Balestrini, defense lead dominant Braves to dominant win

Shikellamy’s Drew Balestrini takes on a pair of Central Mountain tacklers during a game last September. Balestrini finished with three passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the Braves’ 50-14 win.

Central Columbia at Lewisburg

The Blue Jays and the Green Dragons played some classics the last two times they met, and tonight shapes up to be no different — probably. These are the two most experienced teams back in Heartland Athletic Conference-Division II, though Lewisburg needs to replace four-year starter Nick Shedleski at quarterback. I can’t imagine there is a player more amped to get on the field than Max Moyers. Anybody that follows him on social media has seen the work he’s put in to get back after last year’s injury. Central Columbia’s defense has a chance to be one the best in the area this season. Certainly a matchup to watch is how the Blue Jays handle the Green Dragons’ plan to get the ball in a variety of backs’ hands, while keeping up a steady dose of Moyers. This game got away from Lewisburg last season — which was driving up 10 points in the fourth quarter — and the Green Dragons lost in overtime. I think this is another classic between these two teams.

Central Columbia 14, Lewisburg 13.

Selinsgrove at Milton

The Black Panthers have a chance to be a sleeper team this season — there is plenty of skill talent — but the Seals should be scary good on defense. So this might not be the best matchup for this Milton team to gain some needed confidence. The biggest question mark for Selinsgrove is: Can the offense improve enough to take advantage of a strong defense? Coy Bastian steps in at quarterback after Danny Shoch transferred to Georgia. The holes the offensive line won’t have to be too big, both Selinsgrove starting running backs — Ryan Aument and Nate Schon — are at least 220 pounds. If Milton can stay in the game early, the Black Panthers could make it close.

Selinsgrove 28, Milton 7.

Shikellamy at Central Mountain

New Braves coach Jim Keiser’s first game comes a long way from home, but a trip to Mill Hall to face the Wildcats is what got the Shikellamy season on track last season. The Braves return plenty of skill players and should get off to a good start to kick off the Keiser era in grand style. Central Mountain lost its quarterback, but returns its entire line, and its leading rusher and receiver from a season ago. If the new quarterback is competent, Central Mountain feels like it could break through this season. The Wildcats have provided little test since they’ve come to the Heartland Athletic Conference.

Shikellamy 21, Central Mountain 7.

Danville at Mifflinburg

Speaking of old faces in new places — former Mount Carmel coach Mike Brennan takes over the Ironmen. Quarterback K.J. Riley in a spread offense — with the weapons that surround him this season — should produce plenty of points. The big questions marks for Danville this season — Can they keep Riley off his back? and can they make enough stops on defense? — still must be answered. Mifflinburg graduated its big three from a season ago — Mason Breed, Gary DeGroat Jr. and Rylee Stahl — but, an experienced offensive and defensive line will need to hold down the fort until the offensive skill players can get on track. Coach Jason Dressler believes in the Wildcats’ talent, but with a small roster he needs some youngsters to step into bigger roles this season.

Danville 35, Mifflinburg 21.

Muncy at Warrior Run

Until about 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, it surely seemed as though neither team would get to play in Week 1. Both South Williamsport and Loyalsock canceled the games earlier this week, against Muncy and Warrior Run, respectively. Both the Heartland Athletic Conference and Northern Tier allowed the teams separated by seven miles to play tonight. The Defenders are a young team as graduation losses gutted a team that won its first District 4 game in school history last year. Muncy, which was shut out by the Defenders in last year’s opener, got better as the season went on, eventually winning the District 4 Class A title, and making it to the PIAA Class A quarterfinals. With more experience, Muncy should win this impromptu game.

Muncy 28, Warrior Run 14.

Midd-West at Montoursville

Hello Mustangs and welcome to the Heartland Athletic Conference, your first opponent is two-time defending HAC-II champion Montoursville. The Warriors lost just two games a season ago — a regular-season loss to Southern Columbia and a state semifinal loss to Wyoming Area, which were both state champions. The Warriors will be without most of the talent that led to that great season, though 1,000-yard rusher Rocco Pulizzi is back. Midd-West just might sneak up on some people in Division II, though hanging with Montoursville would it impossible to surprise teams later in the season. Midd-West has enough back, led by its talented backfield of Hunter Wolfley and Trey Lauver to put a scare into the Warriors.

Montoursville 10, Midd-West 7.

Shamokin at Jersey Shore

This is the game that has the most unknowns. Shamokin was decimated by graduation, as was Jersey Shore. The Bulldogs made it to the state semifinals last season, but graduated quarterback Tanner Lorson was such a big factor in the offense, it’s almost impossible to believe the Bulldogs could be nearly as potent. The Indians are high on sophomore quarterback Brett Nye, but he still has to prove it on the field. Max Madden is a big play waiting to happen in the backfield for Shamokin, as well. I might have talked myself into picking Shamokin in this game, if it wasn’t at Thompson Street Stadium.

Jersey Shore 17, Shamokin 7.

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