CV presents speedy challenge for Bisons
High expectations bring with them the potential of a major letdown if things don’t work out the way people anticipate they will.
When the Bedford football team lost in overtime to Bald Eagle Area in its PIAA opener a year ago, the focus was immediately put on making it back to that point in 2020 and even further.
With plenty of returning talent and skill players like quarterback Mercury Swaim, fullback Elijah Cook and a do-it-all athlete like Steven Ressler, the Bisons seemed like a good bet to do so until the coronavirus pandemic put all of that into question.
Despite facing a possible shutdown of its season week in and week out, Bedford rolled to nine wins in its first nine games, including a District 5-9 Class 3A championship over Clearfield, a regular-season triumph over District 6 Class 2A champion Richland and a PIAA victory over District 6 champion Central in the same round it lost to BEA last season.
But the pandemic threatened to put all of that at stake last week when Bisons coach Kevin Steele wasn’t able to be cleared prior to Bedford’s game against Hickory in the PIAA quarterfinals. Steele had received a preliminary negative test for COVID-19 but had symptoms of the virus and was forced to stay at home during one of the biggest games in Bedford football history.
“We had a station set up in the bedroom where I was Facetiming and watching the game with the coaches in the press box,” Steele said. “I had my computer up with the NFHS Network up, which was like two plays behind. I’d watch the play with the staff, talk our way through it, and then I’d have replay on the NFHS Network as well. I tried to contribute the best I could, but it definitely wasn’t the same as being there, that’s for sure.”
As it turned out, the worst part for Steele was not getting a chance to be there to experience his team’s historic 34-17 triumph that put Bedford into the PIAA semifinals for the first time.
“I wish I could have been there in person, but I spoke to the kids on Zoom Friday morning and told them it’s their team,” Steele said. “They are the ones who put in all the work and blood, sweat and tears to get to this point. The part I missed was being able to enjoy it with them. We have such a great group of kids that have worked so hard, and it was disappointing for me not to be able to enjoy the victory with them, but they deserve it. We have great players and coaches, and it made me proud to see them go out and play the way that they did.”
Now, the Bisons get their shot at WPIAL champion Central Valley at Mansion Park on Friday at 7 p.m. Steele is cleared to coach in the game.
“Offensively, they are so explosive,” Steele said. “They have playmakers all over the field with excellent team speed. We have to do a great job on defense taking great pursuit angles and tackling well and not letting their athletes get into space. They are also dangerous on their kick and punt return game where they have had a lot of returns for touchdowns.
“Defensively, they are very athletic with great team speed. Their front four is physical with good athleticism. We’re not going to get anywhere without earning it, so we expect a tough, physical game with some great athletes on their side.”
Senior quarterback Ameer Dudley has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns, and the Warriors are averaging 289 yards rushing per game led by junior Landon Alexander, who has 1,168 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Dudley committed to Harvard on Monday.
“I feel good where we’re at, and I think every coach will tell you that they hope you’re peaking at this time, and I feel like we are,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “We have to take care of our possessions. We have to make each possession count. It would be nice to score on each and every possession, but you have to make sure you are at least flipping the field. We must value our possessions when we get the ball. That will be important.”
Lyons said he’s concerned about how his team will handle Swaim, who has passed for 1,326 yards and 16 scores and rushed for 1,139 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“I think (Swaim) brings a different dynamic,” Lyons said. “We have seen our fair share of dual-threat quarterbacks, but I’m not so sure we’ve seen someone as physical as Swaim. He brings a physicality to that dual-threat. We’re going to have our hands full with him, without question.”
Steele knows Bedford also faces a huge challenge against a team that defeated Bald Eagle Area, 45-0, last year in the semifinals before falling to Wyoming Area, 21-14, in the state final. But no matter the result Friday, he’d proud of his team.
“I feel great for the kids, and I’m super proud of how they have persevered through all the things that the last eight months have brought them,” Steele said. “It’s a tough situation for everyone right now, but for them to be able to play football and play the way have and have such a successful season has been a blessing to be a part of, and that’s because we have great kids who work really hard and who have been able to live up to high expectations.”
Lyons and Steele both expressed how grateful they were to even have the opportunity to play for the right to go to a state championship game in 2020.
“It needs to be discussed that the PIAA and Dr. (Robert) Lombardi have stood behind high school athletics,” Lyons said. “They have found a way to make it work. The one quote that has stuck in my mind through all of this is from Dr. Lombardi when he said, ‘the only mistake we could make is not trying,’ and we tried and here we are in the state semifinals. The schools and districts deserve credit for doing this safely and getting us through the season.”