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CoGo's High School Football Feature Matchup: Pine-Richland at Butler

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The undefeated Pine-Richland Rams look to keep rolling as they visit Butler in this week's CoGo's High School Football Feature Matchup.

When the 6-0 and defending WPIAL AAAA champion Pine-Richland Rams travel north for their conference game against 0-6 Butler this Friday, there will be no doubt as to how the scale is tipped in the matchup.

After losing record-setting quarterback Ben DiNucci, who is currently a redshirt freshman at Pitt, to graduation, along with 2014’s leading rusher, Connor Slomka (rushed for 1,561 yards and 35 TDs) and leading receiver, Mike Merhaut, (caught 110 passes for 1,532 yards and 15 TDs), the Rams offense has not missed a beat. 

This offseason, head coach Eric Kasperowicz found himself in the enviable position of transitioning from one Division I quarterback to another budding collegiate prospect, sophomore starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec (6-5, 190). 

Jurkovec, who is also a standout basketball player at Pine Richland, has quickly made a name for himself this season, passing for 1,140 yards and nine touchdowns, while rushing for 780 yards (130 yards per game) and six TD’s in his first six starts following in DiNucci’s footsteps.
“You’re only human if you don’t think about it,” Kasperowicz said when asked if Jurkovec is motivated by DiNucci’s past pedigree.

Though Jurkovec’s immediate success would lead you to believe otherwise, it was not always a certainty that he would be the Rams’ starter under center this season. During training camp in August, the sophomore was forced to win a competition for the job over junior Max Devinney, who saw the field often in 2014 during the second half of Pine Richland’s many blowouts. 

“He’s exceeded my expectations,” Kasperowicz, a former star quarterback at North Hills, said about Jurkovec. “To do what he’s done up until this point is remarkable and as long as he continues to improve, we’ll be in good shape.” 

Though Jurkovec is both Pine Richland’s leading passer and rusher, the Rams have relied on other rising skills players to fill the voids left by Merhaut and Slomka. Senior running back Jimmy Graf (6’0, 190) is second on the team in rushing with 564 yards, while averaging over 11 yards per carry. Jurkovec’s top targets have been senior wideouts Anthony Battaglia (6’1, 195) and Brandon Humphrey (5’10, 150), who have combined to total 472 yards and five touchdowns.            

While it seems like Jurkovec and company will be able to easily pad their stats against a Butler defense that has allowed teams to score just over 35 points per game, Kasperowicz isn’t allowing his team to take any opponent lightly -- even with a matchup against 2014 WPIAL runner-up Central Catholic looming next week. 

“They’re a physical football team. They’re gonna come out and hit you in the mouth,” Kasperowicz said about Butler’s offense, whose rushing attempts have nearly tripled their passing attempts this season, despite regularly playing from behind. Butler high school football

While Pine Richland’s offense receives most of the attention for its cartoonish outputs, Kasperowicz is quick to note that his team normally doesn’t need to score many points to win.

“I said it all last year, we’re winning ballgames because we play great defense,” Kasperowicz said about a unit that has allowed just under 14 points -- two touchdowns -- on average this season.  

Kickoff for the match-up is at 7 p.m.

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