Both coaches agree. They should be a curiosity, but not the focus of Friday night’s football game.
Still, when coach Frank Sheptock’s Berwick Bulldogs visit coach Rich Mannello and the Dallas Mountaineers it will be hard to ignore the long history the two men have on the sidelines.
Sheptock coached Wilkes University for 18 years before resigning in 2013 to become Berwick’s athletic director. Mannello coached at King’s College from 1990 to 2009 before leaving after building a program that was dormant for 27 years. During their stints at the Wilkes-Barre schools, the two faced each other 14 times with Wilkes winning 11 of those games.
“I’m sure he’ll say the same thing. It’s about the kids,” Mannello said. “This high school thing is tremendous. It’s really special and now having a second season of doing it. We all have great kids and I know he would say the same thing. I’m sure he is happy and I’m happy for him. It’s no secret he and I have become great friends over the years.”
Mannello knows his friend and coaching adversary well.
“Obviously, Richie and I are good friends,” Sheptock said. “But we know it’s about the teams and it’s about the players. We just want to compete the best we can. You always want to do well against someone you’re close to and Richie and I have always brought out the best in each other. I don’t think it will be any different this Friday.”
Since both coaches agree it’s about the guys on the field not on the sideline, let’s take a look at the matchup instead.
Berwick enters off a 44-0 victory against Hazleton Area in Sheptock’s high school coaching debut. He was hired shortly after George Curry resigned following the 2015 season. Curry died on April 1.
Running back Len Wyda rushed for a career-high 179 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Jared Marshman, no longer hobbled by a bum ankle that was an issue throughout last season, threw for two touchdowns. Lineman Kyle Pierce was his usual disruptive force.
“We were very pleased with how our players executed being that we were able to play well early in the special teams area,” Sheptock said. “We were covering kicks well and our punt return game set up some good field position for us. We had a few short fields and got a little bit of momentum early which we were able to sustain throughout the game.”
The victory wasn’t without some flaws.
“We need to work on finishing some blocks,” Sheptock said. “We need to do a better job in pure pass rush situations in being able to get some pressure on the passer. The kicking game, we had some mistakes that if we don’t get better we feel will be critical as the season moves forward. Our protection schemes and our coverage schemes had some things that certainly need to be addressed.”
Sheptock, though, has a veteran group with which to work. Mannello is dealing with new faces throughout the lineup. Stone Mannello, the coach’s son, made his first varsity start at quarterback last Friday in a 20-7 loss to Coughlin. Running back Justin Hutchins carried the ball 32 times for 173 yards. He had six carries all of last year.
“We had a bunch of new kids out there and they handled that part of it well,” Mannello said. “They settled in the first time the lights went on and I thought they did a nice job. It was really hot and they handled that. We’re in shape. We were physical. Obviously, we have to limit the big plays. The game changed on a couple of plays.
“We drove the ball from 30 to 30, but we didn’t finish drives. We have to get that done.”
The two big plays by Coughlin — an 80-yard TD pass in the second quarter and a 75-yard TD run midway through the third — change the complexion of the game. Dallas controlled the ball for the most part, running 60 plays to Coughlin’s 36.
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar