Karns City’s reward for its third straight District 9 title is a third straight matchup against the same opponent.
The Gremlins will go on the road and face District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge in the PIAA Class AA football first round at 7 p.m. Friday in rural East St. Clair Township, Bedford County.
Karns City (10-1) has defeated Chestnut Ridge (10-2) in each of the last two seasons — 35-21 in 2012 at Clarion University and 35-14 in 2013 at Northern Bedford High School.
This year’s meeting is the first time the game will be played at the home field of one of the two teams, and — for the second straight season — it is at a District 5 site.
“They changed the rotation of which district hosts. I’m not sure why,” Karns City coach Ed Conto said. “This year, we’re playing at Chestnut Ridge’s home field. I think (the PIAA is) trying to save money in the playoffs by not renting a field, but it is what it is. We’re going to have to leave school earlier than we usually do, but it’s going to be the same as last year.”
The Lions come into the game with a running attack led by bruising senior fullback Matt Wiley, who has 819 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and senior quarterback Tyler Wiley, who has 744 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But unlike St. Marys in last week’s D-9 final, Chestnut Ridge also will challenge Karns City deep in the passing game, as Tyler Wiley has thrown for 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.
“They’re similar to last year, but the only thing they do differently is a lot more pistol shotgun snaps,” Conto said. “They run power dive plays and fullback and quarterback traps. They have a lot of similar base plays to St. Marys.”
One thing Conto is wary of is the field conditions, as rain and wintry precipitation during the week could make Chestnut Ridge’s natural surface a sloppy track.
“Their big fullback is a three-year starter, and the field might not be in good shape for speed guys to get their footing,” Conto said. “We have to keep our kids focused on what we’re going to face, because a lot of times, games like this will only have one or two touchdowns scored because the conditions are so bad.”
Karns City will try to keep its own ground game rolling after a career day by junior running back Collin Dunmyre. Dunmyre had 202 yards and four touchdowns in the D-9 final, and he leads the team with 793 rushing yards this year.
Though Conto is confident with the group that played against St. Marys, he also hopes to be able to mix in running back Tristan Rhoades, who missed last week with a quad injury. Rhoades ran for 91 yards and two scores last year against Chestnut Ridge, and — if healthy — he could provide a spark this week.
“We’ll see where Tristan is during the week. He dressed for the game last week, but we held him out,” Conto said. “Hopefully his quad is healing up. Any time he’s on the field, on offense or defense, he can change the course of the game.”
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals to face the winner of the WPIAL final between South Fayette and Aliquippa, the two teams that Karns City has faced in each of their previous PIAA quarterfinal appearances.
“Across the board, you see a lot of the same teams in the bracket again this year,” Conto said. “I’m not sure if it’s solid coaching or what, but it seems to be the same programs meeting in a lot of these first-round games, and our game is one of them.”