PHOENIXVILLE -- The 23rd season renewal of Pioneer Athletic Conference football kicks off tonight, and one of the best games around should be at Washington Field, where Phoenixville tangles with preseason favorite Pottsgrove in a 7 p.m. start.

By BARRY SANKEY

PHOENIXVILLE -- The 23rd season renewal of Pioneer Athletic Conference football kicks off tonight, and one of the best games around should be at Washington Field, where Phoenixville tangles with preseason favorite Pottsgrove in a 7 p.m. start.

Phoenixville (1-1) is coming off a 28-0 shutout of Chichester last Friday night while Pottsgrove (1-1) fell to Wissahickon, 31-22, in another non-league contest. The Phantoms held their own against Wissahickon during a preseason scrimmage in Lower Gwynedd.

Phantom head coach Bill Furlong begins his sixth PAC-10 season on the sidelines. He enters the night with a 27-18 league record in five years and a 36-25 overall mark. His counterpart, Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker, starts his 20th year at Pottsgrove, longest among PAC-10 mentors now that Lansdale Catholic boss Jim Algeo has departed with the Crusaders to the Philadelphia Catholic League.

In a special note of historical football significance, Phoenixville will be gunning for the 550th victory in the history of Phantom football, dating back to 1894. That figures out to 114 years of Phoenixville football and an average of nearly five wins period during that extended period of time. However, all the Phantom coaches and players realize it will not come easily against a rugged Pottsgrove outfit.

"It is great for these kids to be part of that tradition," Furlong said. "There was the undefeated Ches-Mont League team back in 1978. There was the Bill Shirk era and Jamie Gray as PAC-10 Player of the Year before going on to (Division I-A) ECU (No. 14-ranked East Carolina University). There was the big game of the area (Rumble in Royersford in 1994) between Spring-Ford and Phoenixville when they were both undefeated going into the last day (Thanksgiving Day). There is a lot of tradition here and it is great for these kids in 2008 to be part of that."

Gray, of course, was a star ofensive guard for Phoenixville and East Carolina who is back on Furlong's staff as the offensive line coach. Another former Phantom standout, Bill Thornton, is also on the staff as a wide receivers and defensive backs coach after playing at Utah State. He pointed out that Phoenixville shared the league title with Conestoga back in 1959.

The other members of the Phantom coaching staff are defensive coordinator Don Jackson, Dave Nester, Nick Rotondo, Anthony Stavenski III, Ryan Howard, Jon Kandrick, Scott Smiley and Ed Yeager.

Former National Football Leauge (NFL) players Neal Olkewicz and Rich Kraynak, both linebackers, have come back to speak to current Phantoms in order to still be a part of the Phoenixville football family. There is also former first team All-State offensive guard Greg Bamberger, who started at Duke University and is now the athletic director at Kutztown University in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).

Furlong is also encouraged with how Phoenixville has

played in the first two games, even in the 7-6 setback to a Great Valley team in the opener, the same Patriots squad that fell in double overtime to West Chester Henderson, 28-22. Henderson is another team Phoenixville scrimmaged to begin the campaign.

"There are just a bunch of good teams," Furlong said. "I just hope we are one of them. If we played each other 10 times, it would probably be 5-5. That is in our league and our non-league games. It is just competitive. There is no way you cannot play your best and beat them. By the same token, you don't line up and think you have no chance to win. There is a lot of parity. They are all good football teams. We want to develop into a good football team this year. It is a game where one play can change the game. They have had some long 70-yard runs. They are explosive. I don't know if we match their explosiveness. We have good players, but we don't match their explosiveness."

Pottsgrove is a difficult season opener again, and the Falcons defeated the Phantoms, 24-16, last season in Lower Pottsgrove. Phoenixville would like to reverse fortunes this time arund.

In order to do so, Phoenixville must contain Pottsgrove's fleet sophomore quarterback Terrell Chestnut (6-0, 170), who was selected to the first team All-State as a freshman defensive back a year ago. Sophomore running back Maika Polamalu (6-0, 180) is another returning star. He is the cousing of Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu and his uncle, Kennedy Pola, isthe running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Chestnut and Polamalu will play safety on defense.

Another player to watch in the backfield is junior fullback Preston Hamlette (5-9, 200), who doubles at linebacker. Hamlette is also a running threat after gaining 516 yards on 99 carries last year, including eight TDs.

Last week against Wissahickon, Chestnut's 36-yard keeper set up a 10-yard scoring run by Polamalu in the first half.

Like the Phantoms, Pottsgrove has a young ballclub, too. However, some of their younger players had vital roles on last year's team.

"We were up on them (Falcons) last year and they came back," Furlong said. "They are patient and wait for you to make a mistake. They are good counter punchers. They wait for you to do something and then take advantage of that. We're calling it championship week number one. If you want to win the championship, you have to go through Pottsgrove."

As far as playing Pottsgrove right away, Furlong said there are pros and cons. One is to get the Falcons out of the way and they usually are a team that only improves as the season progresses. Phoenixville has a history of that as well and Furlong hopes to see continued consistent improvement in all areas of the game.

"I hope we put it together and play our best game this week," Furlong said. "Their athleticism is toops in the league right now by consensus. They have some good guys and they are always well-coached and well-prepared. Their young guys hurt us as freshmen and they went to the playoffs (District 1 Class AAA finals). They do not play like typical high school sophomores."

Phoenixville hopes to continue to be opportunistic on defense in terms of turnovers. Last week against Chichester, defensive end Greg Porter recovered a fumble and defensive backs Khalil Ervin and Derek Ryan intercepted passes. In two games, the Phantoms have pilfered four passes and recovered two fumbles while only turning the ball over once themselves on one fumble.

