The compliments, the predictions, the expectations. Come 7 p.m. today, none of them will matter.
What will is what Lake-Lehman does on the field at Old Forge as the high school football season kicks off.
Fourteen Wyoming Valley Conference teams begin their seasons tonight with games scattered throughout the region. The other three WVC squads kick off their seasons tomorrow.
One of the most anticipated debuts will be that of the Black Knights, who throughout the years have taken a back seat to the other Back Mountain team – Dallas – when talk turned to football.
Lehman is the favorite among coaches to capture the WVC Division 2A-A title, something GAR and Wyoming Area has had a stranglehold on in recent years. But with those two programs reeling a bit from graduation and the Black Knights returning a talented bunch, those roles have been reversed.
At least on paper.
“Everybody is pointing at us saying we’re the team,” Lehman coach Jerry Gilsky said. “But in our division there are a lot of quality teams.”
Old Forge resides in Division 3 of the Lackawanna Conference. The Blue Devils, though, could more than hold their own against WVC competition. Since the two conferences began playing each other more regularly in 2008, they are 12-2 against WVC competition.
Among those victories was a 50-14 victory over Lehman in the 2012 season opener. Old Forge led 10-7 at halftime, but the wheels few off in every direction for the Black Knights in the third quarter.
“Last year, I forgot what we were down at half,” Gilsky said, “but it was a great game. Then we come out in the second half having turnovers. We threw two pick-6s and another interception in the third quarter
“It was a really lopsided second half. It was like, ‘What the hell happened to us? Did we stay in the locker room?’ That’s what happened to us the last two times.”
Lehman will rely heavily on 250-pound running back Dustin Jones to reverse those fortunes. Jones had 85 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries last season, one of his worst games on the way to a 1,100-yard, 17-TD regular season.
Running back Brady Butler, another senior and team leader, rushed only four times in the game. He is expected to get more touches tonight.
Gilsky, though, was very pleased at his team’s performances in scrimmages against Valley View and Riverside, and believes his team is better both physically and mentally this time around.
Old Forge used the running of Brian Tomasetti and passing of Brenden Wahl to take control in last year’s matchup. Both have graduated and the replacements lack experience. Yet, Lehman is treading cautiously entering one of the toughest stadiums in which to win.
“They’re tough kids and do a good job establishing the run,” Gilsky said. “We want to take them away from that and force them into passing situations they don’t want to be in.
“It’s tough playing there. I noticed it my second year.”