The Flyers and Panthers will meet for the 43rd consecutive time since 1976 — with the last 33 meetings coming in the Week 1 slot. A win by St. Paul on Saturday would nearly bring the all-time series to a dead even tie.
SMCC holds a 32-30-4 record in 66 all-time meetings — but St. Paul has won 11 straight since 2007, including winning the past two matchups in 2016 and 2017 by a combined 76-0 score.
“The No. 1 thing I think about when I hear that is, what a great tradition to be playing that long consistently,” said St. Paul coach John Livengood, who has coached in the past 28 meetings himself. “I think it's a good rivalry. SMCC really dominated early on, but it’s been a bit more balanced recently.
“When (interim coach) Toby (Notestine) was the head coach in the 2000s, we kept going back and forth and split a couple of playoff games (2003, 2005) with them,” he added. “I think it's a great opener. We love the tradition and meaning of it. It’s two small Catholic schools with tons of similarities in our approach to the game. We look forward to keeping that tradition going."
In last season’s meeting, the Flyers held the Panthers to just 45 yards of total offense with two first downs, and scored six touchdowns in a 20:34 span in the first half of a 44-0 win.
The Panthers stumbled to a 1-9 record in 2017, though it was a two-point conversion stop away from beating Willard (22-21 in overtime) and fell to Monroeville by a TD on the road (26-19) among their losses.
SMCC brings back eight starters total on offense and defense in 2018. The Panthers have 32 players on the roster, which includes 11 freshmen.
Livengood notes the key to the offense is senior quarterback Michael Capizzi, who threw for 704 yards and six touchdowns in 2017. He added three rushing TDs and 182 yards.
"The offense kind of runs through him," Livengood said of Capizzi. "A lot of what they do is an option-pased offense with some zone read and dive option plays.
Also back for the Panthers includes junior running back Everett Samstag (623 yards) and sophomore Michael Sloan (378 yards, 3 TDs).
"It's a nice group of running backs, with Samstag, Sloan and Will Roth in there as well," Livengood said. "They've got a number of options running the ball. They run two split ends, but also a lot of off-set pistol, and usually have a power back as well lined up off-set from the fullback."
One area in particular the Panthers don't lack is size. Up front includes seniors James McClung (6-2, 201), Aiden Fullam (6-0, 185), Cameron Volz (6-3, 3-5), Clayton Kresser (6-3, 200) and Jack Cullen (6-0, 175).
Other linemen who will likely see time on Saturday for SMCC includes juniors Nick Patchen (6-0, 190) and Alec Trumpower (6-1 290) and sophomore Ty Ruff (6-3, 242).
“They definitely have a lot of size up front,” Livengood said. “And defensively they have a lot of the same guys up front. Capizzi, Roth and Samstag are also back — so they have a lot of experience coming back on that side of the ball as well.”
After graduating 15 seniors off last season’s 13-1 team that won a regional championship and the Associated Press poll championship, the Flyers will have many new faces in key positions on Saturday.
“We've got to control the line of scrimmage and play great special teams,” Livengood said. “We have to take care of the football — but the biggest thing is we've got to cut down on our mistakes. We made some mistakes in our first scrimmage with Keystone (Aug. 11), but then corrected some of those things.
“There was a new set of mistakes that creeped up in the Edison scrimmage (Aug. 18),” he added. “Those things we have to continue to work on with regards to our discipline and not making those mistakes.
While Livengood stressed playing physical and being disciplined on defense against the option, he said the coaching staff is also looking forward to special teams play and execution of basic fundamentals.
“The mistakes we've made in our scrimmages are very correctable mistakes,” he said. “But there are a lot of young guys in there, and we're going to have mistakes here and there — but continue to learn from them.
“One of things excited about is to get special teams involved in the game,” Livengood added. “That is something we put a lot of emphasis and work very hard on. We’re looking forward to that becoming part of our game as well.”