Anthony Nattle (168 yards) and Abdul Kelly (154) are the Phantoms' top rushers, but they have also gotten production from Derek Ryan, Ricky Yenchick and sophomore quarterback Tom Romano, who rambled for 43 yards on eight tries against the Eagles. Through the air, Romano has completed 7-of-13 throws for 129 yards and one TD with no interceptions in his first two starts. Tight end Vince Ciaverelli caught two aerials for 30 yards last week.

In other PAC-10 openers tonight, Spring-Ford is at defending co-champion Perkiomen Valley, St. Pius X visits Pottstown, Upper Perkiomen is at Owen J. Roberts and Methacton travels to Boyertown.

Great Valley (1-1) will play its first home game on new turf in East Whiteland Township against Penn Wood. The Patriots, coached by Gary Phillips, have an experienced squad with some physical players in the line.

Spring-Ford coach Gary Rhodenbaugh, in his sixth year, and the Rams will try to break into the win column for the first time following non-league losses to Bayard Rustin and Norristown (48-27). The Rams are led by 6-6, 195-pound senior quarterback Trevor Sasek, a three-year starter who is on pace to eclipse former star Lance Viola's school passing records from the early 1970s. Sasek is receiving Division I-AA looks from college recruiters.

Spring-Ford also has a talented running back in junior David Tyler with new wide receivers in junior Andy Ellison (6-0, 180) and sophomore twins Andrew McDonald (5-6, 155) and Dave McDonald (5-6, 165). The top linemen include senior center Justin Franiak (5-11, 300), senior tackle/defensiv end Jesse Ercole (6-1, 210) and senior linebacker Rick Iannelli (6-0, 200).

Against Norristown, Sasek completed 6-of-19 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions while also scoring on a 1-yard plunge himself. Sasek passed 9 yards to fullbackNick Caggiano for one score and 15 yards to Ellison for the other. Tyler ran for 38 yards and one TD on a 2-yard score on 14 plays. Caggiano added 34 yards on six carries.

Owen J. Roberts coach Tom Barr, in his 12th season at the helm, got a huge game from sophomore tailback Ryan Brumfield (5-10, 165) in a 26-21 victory over West Chester East. Brumfield rushed 28 times for 273 yards and four TDs and also caught one pass for 33 additional yards.

The Wildcats (1-1) have run the ball effectively in their first two contests, thanks to the blocking of their offensive line and the work of the backs, namely senior quarterback Dan Miller and Cory Bissland, Sam Funk, Scott Syrek and Zazo, who all support Brumfield's work. Miller, a three-year starter at quarterback, passed for 1,064 yards and 10 TDs last year. Brumfield is picking up where he left off as a freshman when he had 773 yards rushing and caught 10 passes for 208 yards.

The linemen include veteran junior Nelson Munoz (6-0, 230) at center and senior Sam Morgan (6-3, 242), who has shifted from tackle to left guard. Sophomore Sean Moloney (5-10, 193) is at right guard with senior Sam Odle (6-6, 210) and junior Mike Klinger (6-0, 245) at the tackle spots. The tight end is junior Brad Davis (5-11, 195).

The defense is anchored by Morgan at nose tackle, Zazo at middle linebacker and Miller at cornerback.

Around the league, Boyertown (0-2) has a new head coach in Mark Scisly. The Bears will be led by senior quarterback David Crognale, who passed for 1,417 yards and 10 TDs last year and rushed for 403 yards and six scores.

Perkiomen Valley coach Scott Reed enters his fifth season and the Vikings are coming off an 8-1 PAC-10 record (9-2 overall). The Vikings (0-2 so far) have back senior quarterback Zach Zulli (6-2, 172), who was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 2007. Zulli completed 126 of 221 aerials for 2,156 yards and 26 TDs last year. Zulli is receiving collegiate looks from several levels. Senior fullback Lynwood Snowden (5-8, 160) is an effective runner. Snowden rushed for 497 yards and nine scores on 62 attempts.

Pottstown coach Brett Myers enters his second season at the helm of the Trojans (0-2). Senior fullback Kenny Baker (5-10, 175) is a top rusher. Baker ran for more than 1,341 yards and 19 TDs last year on 141 tries (9.9-yard average). The quarterback is junior Tony Miller (6-1, 170), and the top lineman is Nick Maloney (6-3, 270), who will play guard on offense and the interior on defense.

St. Pius X coach George Parkinson is in his third year with the Winged Lions (1-0), who won their non-league opener, 6-0, over Simon Gratz of Philadelphia and were idle last weekend. Senior running back Dante Astheimer (5-10, 170) averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season while rushing for 502 yards. He also made 27 receptions for 235 yards.

Pius X also has a pair of talented receivers in junior Cole Parkinson (6-2, 163) and senior Corey Egan (5-9, 150). The quarterback is sophomore Dylan Pasik (6-3, 165). Senior Matt Galloway (5-9, 162) is another running back in the mix for the Winged Lions who also doubles at linebacker on defense.

Upper Perkiomen (1-1), with coach Keith Leamer in his fifth season at the controls, has running back Shawn Wenhold, who rushed for 516 yards and four TDs last year on 83 attempts.

Methacton (1-1) is the new team in the circuit this year. Head coach Bob McNally is in his third year of directing the Warriors, who closed at 3-4 in the Suburban One League American Division last year (5-6 overall). The quarterback is junior James McHugh (6-2, 190) and the key wide receiver is senior Tim Smith (6-1, 185), who doubles at safety on defense.

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