With an 8-2 record and a City League championship to its name, the Perry football team has been no stranger to overcoming obstacles this season.
But even the Commodores, for all of their success, haven't faced a challenge quite like the one that will be awaiting them in their PIAA Class AAAA playoff game Friday at Fairview High School near Erie -- McDowell's James Conner.
A Pitt commit, this McDowell senior has been a crucial component of the Trojans' success this season, making an impact on both sides of the ball.
Pitt has recruited Conner to be a defensive end and he has played an important role for a McDowell defense that has given up six points in each of its last three games, all of which were wins. But Conner's biggest contribution to the Trojans actually comes on the offensive end, where he has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.
At 6 feet 2, 225 pounds, Conner's production as a running back is understandable. His coach, Mark Soboleski, is among those not surprised by his versatility.
"He's our guy," Soboleski said. "He's a punishing runner, a very physical kid and very imposing size-wise to bring down."
Soboleski noted that, even though Conner was recruited as a defensive player, he thinks Pitt is "starting to look at him as a possible athlete," something which could include a role on offense.
There is also much more to the Trojans (5-5) than Conner, the most pressing of which for Perry is that this is a team playing its best football of the season.
After dropping five of its first seven games, McDowell has won three in a row, a span in which it has outscored its opponents 160-18. Offensive improvement has been part of the reason for the turnaround, as the Trojans have averaged 53.3 points per game in their last three contests, up significantly from the 29.3 points per game they averaged in their first seven.
Perry, too, has been on a run of its own, with the Commodores winning five consecutive games and eight of their past nine. If Perry defeats McDowell, which is back playing in District 10 after a stint in the WPIAL, it will move on to play the DuBois-State College winner.
Less than a week removed from a tough 9-6 overtime loss to Perry in the City League championship game, University Prep showed no signs of a funk as it outscored Somerset, 47-38, last Friday.
In that win, the Wildcats (6-3) got a career day from quarterback Akil Young, who completed 30 of 46 passes for 462 yards, which is believed to be a single-game record for any quarterback in the City League or WPIAL, as well as the second-highest passing total ever in a PIAA playoff game.
Young's performance was just one game in what has been an impressive season for this senior quarterback. Including University Prep's last game, he has thrown for 1,416 yards this season.
Although expecting a duplicate performance would be a bit much, the Wildcats will need Young to step up yet again as they face undefeated Clearfield (11-0) Saturday at Clarion, a team that has outscored its 11 opponents by an average of 25.6 points per game.
The winner of the game will earn a spot in the first round of the Class AAA PIAA playoffs.
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