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High School Football Top Ten: Battle Of Unbeatens Between Penncrest And Garnet Valley

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Southeastern PA Top 10

Week of Oct. 4, 2013

1. Coatesville (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 6.)

2. Archbishop Wood (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 6.)

3. Imhotep Charter (Record: 4-0. Weeks Rated: 6.)

4. St. Joseph’s Prep (Record: 3-1. Weeks Rated: 6.)

5. Neshaminy (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 6.)

6. La Salle (Record: 4-1. Weeks Rated: 6.)

7. Abington (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 2.)

8. Episcopal Academy (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 4.)

9. Garnet Valley (Record: 5-0. Weeks Rated: 1.)

10. Pennsbury (Record: 4-1. Weeks Rated: 1.)

By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — When Rick Stroup applied for the Penncrest coaching job a few years back, his most ardent endorsement came from Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci.

Ricci knew all about Stroup. It was Stroup that served as Ricci’s defensive coordinator and helped the Jaguars win a district championship and finish as state runners-up in 2007. And it was Ricci’s template that Stroup patterned his program after at Penncrest.

After a rocky beginning the first two years, Stroup has turned the Lions into a winning team. Penncrest is 5-0. So is Ricci’s Garnet Valley team.

The two close friends and their teams will oppose each other in a crucial Central League game for both, at Garnet Valley Friday at 7 p.m.

Penncrest has already exceeded its victory total of last year, when the Lions went 3-8 overall and 2-8 two years ago, in Stroup’s first year. It’s been defense that’s been winning for Penncrest. The Lions are giving up 6.8 points a game and have posted two shutouts this season and one fourth-quarter comeback, battling from a 15-point deficit to beat Haverford High School, 22-21.

“We’re better and more mature, last year we started five sophomores in a lot of games and the kids got experience and got stronger in the offseason and this is my third year, they know my system,” said Stroup, one of the best defensive strategists in Southeastern Pennsylvania—which Ricci will attest. “The kids are physically prepared now at this level. They’re preparing to win and I think they feel they have a better chance to win. It is a group effort.”

It’s a good place to be.

Balance is winning for Ricci’s Jags. They’re not just beating teams, they’re stepping on them. Garnet Valley beat a very good Ridley team, 42-13. That’s something that just doesn’t happen very often.

Ricci is also getting quality production from seniors like 6-foot-6 first-year senior starter Brandon Hitner, a guard, and on the defensive front Sean Elison and Rex Jackson. Players like that have stepped into new roles and have excelled.

“We have a unique situation where we have 47 seniors on this team, this a special group and we told them early on that not everyone will be able to play,” Ricci said. “We’re getting good looks at practice. I would say out of all the great teams we’ve had, this team practices better than any team we’ve ever had. We always pride ourselves on practice. The focus at practice with this group is unlike anything I’ve seen before.”

Now Ricci is facing a coach who knows him, knows his offense, from coaching under him for 11 years.

“We went through a big growth period at Garnet Valley and Mike and I are good friends, and there is deep respect there,” Stroup said. “This start is a surprise for us. The kids have been playing very well.”

Ricci knows he’s up against a hard task.

“Rick is one of my best friends and Rick’s whole staff is filled with former Garnet Valley guys, so yea, I want him to do well, except when they play us,” Ricci said. “We’re absolute supporters of Penncrest and what he has done over there. It’s hard to play against a really good friend. It’s going to be a great atmosphere for a high school football game.”

Games of the Week

W.C. Rustin (5-0) at Oxford (5-0), Friday, 7 PM. This is a battle of two undefeated teams in a Ches-Mont League American Division. Rustin has been winning with defense. In a 20-7 victory over Great Valley last week, Rustin’s defense held Great Valley to 35 yards of total offense in the second half. Knights junior running back Terry Loper rushed 30 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. Oxford outlasted winless Octorara last week in overtime, 41-34.

Prediction: Rustin 28, Oxford 6

Pennsbury (4-1) at Abington (5-0), Friday, 7 PM. This is an intriguing matchup between two quality Suburban One League National Conference teams. Pennsbury last week rolled over winless Council Rock South, 42-6, but may have played the tougher schedule so far than Abington, which remained undefeated with a 19-13 victory over Bensalem, though suffered a severe loss in that game. Galloping Ghost star senior tailback Craig Reynolds injured his knee and will be out against Pennsbury, giving the Falcons a clear edge.

Prediction: Pennsbury 30, Abington 24

St. Joe’s Prep (3-1) at Archbishop Wood (5-0), Saturday, 7 PM at William Tennent High School. This promises to be one of the games of the year. Wood is a favorite to win the PIAA Class AAA state championship and Prep is considered one of the state’s top Class AAAA teams. Wood has outscored its five opponents 224-30, outscoring them by an average of 44.8 to 6 per game. But the Vikings haven’t faced any team as good as Prep, which stumbled once against national power Don Bosco Prep, but otherwise represents the fastest and largest team Wood has faced so far.

Prediction: Prep 27, Wood 24

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.

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