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Guilfoyle, Valley meet again with much on the line

Mirror file photo BG junior Drew Abraham heads up field with the ball on offense in a game with Richland from earlier this season.

The big game

Teams: No. 3 seed Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (8-4) vs. No. 1 seed Juniata Valley (10-1)

Where: Altoona’s Mansion Park

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Coaches: Bishop Guilfoyle’s Justin Wheeler is 114-29 in his 11th year at BG. Bill Musser is 58-33 in his eighth year at Juniata Valley.

Last meeting: BG won, 36-17, in the 2019 District 6 final

Next week: The winner plays the winner of Saturday’s game between District 4 champion Canton and District champion Old Forge in the state semifinals.

By Michael Boytim

mboytim@altoonamirror.com

In 2018, Juniata Valley pulled off one of the biggest wins in its program history with a 9-3 triumph over Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in the District 6 Class 1A semifinals en route to a district title and an appearance in the PIAA semifinals.

The Marauders won the rematch a year later, and the Green Hornets didn’t make it to last year’s district final after being knocked off by Homer-Center.

But now top-seeded Juniata Valley is once again set to face the team coach Bill Musser refers to as the measuring stick of District 6 Class 1A teams.

“BG is obviously the standard in 1A,” Musser said. “Any time you have the chance to prove yourself against them, that’s a good thing. Our kids are looking forward to the opportunity. They have taken on the same feeling that I have that to be the best, you have to take on the best. That’s why we have challenged ourselves throughout the last few years, and BG is just another large challenge for us.”

Kickoff is set for Mansion Park on Friday at 7 p.m.

“It’s always exciting being one of the final teams in the area playing and having Thanksgiving practices,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “It’s always our goal to play for these championships, and this group was tested early and really got better as the year went on. They are playing their best football.”

The Green Hornets and Marauders have both had to make adjustments as the season has progressed. Juniata Valley had to figure out how to incorporate the former members of the Williamsburg football team into its culture while BG had to cope with the loss of all-everything senior Haiden Garner due to an injury.

The quarterback position was likely the most impacted by both developments on each team, but Williamsburg student Lambert Palmer has been excelling under center for Juniata Valley, and Karson Kiesewetter has hit his stride recently for the Marauders.

“He’s a first-year starter, and losing Haiden early in the year was tough for him,” Wheeler said. “They had great chemistry all summer, and it took some time to get going. But if you look at his stats in the second half of the year, he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the area. He’s really our leader. He makes plays on both sides of the ball.”

Wheeler sees a lot of similarities between Kiesewetter and Palmer.

“Their offense starts with their quarterback, the Palmer kid,” Wheeler said. “He is such a dual-threat kid. They are pretty similar to us where they have a quality quarterback who can move and run and they still like to run the ball. You have to stop the run and not give up the deep ball, because he can definitely throw it.”

Bishop Guilfoyle went 6-4 in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference this season, an impressive feat for a 1A school considering the strength of the conference, but the mark isn’t quite up to the standards BG has set under Wheeler.

Musser said the record is deceiving.

“I have watched a good bit of BG on tape,” Musser said. “They are the typical BG team. They are big, strong and physical. They have good athletes on the outside. They are just everything you think of when you think of BG. That’s who they are.”

Including tonight, Guilfoyle has played in eight of the last nine District 6 Class 1A finals — with their lone miss coming in 2018 thanks to the Hornets — but Wheeler said there’s still a mix of emotions when his squad approaches the final.

“It’s a little bit of both,” Wheeler said. “I think our guys expect to get to the game. They work extremely hard and do everything they need to prepare. Seeing them Friday night on the field, in the locker room and on the bus afterward, they are definitely excited to play for their own district championship. We have pretty much 10 new starters on offense and defense, so these guys are all playing key roles for the first time in these games.”

A Bishop Guilfoyle victory on Friday would give the Marauders their sixth 1A title and move them ahead of Bellwood-Antis (five) and one behind Bishop Carroll (seven) for the most all-time in the classification.

Juniata Valley has won three (1986, 1987, 2018). Williamsburg last played for a district title in 1989.

“It’s an honor in 1A with 12 teams that make the field to be playing for the district championship,” Musser said. “It’s a tough field. Any time you have a chance to play for the championship, you know you have accomplished something.”

Musser said his team needs to get off to a solid start.

“We have to play football the entire game,” Musser said. “We can’t spot them any points. We have to play the whole way through, and I’m sure they will say the same thing, but turnovers and penalties will be key. Limiting mistakes and playing error-free football will be key.”

Bishop Guilfoyle is hoping to keep the momentum of a 28-0 victory over rival Homer-Center in the semifinals going.

“This time of year, you have to win in all three aspects of the game,” Wheeler said. “(Punter-kicker) Deven (Wyandt) pinned them inside the 20 on all of his punts. The defense got a shutout, and the offense was pretty efficient and balanced. We’re playing really well right now.”

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