Raiders set for long-awaited debut

SV opens football season Friday at Hempfield

September 16, 2020 Cranberry Local Sports

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This is one in a series of articles previewing Butler County high school football matchups this weekend.

As Seneca Valley football coach Ron Butschle put it: “It seems like we've been practicing for a year. It's been a long time since we played a game.”

Over 10 months, in fact.

Due to a possible exposure of one of its players to the coronavirus in late August, the Raiders were forced to cancel their scrimmage against Pine-Richland and their season opener against North Allegheny last week.

“We held intra-squad scrimmages the last two Fridays, tried to get the feel for Friday nights,” said Butschle. “We went live, tackled and everything, but it's nice to do that against another team. The kids are beyond enthusiastic about Friday.”

That's when SV will finally get to open the 2020 season on the road against Hempfield. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Spartans played last week and earned a 28-14 victory over Norwin, but Hempfield is already dealing with a major dose of adversity.

In its scrimmage with Penn-Trafford last month, the Spartans lost several starters for the season to injury.

Among the players who remain healthy is senior quarterback Christian Zilli, who returned to football after not playing the last two years. He completed 11 of 19 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against Norwin, adding 88 yards rushing and another score.

“He's a good athlete, made some good throws and can run,” said Butschle. “But we feel if we can force them to pass, we'll be OK.”

“Christian is an all-around good athlete and has a great maturity level,” said veteran Hempfield coach Rich Bowen. “He made all the right throws last week, including a couple of deep passes down the sideline.”

Senior Mario Perkins should see an expanded role this fall for Hempfield. He tallied 297 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns last year and had 62 yards rushing, 52 receiving and scored twice on the ground last week.

“I only saw one film on them,” Butschle said of the Spartans, “but they took it to Norwin pretty well.”

SV senior Dustin Horn will make his first varsity start at quarterback.

“He's improving every day and doing exactly what we ask him to do,” Butschle said. “He doesn't need to be the cornerstone for us, just part of the bigger picture.”

Running back/receiver Ethan West is back for the Raiders after leading the team in rushing and receiving in 2019 with 869 yards from scrimmage despite missing the final 2 games with an injured knee.

In last year's 40-12 victory at Hempfield, West put up 73 rushing yards, 71 receiving and scored two touchdowns on just 17 touches.

“We couldn't contain him,” said Bowen. “He is one of the best, if not the best player we'll face this year. We have to slow him down and that's not easy to do.”

The Raiders' offensive line returns three starters — Chase Nething at center, Donny Kreisberg at left guard and Jim Royal at left tackle.

Bady Martin is the right tackle. Gavin Zoelle and Owen Moran are splitting time at right guard and tight end is a combination of Josh Miller and Lucas Lambert.

“The guys are getting a better understanding of each other and their positions,” Butschle said. “We need them all to understand not just their job on each play, but the entire scheme.”

The Eagle sports staff's third season of Upon Further Review, a weekly show discussing Butler County area high school football, can be viewed on the Butler Eagle Sports Facebook page.

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Derek Pyda

Derek Pyda

- Graduated from Connellsville High School in 1996
- Graduated from Clarion University in 2000 with a Bachelors in Communications
- Have also written for Clarion News (Clarion, PA) and the Herald-Standard (Uniontown, PA)
- Started at the Butler Eagle on April 2, 2002
- Interests include sports, history and geography