Friday night, the Perkiomen Valley Vikings and Spring-Ford Rams will clash at Coach McNelly Stadium in Royersford with the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Liberty Division title on the line. The winner will advance to battle Pottsgrove next week for the league championship.
A rivalry that’s quickly becoming the area’s best deserves a big stage, and this one will certainly have that.
The two schools are combining to record a crowd-sourced documentary on the game under the hashtag #10KCameras. That’s one camera for each person Perkiomen Valley coach Rob Heist expects to see in attendance. In fact, Heist seemed somewhat enthused that the game will be played in Royersford, as Spring-Ford’s stadium can accommodate a larger gathering than Perkiomen Valley’s.
“Who can play the best under those bright lights?” asked Heist. “That’s what this will come down to — who makes fewer mistakes? I think our defenses are comparable, and we have similar skill sets on offense.”
For Perk Valley (6-2, 4-0 PAC Liberty), the key lies in the sustained health — such as it is — of quarterback Cole Peterlin (1,331 pass yards, 17 TDs in 2018; plus another 377 yards and 5 TDs rushing.) Peterlin’s hot start to the year was slowed by a Week 5 injury against Owen J. Roberts. He returned in a limited capacity the following week to a close out a win over Norristown, and has seen his role expand in the past two games against Methacton and Boyertown.
“I’m not sure he’s going to be 100 percent [the rest of this year],” admitted Heist. “He’s steadily getting better, but the rigors of a varsity football game left him pretty sore last week —and the conditions on our field this past week didn’t help him either. I can’t say he’s totally healthy, but he’s a tough kid and he’s playing through it.”
Peterlin figures to lean on the Liberty Division’s most explosive receiver, senior Isaiah Domine, whose 10 receiving TDs lead the conference this season. Running backs Jacob Sturm and Jon Moccia have stepped forward to carry more of the load in the rushing game, and will be pivotal in extending Vikings’ drives Friday night and keeping the 7-1 Rams’ potent attack tethered to the sideline.
Defensively, PV is led by senior safety Austin Rowley, tied for the PAC lead in interceptions with five this season. The challenge this week will be simply matching numbers — four Spring-Ford pass-catching targets (WRs Dante Bonanni, Blaize Scarcelle, Nicholas Teets, and TE Noah Baker) plus running back Stephen Brill all rank among the top 15 in area receiving. The quintet has afforded Ryan Engro a multitude of options throughout the first eight games of his breakout season (1,733 pass yards, and a 22-2 TD/INT ratio.)
This week, the Rams will be without center Kyle Kennedy, hurt last week against OJR, which will result in some reshuffling of the Rams’ offensive line, including a move for Dante Cioci back to his natural position of center.
Brill is coming off his best performance of the season, carrying for 124 yards last week against Owen J. Roberts on only 14 carries, and adding another 62 yards receiving in a 30-7 Spring-Ford win.
“OJR spent some time doubling either Dante (Bonanni) or Noah Baker, putting an extra guy out there,” said Rams coach Chad Brubaker. “It allowed us to run the football. When we’re outnumbered in the box, we throw the ball. It’s just a matter of taking what the defense gives us.
“7-8 years ago, we probably ran plays out of more formations than anyone. Now we’ve simplified that, which makes it a lot easier for our quarterback to make decisions.”
That’s not the only thing that’s changed over the past several years. As Coach Heist, a Perkiomen Valley graduate, pointed out, there was a time not too long ago when the Vikings couldn’t really compete with Spring-Ford in football. It took some time for the program to get its footing, and they ultimately would do so throughout the coaching tenure of Scott Reed and now into the third year’s of Heist’s regime. Even with two consecutive victories under their belts in the rivalry, that underdog mentality’s never really faded from the Vikings’ locker room.
“They (Spring-Ford) routinely thumped us,” Heist recalled. “For me, my staff — we’re PV guys, and that feeling’s never really gone away. And our players are a reflection of their coaching staff. We do our best to remind our kids of the importance, the tradition, and heritage of this game. It’s a great opportunity, to play in this game — this rivalry is certainly known throughout the Eastern part of the state, and maybe the whole state.”
Before this season, Brubaker said in his estimation, Perkiomen Valley has been more prepared and ready to play in this game the past two years. Perhaps more notably, no one really stepped forward to challenge his assertion. Will it be different in 2018?
“It’s not as if we’ve dominated this league (through my tenure),” Brubaker said this week. “We’ve won the PAC twice in nine years. You have to guard against the belief that you can just show up and everything will fall into place. The past two years, it felt like (PV’s) kids just wanted it more. This year, our kids recognize that PV has won the league two years straight. We should be the hungrier team.”
Speaking of hunger, each week Brubaker has a different coach address his team after their pregame meal. This week’s choice was an easy one. “Coach (Jim) Mich (SF’s defensive coordinator) is sure to give a very poignant speech,” said Brubaker. “He’s had this one circled on the calendar from the jump.”
In this area, he’s far from the only one.