CECIL COUNTY — The 2019 high school football season begins Friday, Sept. 6. The Cecil Whig sports staff highlights the top five can’t-miss games of the upcoming year, including a pair of postseason rematches, two heated rivalries and a much-anticipated home opener in North East.
Havre de Grace at Perryville
Friday, Sept. 6, 7 p.m.
The Perryville football team won’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption.
In a rematch from last year’s 1A East Region Championship, the Panthers will host arch-rival Havre de Grace on Opening Friday. The Cecil County squad will be searching for revenge after squandering a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead in an eventual, 35-28, loss to their cross-river opponent.
While a trip to the state semifinals won’t be on the line this go-around, the coveted Susquehanna Bowl trophy will once again be up for grabs. A victory for Perryville will return the trophy to Cecil County for the first time since 2014.
The contest also allows fans their first glimpse at this year’s rosters. The Warriors must move past the graduation of quarterback Alex Gresock, receiver Jordan White and key defenders Jesse Fenner and Josh Mergler — contributors who played a large part in the team’s ability to make four consecutive trips to the state semifinals or beyond.
While Perryville bid farewell to several notable players, including graduated running back Kenyetta Bailey (two touchdowns in region final) and All-County players Liam Johnson (tight end) and Cameron Rice (lineman), the return of five All-County or honorable mention recipients, including senior quarterback Tyler Nasuta and senior safety Phoenix Phillips, means plenty of firepower still remains for this year’s club.
Said longtime Perryville head coach Chris Johnson prior to last year’s regular-season showdown against Havre de Grace: “We’re going to go and we’re going to fight it out, the best team will win, and regardless of who wins or loses, both teams will move on and hopefully be better because of the game.”
Elkton at Bohemia Manor
Friday, Sept. 6, 7 p.m.
For the first time in a dozen years, Joe Graf won’t be part of the annual gridiron showdown between Elkton and Bohemia Manor when the two teams share the field to kick off the regular season.
The longtime coach, who spent time on both sidelines, stepped down in the offseason as head coach of the Eagles. Former Bo Manor defensive coordinator Vince Ricci has taken over the helm.
Ricci, whose defensive units have pitched five shutouts over the past three seasons, will have the entire summer to prepare for a high-scoring Golden Elks offense that returns several notable All-County contributors, including quarterback Nolan Null (Player of the Year), running back Tashawn Watters, receivers Michael Vass and Trevin Ewing and kicker Jake Bosler.
Elkton, which advanced to last year’s 2A state semifinals, will open the year with high expectations and plenty of talent, having graduated just five seniors.
Bo Manor, meanwhile, will set off in pursuit of a postseason berth after a nine-game schedule in 2018, featuring a difficult loss in the final week to arch-rival Perryville, prevented the team from earning the necessary points to make the playoffs. The defeat snapped the Eagles’ streak of six consecutive playoff berths — the longest run in Cecil County.
Expect a hard-hitting contest worthy of the painted “Battle of Route 213” sledgehammer, the decorated trophy gifted annually to the winner of the contest. For the first time in the history of the rivalry, the game will take place on Bo Manor’s new turf field, installed last season.
“It’s pretty much the same message every year. It’s a rivalry game, it’s a team that we know will 100 percent be prepared to play us and give us everything they’ve got,” Elks head coach Matt Feeney said prior to last year’s contest against the Eagles. “We always get Bo Manor’s best.”
Joppatowne at North East
Friday, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.
If the project’s completed in time, the North East football team will have plenty to celebrate during is home opener late in September.
The Indians are tentatively set to debut their new turf field on Sept. 20, when they host Joppatowne in Week 3 of the regular season. It will mark the third straight autumn that a local high school has cut the ribbon on a new turf field following Perryville (2017) and Bohemia Manor (2018).
“I think what it does is beyond a football program, it’s one of those things that can bind a community together,” North East head coach Chris Schleich said earlier this summer. “The community can be excited that the game will without question be at our field at 7 p.m.”
Oakdale at Elkton
Friday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m.
One of the biggest regular season games in the history of Elkton High Stadium will take place during the first week of October.
The Golden Elks will welcome reigning 2A State Champion Oakdale to town in a rematch from last season’s state semifinals, providing both teams with a great, mid-season measuring stick.
The 2019 contest was agreed upon by both coaches prior to last year’s playoff showdown — a 38-0 win by the undefeated Bears. Taking place in Frederick County, Oakdale punched its ticket to Annapolis behind three touchdown passes from quarterback Collin Schlee, who verbally committed to play quarterback for NCAA Division I Kent State.
Schlee was one of 28 seniors on last year’s Oakdale team. This year, Elkton, which graduated only five seniors last spring, will take the field hoping its own roster, dominated by upperclassmen, can capture the same postseason glory as its West Region adversary.
North East at Rising Sun
Saturday, Nov. 2, 1 p.m.
The final game of the UCBAC football schedule will take place on the first Saturday in November when arch rivals North East and Rising Sun, separated by eight miles of Route 272, battle under the afternoon sun.
The Tigers, the reigning Susquehanna Division champions, who just missed the 2A playoffs a year ago with a 7-3 record, will be looking for the victory that may very well push them into the postseason for the first time since 2006.
North East enjoyed a winning season two years ago, and will likewise be looking to take the next step as it pursues its first playoff berth since 2002.
With MPSSAA approving an expanded playoff from four teams per region to eight, there’s a chance both programs could taste meaningful football following their Week 9 finale.
“I keep calling it the ‘272 Border War.’ I’ve got to get a trophy made,” North East head coach Chris Schleich said last autumn. “I’m going to call [Rising Sun] ‘That Team From Up North,’ like Woody Hayes.”
Cambridge-SD at Rising Sun, Sept. 6
Bo Manor at Perryville, Nov. 1
Elkton at Harford Tech, Nov. 1