As I sit composing the ninth installment of this piece, I am struck by how much  has changed and how much has stayed the same since the first salvo fired from the keys of my Linux 7000 computer, vintage 1992. Blue bloods are blue bloods for a reason. Culture matters, and so does tradition. Perhaps the two most salient examples of this are at Old Forge and Valley View. These two monoliths have been relevant since the halcyon days of the Big 11. Kids who grow up in Old Forge, or Blakely, or Jessup, or Archbald dream of playing high school football. It’s their birthright.

Other programs are attempting to ascend to that level of consistency. I’ll include Lackawanna Trail and Dallas as examples. That is purely a result of coaching. Jeff Wasilchak and Steve Jervis at Trail – Ted Jackson and Rich Mannello at Dallas. That continuity of coaching acumen has yielded great results at those two schools.

I know that there are so many others that can be lodged into those two categories, but I only have so much time to write this column. I do have a real job. Someone has to retrieve the wandering shopping carts at Wal-Mart. That and my inheritance from my dear, departed Uncle Salvatore (the Salami King of Dupont) allowed me to buy my smartly colored, brown Ford Escape. Uncle Salvatore was a real Rockefeller.

So, what’s on the agenda for the penultimate week of the 2021 season? For those of you who, like THE RICK, are a bit challenged in the vocabulary department, that means the next to last week on the schedule. Rick refers to me as the sesquipedalian, but that’s merely something that he found on the back of his most recent issue of Fun with Fancy Words. But I digress. Here are the most compelling games both South and North of the county line.

WYOMING VALLEY CONFERENCE GAME OF THE WEEK 

Berwick (5-3) at Dallas (5-2)  

This battle in the Back Mountain will tell us a lot about the upcoming 4A playoffs. It’s a great dichotomy of a championship-level defense attempting to ground a new age offense. Berwick has been among the stingiest squads in the entire district. The Dawgs have strung together wins over Pittston, Tunkhannock, Valley West, and Williamsport, and have poised themselves to garner a high seed in the district tournament. The question will be whether or not Berwick can convert on 3rd down to maintain drives.

Dallas, on the other hand, has no problems putting points on the board. A well-versed friend who has seen a great deal of football this year tells me that Dallas senior, Jackson Wydra, is the best pure passer in the area. Wydra is completing over 60% of his aerials for over 1,000 yards and has three different receivers with over 250 yards of receptions. That’s production and it is the way that Coach Mannello’s football team wins games. With Parker Bolesta averaging over 6 yards per carry, the Mounts have balance as well.

Most will say that a good defense beats good offense more often than not. That adage may be a bit antiquated, especially in the current age of RPO’s and Spread offense. I’ll take Wydra and Dallas on their home field by two scores, especially on their home field.

LACKAWANNA FOOTBALL CONFERENCE GAME OF THE WEEK 

Lackawanna Trail (6-1) at Mid Valley (6-2) 

So the magic carpet ride that was the Mid Valley football season hit a wall last week against Lakeland. There’s no shame in that, as the Spartans’ opponent on Friday, Lackawanna Trail, got their only blemish at the hands of the Chiefs in Week 2. It will be quite interesting to see how Coach Stan Yanoski’s group rebounds from that thumping a week ago. If Mid Valley is to make any noise at all in the 3A playoffs, particularly with a potential 4-5 tussle with Western Wayne looming, a win this week is almost a must.

Trail is an interesting football team. Coach Jervis utilizes an offense that is an anachronism in modern football, the Delaware Wing-T. The timing of the offense is precise, and when the Lions are clicking, they are fun to watch. Trail is led by a talented group of sophomores, including Hunter Patterson at fullback/linebacker and Kolbee Soltis, one of the better linebackers in the entire LFC. Devout Trail fans have been pointing all year at their Week 10 showdown with the Blue Devils. It is imperative that Trail does not look ahead, because they can be bullied in Dickson City on Friday.

This will be a defensive struggle, with perhaps a big play in the kicking game turning the tide in one direction or the other. My tea leaves (Lipton, if you must know) tell me that the wind will shift in favor of the Lions. Look for Coach Jervis to enter the finale with Old Forge at 8-1.

Many of my most dedicated readers reached out to see if I was able to escape last week after my wife filled in the tunnel in the back yard behind the well. Well, the answer is yes and no. The tunnel is filled in, a sad fact. I did, however, follow Martha, my intrepid cat, across some beams in the attic, somersaulted like Mary Lou Retton off the balance beam, and landed outside in a pile of mums that have seen brighter days. Many thanks to Martha. And to dear, departed Uncle Salvatore, who also named me heir to 100 pounds of Genoa salami, currently curing in the cellar.

A Face in the Crowd