BRODHEADSVILLE – A new era in football begins tonight at Pleasant Valley.
Mark Versuk, who spent his days as an athlete at PV and served as an assistant coach for many years, will make his head coaching debut tonight at 7 p.m. when the Bears host Nazareth in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference season opener.
“Being my first game as a head coach, it’s very exciting,” Versuk said. “It’s always great to coach football, but having this opportunity to be the head coach at my alma mater, have a great coaching staff and a great group of kids, it’s an exciting time for us.”
The Bears were a playoff team a year ago, and return with several skills position players led by junior quarterback Brandon Keyes, senior running back Mike Mitchell and senior wide receiver Justin Richardson.
Receiver Brendan Gilleece, running back Joey Lees will be counted on to pace the offense. On the offensive line, three returners will anchor the trenches. Seniors Josh Fitzsimmons (LT), Tyler Dooner (LG) and James Miller (C) all return, while Christian DeReinzi (RG) and Brian McKee (RT) will get their first starts tonight.
As for impact players, Versuk said the player to watch is Brent Beck. After being named an all-conference special teams player a year ago, the junior should see the ball plenty tonight in the backfield.
“He didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play as a sophomore on the offensive or defensive side of the ball,” Versuk said. “He came in maybe late in the game to get some reps, but we expect a lot out of Brent offensively and defensively and special teams again. We have to use him out there again because he’s such a good returner.”
Nazareth was 5-6 a year ago, and return a dangerous senior tandem in quarterback Travis Stefanik and wideout Julian Liaci.
“The quarterback’s a good player,” Versuk said. “Liaci, he’s also a great player for them, and they have good players on the outside.”
The pick: The South Division has owned these EPC crossover games traditionally. But it’s a special night for Versuk and the Bears. PV, 28-20.
Here’s a look at the rest of tonight’s games.
Stroudsburg at Easton, 7 p.m.
Two traditional powers go toe-to-toe. Stroudsburg finished 8-3 a year ago, while Easton was 9-4. The Red Rovers may be without quarterback Ben Nimeh, who left a scrimmage against Coatesville last week with an injury. If he can’t go, look for junior Scott Poulson to start.
Stroudsburg’s Brett Yarnall gets his first start under center, taking over for Jake Jakobsen. Jamaal Brome should get 25 carries tonight.
“I’m going to love the atmosphere and it’s going to be great for these guys, but we have to come out and be physical,” coach Jim Miller said. “They’re going to be physical.”
The pick: Cottingham Stadium is a tough place to play and Easton doesn’t lose often at home. Red Rovers, 40-21.
ES North at Northampton, 7 p.m.
Northampton wasn’t very good last year, finishing 3-9, which included an 0-8 record in the EPC South. Defensively, the Konkrete Kids lost the most at linebacker.
The Timberwolves list 33 players on its roster, but with the likes of senior quarterback Thomas Melchiorre and senior Eddie Brown at running back, North has a shot to score quickly.
The pick: Neither defense should fare well. Konkrete Kids, 35-32.
PM East at Whitehall, 7 p.m.
Whitehall junior wideout Demond Boykin should be on Pocono East’s radar in the secondary all night. Coach Brian Gilbert and the Zephyrs had an off year last season at 4-6.
Pocono East had a solid offseason, and running back Matt Fisher should produce big numbers this year after a breakout year a season ago. Some questions may linger with the play on the offensive and defensive lines, which took a hit to graduation.
The pick: Whitehall’s too deep to go 4-6 again. Zephyrs, 28-12.
Bethlehem Catholic vs. Pocono Mountain West (at Pleasant Valley), 4 p.m.
Pocono Mountain West’s field isn’t ready to play, so PV will host this game. Becahi switches from the North Division to the South after winning the North a year ago. Stopping the Hawks' running back Damian Diaz will be a chore for any team this fall.
Pocono West played plenty of young talent a year ago and should be improved from the 3-7 record it posted a year ago. The Panthers have a host of talent in the backfield, which includes seniors Steven Bowen and AJ Simon (missed 2015 due to injury), and juniors Greg Bensley and Jonathan St. Hilaire.
The pick: Tough draw for the Panthers to start. Hawks, 41-21.
ES South at Liberty, 7 p.m.
Liberty running back Gunner Anglovich and wideout Darian Street are a nice 1-2 punch for the Hurricanes offensively. Liberty’s youth at the line may be a factor though.
The Cavaliers aim to rebound after a one-win season, and will start the attack with Jacob Cirillo, the do-it-all quarterback. John Murphy and Dakota Kross will be Cirillo’s main targets.
The pick: South’s turnaround season won’t start tonight. Canes, 34-20.
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