Wyoming Area was the preseason favorite. Lake-Lehman stole its thunder in the third week.
And GAR … the two-time defending District 2 Class 2A champion … well, there was hardly a whimper about the Grenadiers' status.
That could change dramatically Saturday night when GAR (3-2) hosts Lehman (4-1) at 7 p.m. at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. The Grenadiers can close the gap in the race for the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2A-A crown as well as pick up significant ground in the D2-2A playoff hunt.
"We've told the kids since being embarrassed the first two weeks that every game is a playoff game," GAR coach Paul Wiedlich Jr. said. "This is the biggest game of the season. It's a must-win for us."
GAR opened the season ranked in the state's top-10, albeit more on reputation than expectation. After all, the Grenadiers graduated players who accounted for 71 percent of their yardage and 48 of their 59 touchdowns during the 2011 regular season.
The results the first two weeks amplified those departures. GAR scored just one touchdown in losing to Lackawanna Conference heavyweights Lakeland 34-7 and Dunmore 29-0. A hamstring injury to receiver/running back Lucas Benton, the only seasoned skill guy, didn't help matters.
The Grenadiers were on the ropes again in their third game, trailing Carbondale 13-0 at halftime. But a second-half surge led by Benton and defensive stop on a two-point try led to a 20-19 victory.
And some much-needed momentum and confidence.
"It was huge," Wiedlich Jr. said. "We're down 13-0 at halftime, but we came out and stuffed them and came back and made our first score. The kids could have lay down and accepted it. We have great leadership from our senior class and overcame it. And we played our rear ends off."
Benton is healthy again and it has shown. He has eight touchdowns in the last two games, both victories. Quarterback Corey Moore has tossed six of his eight TD passes in those games, while Rich Sickler is leading a four-pronged running attack while providing strong play as a linebacker.
Up front, GAR has three veterans in Pitt recruit Shakir Soto, massive Christian Skrepenak and sophomore Zac Faust, a two-year starter at center. Depending on alignment, there could be some battles between two of the biggest players in the WVC – 6-foot-8, 340-pound Skrepenak and Lehman's 6-6, 315-pound junior Pete Borum.
The line play on defense for GAR will be very important because the last thing the secondary wants to see is Dustin Jones heading its way. The 240-pound junior running back battered his way to 228 yards and five touchdowns – both career highs – in last week's 50-29 victory over Meyers. The Black Knights can also get to the perimeter with wingbacks such as Tom Donovan and Brady Butler, who combined for 109 yards against Meyers.
Lehman has also been playing well on defense. The Black Knights allow a WVC-low 91.6 yards rushing per game. They surrender just 200.8 total yards, third only to Coughlin (180) and Wyoming Area (192.6).
Coughlin at Williamsport
Crestwood at Hazleton Area
Hanover Area at Meyers
Nanticoke at Northwest
Tunkhannock at Berwick
Wyoming Valley West at Stroudsburg
Pittston Area at Dallas, 2 p.m.
Wyoming Area at Holy Redeemer, 2 p.m.
Lake-Lehman at GAR, 7 p.m.