High school rivalries are usually formed via geographical boundaries.
GAR vs. Meyers. Hanover Area vs. Nanticoke Area. Pittston Area vs. Wyoming Area.
And those rivalries don’t just cover football. All the sports teams — baseball, soccer, basketball, whatever — would like nothing better than to knock off their neighbor.
That’s what makes the Berwick vs. Wyoming Valley West football rivalry, which will be played for the 43rd time at 7 p.m. Friday at Spartan Stadium in Kingston, so unique. The schools are about 25 miles apart. As for the other sports, ehh, it’s just another game on the schedule and doesn’t budge the rivalry needle.
This one was formed by a coach — the late George Curry. A native of Larksville, which is part of Valley West, Curry was hired by Berwick in 1971 and won six state titles until his retirement after the 2005 season. Valley West wants two things during that span — defeat Curry or get him to coach the Spartans. The former happened rarely; the latter occurred from 2006-2008 before Curry returned for a final stint at Berwick from 2012-2015. He died April 1, 2016.
“There was always that added stuff with George,” Valley West coach Pat Keating said. “There is still a lot of buzz with the kids and in the school. Stuff like that.”
Just imagine if Curry stayed at his first head coaching gig at Lake-Lehman. Tonight’s game — and all those before it — probably never develop into a rivalry.
“Obviously, when coach Curry coached at both schools that enhanced that rivalry,” Berwick coach Frank Sheptock said. “There are people looking at it that it should be a big game. It should be a competitive game. From that standpoint, I think it has a lot of appeal in the Wyoming Valley Conference as well as in eastern Pennsylvania football.”
History aside, there’s a big reason each team wants a victory beyond bragging rights. Berwick is 3-0 at atop of the District 2 Class 4A standings. Valley West is also 3-0 and leads the pack in the District 2/11 Class 5A standings. A win here is big because neither squad is likely to collapse down the stretch, meaning more bang in the convoluted Power Rating System used to determine playoff spots.
Despite the strong starts from both teams, they came into the season with some concerns.
“I’m not surprised,” Keating said. “Like I said in the preseason, I knew we were capable of it. There was just all the unknowns on how we were going to respond in certain situations, how some guys were going to be. We still have a ways to go with some of our young guys growing up in some area.”
Both squads lost their leading rushers to graduation. But Valley West’s Carson Canavan and Berwick’s Owen Shoemaker have been impressive thus far. Canavan leads the entire Wyoming Valley Conference with 619 rushing yards. He’s averaging 8.4 yard per carry and has four rushing TDs. Shoemaker is atop WVC Division 4A with 468 yards and is averaging 7.5 per carry and has also scored four times.
Neither Canavan’s nor Shoemaker’s numbers should be much of a surprise. Both looked good in limited work in 2017, and it could be argued both could have started for several WVC teams last season.
The quarterbacks — Valley West’s Jake Shusta and Berwick’s Alex Force — saw spot duty as starters last year when the starters were sidelined with injuries. Shusta is hitting on 65.7 percent of his passes. Force is tied for second in the entire WVC with five touchdown tosses.
“That younger group on the offensive line has a lot of confidence in Owen and Alex to be very productive on offense,” Sheptock said. “So I’m pretty pleased where we are offensively right now. I think we need to come out of the locker room a little bit better. We’ve been more of a slow-starting team in the first three games. I think that’s an area we need to improve on.”
Defensively, the Dawgs have been outstanding. They shut out their first two opponents and held a high-powered Williamsport offense in check last Friday in a 41-17 win. Williamsport running back Treyson Potts, a Minnesota recruit, managed 15 yards on seven carries.
Much of the credit goes to a defensive line of ends Eric Montes and Mason Laubach and tackles JJ Snyder and Ben Peck.
Valley West has been getting production out of its reworked linebacker corps. The group has the Spartans top four tacklers, in order, junior Brendan Woods, Canavan, sophomore Jonathan Stochia and junior Zack McDaniels.
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar