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Contemporary off bye, Central Valley to face stern check from upstart Bald Eagle Space

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Thursday, November 28, 2019 | eight:00 AM

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Evaluate

Central Valley quarterback Ameer Dudley celebrates a landing in opposition to Aliquippa earlier this season.

For the higher a part of the final three a long time, the gamers, coaches and followers of the Bald Eagle Space soccer group acquired to take pleasure in Thanksgiving within the conventional style — by consuming turkey and watching soccer.

However when Jesse Nagle took over as head coach 4 years in the past, he had visions of taking his alma mater from the scrap heap to a aggressive program, not simply in central Pennsylvania, however on the state degree. And the highest groups within the state are sometimes nonetheless taking part in soccer Thanksgiving weekend.

“Once we took over, this system had one successful season within the earlier 26 years,” Nagle mentioned. “However the factor that all the time struck me was that the varsity all the time had some nice athletes through the years, guys who had been standouts in baseball and basketball and wrestling. The potential was all the time there. I knew there was an important alternative to achieve success in soccer.”

Nagle proved to be prophetic. 4 years later, he has Bald Eagle Space among the many remaining 4 Class 3A groups within the state, and certainly, his group is taking part in on Thanksgiving weekend. Bald Eagle Space will make a three-hour bus trip west Friday to satisfy WPIAL champion Central Valley in a PIAA semifinal at Moon Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

“We had excessive expectations from the beginning,” Nagle mentioned. “A number of our guys have been beginning for us since they had been sophomores.”

Central Valley, in the meantime, is the entire antithesis of Bald Eagle. Solely in its 10th 12 months of existence, Central Valley, situated in tradition-rich Beaver County, has already established itself as a premier program statewide, having been to 5 WPIAL title video games, successful three, and taking part in in a single PIAA championship recreation.

Regardless of its temporary historical past, it has produced two gamers on present NFL rosters: Buffalo large receiver Robert Foster, who performed collegiately at Alabama, and Tampa Bay security Jordan Whitehead, who performed his faculty ball at Pitt.

On Friday evening, there will probably be a significant faculty prospect on the sphere when the groups meet, however he gained’t be taking part in for Central Valley, and he gained’t be taking part in soccer in faculty. Bald Eagle Space is led by senior Gage McClenahan, who’s the fifth-rated faculty wrestling prospect within the nation at 160 kilos. McClenahan will wrestle for Cornell.

“Once you’re a Division I prospect in any sport, you recognize what it takes to compete and succeed on the highest ranges,” Nagle mentioned. “He’s began 4 years for us and he will get after it each minute.”

McClenahan does little little bit of every little thing for Bald Eagle Space, speeding for 347 yards and including 521 yards receiving, plus taking part in protection and particular groups. In final week’s 21-20 win over Sharon, he scored two TDs, one on a brief run out of the wildcat formation and the game-winner on a punt return.

Central Valley coach Mark Lyons is aware of he has to pay attention to McClenahan.

“He’s one of many prime athletes within the nation for a cause,” Lyons mentioned. “He’s clearly a troublesome child who’s going to look you within the eye and are available after you.”

Bald Eagle’s bread and butter this season has been its passing recreation. Quarterback Jaden Jones has handed for 1,891 yards and 25 TDs. Matthew Reese leads the group with 622 yards receiving and 10 TDs, whereas Kaden Bittinger has 551 yards receiving and 15 TDs.

Nagle says he doesn’t essentially contemplate his Eagles a passing group.

“We now have the personnel that may take what the protection is giving us,” Nagle mentioned. “If which means we have now to run the ball 40 instances, we’ll run the ball 40 instances. If we have now to throw it 40 instances, we are able to try this too. We do what we do out of our base offense, and we are able to change week to week.”

Central Valley’s offense, whereas equally various, revolves round quarterback Ameer Dudley. The junior has amassed over 2,00zero yards of complete offense this season and is harmful in Central Valley’s run-pass choice offense.

“We’ve performed in opposition to two or three guys like him in our convention, however he’s quicker than they’re,” Nagle mentioned. “He’s positively one of many prime quarterbacks we’ll see. However the important thing for Central Valley, to me, is their protection. They’ve expertise on offense, however their protection is lights out. Very quick and really disciplined.”

Central Valley is coming into the sport recent, because it acquired a bye week after its WPIAL championship recreation victory over Aliquippa.

“The week off was nice for us,” Lyons mentioned. “A number of our guys are recent. Their legs are again. It’s such a protracted season, and with that week off, that is the perfect we’ve felt in about 4 or 5 weeks. I’m anxious for us to get on the sphere and see what we appear like.”

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