It has now been 10 weeks since the Conneaut football team started traveling to where no Conneaut football team had gone before.
“There were a lot of changes,” Eagles head coach Pat Gould said about his team’s move to Class AAA Region 5 this season, switching from the local small-school leagues that Conneaut School District teams had played in for what seems like forever.
“The road trips, for one, are much different — going to Bradford, going to DuBois. Really different,” said Gould. “Getting out of school early to go to football games just isn’t the norm.
“And they did well. They really were excited. We did some different things. We stopped and ate at different places and made kind of a neat thing of it, more of a relaxed ride than what we used to have. We fed them halfway and we’d get off the bus. One time we were at Lake Chautauqua checking out the lake. The kids had fun. And then you finished the trip and the kids got focused for the last hour. It was nice.”
Now it’s Week 10. And the Eagles have one more stop left on its regular season itinerary — Oil City.
The Eagles (8-1, 4-0 Region 5) and the Oilers (5-4, 2-2 Region 5) kick off tonight at 7 at The Oil Field.
This is a big trip for Conneaut in many ways. For one, a win and Conneaut claims the championship outright in its new home in Region 5. A loss, and Conneaut would share that honor with DuBois.
“That was a goal, obviously, for the season, to be involved in the championship game,” said Gould. “And they’re there. So now it’s time to be selfish and take it for ourselves.”
Not only that, but Oil City was the team that knocked Conneaut out of the District 10 playoffs last year. Playing in the Class AAA quarterfinals at Franklin High School, the Oilers edged CASH 24-21.
When the two teams reunite tonight, Conneaut will be much the same team it was a year ago, as far as personnel goes. Oil City, on the other hand, has some distinct differences.
One key player is back for the Oilers. That’s junior quarterback Jackson McFall. In last year’s meeting, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. And he comes into tonight’s meeting as the fourth-leading passer in District 10, completing 96 of 184 passes for 1,624 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
His main target from last year, Logan Way, is gone, though. He caught seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in last year’s meeting.
However, with Way gone, McFall has found several junior receivers to aim the ball towards. Morgan “Mo” Hadley leads the team with 40 catches for 592 yards and nine TDs. Sam Gatesman follows with 19 catches for 376 yards and four TDs. And Tyler Kline adds 16 receptions for 373 yards and five touchdowns.
“(Way) was very good,” said Gould. “We had a difficult time stopping him. And when we’d stop him, they’d run the ball. They were very balanced. But the quarterback still throws a good ball. And they’re using more kids than they did last year because they had (Way) to throw the ball to.”
Also in last year’s game, Conneaut had trouble stopping Oilers running back Kevin Daly, who had 23 carries for 172 yards and two TDs. Daly is gone, but Oil City has another tough running back in senior John Trbusich, who has 217 totes, 1,178 yards and nine touchdown runs on the year.
“They have a nice running game,” said Gould.
Conneaut is staffed by the same people as last year. But there are some differences in how they’re playing.
Hunter Merritt is still at quarterback. His carries have dipped this year, but his passing has gone up. Both stats are still pretty impressive, though. On the ground, he leads the team with 128 carries for 1,253 yards and 24 touchdowns. Through the air, he’s completed 66 of 97 passes for 858 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s hit about a dozen different receivers this year, but Henry Litwin has been his main target with 26 catches for 485 yards and nine TDs.
Also like last year, Elijah Anderton is still running the ball for the Eagles. But he’s even more effective bursting out of the backfield this season, gaining 1,174 yards and 14 touchdowns on 116 carries.
Pete Chiodo can be reached at 724-6370 ext. 275 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.