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Erie Prep won't be able to sneak up on us in 1999!
First in a series, on the top AAAA teams in Western Pennsylvania By Jason Coleman

As Mike Mischler sees it, no news is good news. Mischler, in his second year as head coach of the Erie Cathedral Prep Ramblers, believes his team has a bulls eye on it's chest. They have been cast as the team to beat in Western PA Quad-A football. That's exactly what happens when you bring back 17 starters to a team that was a few points away from Hershey last year! The Ramblers are everyone's pre-season #1 pick in Western PA. This isn't a tag he wants, and probably for good reason. In recent years, other teams who've worn this tag have come up short. In 1998 the tag was worn by Altoona, 1997- Erie McDowell, 1996- Penn Hills... none of whom played in the PIAA finals. "A lot of very good teams fall along the way," said Mischler. "We just hope we stay healthy and you never know."

Prep finished the regular season last year at 5-4, but caught fire in the playoffs. The Ramblers were very young and prone to injuries early in the 1998 season. Mischler stated, "We lost some games we didn't expect to, and we had a lot of players miss some key games with injuries." But everything came together towards the end of the season and they were able to beat out district rivals. They surprised many with their post season run by beating Schenley (36-0) and State College (20-14, 2OT) in the PIAA play-offs, before bowing to WPIAL champion New Castle (27-25) in the PIAA Western Finals. In a game that Mischler described as an "all out war", Prep scored two early touchdowns but was unable to produce an extra point. "We went up 12-0 early but had problems with the extra points," Mischler said. "That came back to haunt us." One thing that game did do for the Rambler players was let them know that they could compete at the highest level. With just 5 senior starters, there was always next year.

Next year is here; and whether they like it or not, Prep football is what everyone is talking about. These are not just kids with experience, but a number of legitimate division 1A-caliber players. "We run an 'I', and we like to throw the ball," Mischler said. "We have our entire offensive line back, with the exception of our tight end. We really didn't utilize the tight end last year, but I expect to get this in the games this year... give teams another look." Seniors dominate the backfield. Mischler says that senior Garrett Mays will play an important role if Prep is to reach expectations. QB Eric Carlson (5-11, 185 pounds), who threw for 1400 yards in 1998, returns. Also returning is RB Demond Sanders (5-9, 190 pounds), who ran for close to 1000 yards. He is one of the best defensive backs in the state, and is being recruited by some of the biggest schools around. As good as the offense should be, the defense is expected to be even better. The defense is led by 6'2", 275-pound junior defensive lineman Charles Rush. Rush, a third team all-state DL as a sophomore, will anchor a defense that shut down two of the best players in the state last season. Both Erie McDowell QB Pat Hoderney (a Pitt recruit) and pre-season all state RB Tony Johnson of State College were rendered ineffective against this Rambler defense. Hoderney was forced into ill-advised passes and finished with 4 interceptions. Johnson gained a mere 18 yards on 11 carries.

The Ramblers should be ready for anything the PIAA play-offs can throw at them. They'll travel to Allentown for a scrimmage with the defending AAA champion Central Catholic Vikings. The following week they're off on another long trek to Westmoreland County for an opening night date with WPIAL's Latrobe Wildcats. They'll take on some of the best private schools from the Buffalo area, as well as the states #10 AAAA, State College. This is not the toughest schedule in the state, but should leave them well prepared for post-season... the post-season they are expected to compete in. This expectation is not unjustified, but Coach Mischler and the Ramblers know that they'll receive no handouts; they'll need to work even harder in 1999. As long as they recognize those who would love to take their place should they stumble (Hurricanes, Wolverines, Little Lions, Tigers and Trojans), they should buck the trend and live up to all expectations. That's precisely how they want it at Prep... Perhaps with a little less press