CORNWALL, Pa. — Friday night marks the beginning of what is unquestionably the most unique high school football season in Central Pennsylvania history.
After surviving a COVID-19 delay, remote voluntary workouts, and three weeks of intense face-to-face preparation, football teams across the Lancaster-Lebanon League and York-Adams Interscholastic Athletic Association will take the field under the lights tonight.
The Mid-Penn Conference joins the fray next Friday.
Spectators will be limited, so many teams will be live-streaming their games. Visit the FOX43 Stream Center for a list of live-streaming links.
As always, FOX43 will be here to get you ready for the action every week with its High School Football Frenzy on Fridays at 6 p.m., and will bring you scores and highlights at 10.
While the games are in progress, we'll be keeping you up-to-date with scores on our Week 1 highlights page.
Here are five games to watch on Friday, leading off with the FOX43 High School Football Frenzy Game of the Week:
Manheim Central at Cedar Crest
The Barons will have plenty of new faces in the lineup when they take the field in Cornwall Friday night for our FOX43 Game of the Week -- 20 new starters in all. That includes Judd Novak, who has the unenviable task of taking over for Evan Simon, the Barons' all-time passing leader, who graduated last spring with more than 8,000 career yards.
RB Larry Marley is also stepping into some big shoes in the backfield, replacing Tyler Flick, who also left Central as the program's all-time leading rusher.
The Barons have won or shared five straight L-L League Section 2 titles, and have never been daunted by large rebuilding projects. But with the season shaved to seven weeks thanks to the COVID-19 delay, coach Greg Hahn and this players will have to come together in a hurry if they want to contend in a section title race made more challenging by the addition of Warwick, which drops down from Section 1 this year.
Host Cedar Crest brings back a handful of starters from last year's 7-4 campaign, including QB Chris Danz, a 1,600-yard passer last season. The Falcons' top rusher from last year, Tyler Cruz, was lost to graduation, along with their top two receivers. And the offensive line has just one starter back.
But there are plenty of potential building blocks for Cedar Crest. One player to watch is Aadyn Richards, who will start at running back and linebacker. Richards' sophomore season was marred by injuries, but he's expected to take over the lead-back duties and anchor a defense that returns seven starters.
FOX43 will set you up for the Frenzy Game of the Week live from Cedar Crest Friday at 6 p.m.
Lampeter-Strasburg at Solanco
L-S is coming off a District 3 Class 4A championship and a run to the state semifinals last year, and brings back a ton of starters and key role players from that successful squad. There's even better news for the Pioneers -- those returnees are spread around on the lines and skill spots on both sides of the ball.
The most intriguing spot is at quarterback, where Sean McTaggert returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury he sustained early in the season opener. His replacement last year, Connor Nolt, threw for more than 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns in leading the Pioneers into the postseason. Nolt also returns, but will move to receiver, where he should be one of McTaggert's top targets.
Look for dual-threat Alex Knapp to have a big season for L-S as well. He had more than 1,000 combined yards as a rusher and receiver last year, with 11 touchdowns.
Solanco is stacked on the offensive front, where several starters from last year return. That's always a good foundation when you love to run the ball as much as the Golden Mules do. The question they've got to answer is who's going to tote the rock, since Nick Yannutz, Solanco's fullback and primary ballcarrier last season, was lost to graduation. Yannutz had more than 3,000 career yards for the Mules, so his absence leaves a void.
Solanco will be breaking in new QB Mason St. Clair, along with the backfield committee of Ronnie Fulton, Zach Turpen, and Mason Hecker. Fulton has the most experience of the group.
The Mules' defense is also loaded with experience, but will be tested right out the gate. After this week's non-section clash with L-S, Solanco gets Elizabethown, Manheim Central, Cocalico, and Warwick to start its section schedule.
Columbia at Lancaster Catholic
Rivalry alert! These former section mates were split up by the L-L League's realignment a few years back, but the Crimson Tide and the Crusaders still get to tangle in Week 1.
Catholic, the two-time defending L-L League Section 3 champ, will play its first game under new coach Chris Maiorino, who takes over for Todd Mealy on the sidelines. Maiorino inherits a team that brings back just seven starters from last season. His staff of assistants is also largely new, so it will be interesting to see what new wrinkles the Crusaders trot out.
Columbia has plenty of experience back, but once again will feature one of the district's smallest rosters. The Tide brings back a solid nucleus up front, its leader rusher (Justin Elliott), and its top four receivers from last year, but will have to replace QB Matt McCleary, who led the league with 32 touchdown passes last season to go along with his 2,800 passing yards.
Red Lion at Central York
We jump right into Division I action in the YAIAA, as defending champ Central York looks to build on a nine-win season and a District 3 Class 6A playoff berth from last fall. Up first for the Panthers is Red Lion, which finished fourth in the division last year.
The Panthers will debut a new offense and a new head coach when they take on the Lions. Former Lebanon coach Gerry Yonchiuk takes over the program for Josh Oswalt, who left to take over at Cumberland Valley in the Mid-Penn. Yonchiuk has installed his Air-Raid No-Huddle offense, which will be piloted by Penn State-bound junior quarterback Beau Pribula, who is one of four NCAA Division I recruits on the Panther roster (so far). Pribula's arm should definitely get a workout this season as he runs Yonchiuk's pass-happy attack.
Red Lion will have its hands full slowing down Central's offense, which averaged a league-high 43 points per game last fall. But the Lions have plenty of talent and experience coming back from a team that went 6-4 last season. That includes quarterback Randy Fizer and his top target, wideout Davante Dennis, along with several key players on defense.
Susquehannock at New Oxford
The Colonials will make the YAIAA Division II debut after dropping down from Division I this season. New Oxford is coming off its first winning season since 2013, and is hoping to jump right into the thick of the Division II title race.
But they'll have to do it without two of their top players from last year -- QB Braydon Long and WR/DB Abdul Janneh, both of whom graduated. New Oxford will also have to replace four starters on the offensive line. Their defense was hit hard by graduation as well, but enough talent returns on both sides of the ball that the Colonials are expected to be in the thick of the title chase.
Susquehannock is changing offenses this season, moving from the Wing-T to a no-huddle version of the Spread -- which is kind of like trading in a minivan for a Ferrari. The Warriors will be running that new attack with a largely untested group after being cleaned out pretty thoroughly by graduation. Senior Mike Staub, an all-league honorable mention at linebacker last year, will get the first crack at quarterback for Susquehannock.