's a long time ago. To our kids, that's like a hundred years ago. But, to the community, that's a big deal. A lot of teachers at Bedford went to Everett," Kirk said.
Steele was expecting senior Kody Blevins to be in the lineup for any playoff games after missing the Ridge contest. Blevins is a potential difference-maker: He's second on the Bisons in rushing, receiving and scoring, fourth in tackles, tied for second in interceptions and tops the team in fumbles caused and fumbles recovered.
It will be interesting to see how much of an impact Blevins has on a Bedford-Ridge rematch. The Lions have really hit a stride in the last month. Much of Ridge's offense is based on pre-snap reads, and Bosch, a veteran under center, is a master of it. He rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns last week, his best performance of the year.
Matt Wiley has been a steady presence in the Lion offense, and is closing in on 1,000 yards for the season. Ridge has won five of its last six and don't figure to have much trouble tonight with Westinghouse, which hasn't won or been in very many games since the first night of the season.
Chestnut Ridge nearly made it to the PIAA quarterfinals last year, losing a close game to Karns City in Clarion after going .500 during the season. This year's Lions are vastly improved defensively - they are allowing 18.5 points per game - so whoever comes out of this tournament will be on much better footing come interdistricts.
FACTBOX: District 5 Class AA at a glance
Seedings: 1, Chestnut Ridge (7-3); 2, Bedford (7-3); 3, Everett (4-6); 5, Westinghouse (1-8)
Defending champion: Chestnut Ridge
Most intriguing potential matchups: Westinghouse at Chestnut Ridge and Everett at Bedford in the semifinals; Everett or Bedford vs. Chestnut Ridge in the championship
Interesting facts: Ridge and Bedford just played in the last game of the regular season, with the Lions winning on the road to claim the No. 1 seed. That's Ridge's second straight win over the Bisons, only the second time in the series between the schools the Lions have strung together multiple wins. ... Ridge is seeking its third championship in five years after never having won a district title before that. Bedford's 2010 and 2011 championships gave the Bisons a District 5-leading 13 finals wins. ... Seven of Everett's games have been with Class A opponents. The defending district runner-up Warriors are seeking their first D5 trophy. ... Westinghouse is on an eight-game losing streak which includes a 34-6 defeat at the hands of District 5 Class A top seed Berlin Brothersvalley. The Bulldogs only have scored more than six points three times all season. From 1996-2007, District 5 played in a subregion with District 6.
District championship game: Nov. 15 at Panther Community Stadium, Loysburg
Mirror's team to beat: Bedford
Mirror's PIAA semifinalists: Richland and Imhotep Charter
Mirror's PIAA champion: Imhotep Charter