ALMEDIA — In the preseason on paper, a tight District 4 Class AA playoff race looked to be between about nine or 10 teams.
Overlooked in that battle were Central Columbia and Warrior Run, two teams coming off losing seasons.
Three weeks into 2014, both the Blue Jays and Defenders have put themselves into that conversation in different ways.
Central Columbia is 1-2, but has proven to have one of the more explosive offenses in the district, putting up 42 and 36 points in its last two games.
Warrior Run is 2-1, including a win last week against Wyalusing, thought to be a district contender as well. The Defenders have made a living on defense in their two wins, forcing five turnovers against Muncy and holding a potent Rams rushing attack under 200 yards rushing.
On Friday night, these two surprise teams clash on turf at the Central Columbia Athletic Complex in the Heartland Athletic Conference Division II opener for both teams.
The Blue Jays picked up their first win of the season last week over Central Mountain.
“I think our guys felt like we had something to prove (last week),” Central Columbia coach Jason Hippenstiel said. “We have improved in many facets of the game since week one. We still need to get better as we begin division competition.”
A lot of improvement has come on the offensive end for the Blue Jays. They’ve run for 701 yards and passed for another 356 yards this season. Quarterback Steve Shannon has proven to be a threat with his arm and his legs. He’s thrown for four touchdowns while rushing for four more this season.
“They are very athletic and fast on offense. You see the athletes that they have and you can’t blame them for running that offense,” Warrior Run coach Mark Burrows said. “They have some fantastic skill kids.”
That means part of the Warrior Run defensive plan is going to be a ball-control offense to limit the Blue Jays’ opportunities with the ball.
“We are going to have to control the clock and get our ground game going,” Burrows said. “They are always a threat to score, so we’re going to have to keep their offense off the field as much as we can.”
Warrior Run got its running game going last week against Wyalusing, with William Michael running for 165 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Defenders.
If the Defenders need to pass, junior quarterback Frank James has certainly proved capable. James has thrown for 394 yards and five touchdowns this season with just one interception. He’s completed 58 percent of his passes (29-of-50).