Head coach Rick Pennypacker, left, leads his Pottsgrove squad into Friday nightâ  s non-league opener against visiting Souderton. (Kevin Hoffman/The
Head coach Rick Pennypacker, left, leads his Pottsgrove squad into Friday nightâ s non-league opener against visiting Souderton. (Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury)

Pottsgrove, Spring-Ford and Perkiomen Valley separated themselves from the rest of the Pioneer Athletic Conference last season, going a combined 31-7 overall (and 23-4 in league play).

While that trio is once again expected to battle it out for league supremacy this year, tonight's season-opening non-leaguers will be anything but easy for the Falcons, Rams and Vikings.

Defending PAC-10 champ Pottsgrove plays host to Souderton; Spring-Ford travels to Whitehall; and Perkiomen Valley visits Plymouth-Whitemarsh. Those three opponents, by the way, went a combined 23-9 a year ago.

Last year, Pottsgrove opened with a 35-0 rout of a Norristown squad that would wind up winning just one game.

Souderton, however, is an entirely different story.

The Big Red went 4-3 in the Suburban One League's Continental Division last year and 7-4 overall.

And though Souderton lost 6-foot-2, 296-pound lineman Ricky Young to a broken leg this preseason, it still has a formidable roster headed by quarterback/safety A.J. Curotto.

"They are very big and physical,' Falcons coach Rick Pennypacker said. "They are well-coached, and a very tough opening opponent. We have a lot of kids going both ways, and I am worried we may get worn down. We plan to give breaks to some of our kids and hopefully they will come through.'

Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker is hoping his squad can come through for the second straight year against the Zephyrs, after rallying for a 31-20 victory in last season's opener.

The Rams seized momentum in the fourth quarter, when — in one of the plays that defined their season — Zameer McDowell stole what appeared to be a sure interception from two defenders in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

"If he doesn't make that catch last year, who knows what happens in that game,' Brubaker said. "Certain things happen, and it goes a long way in what you're going to be.'

Spring-Ford, which has notched double-digit victories in each of Brubaker's first three seasons at the helm, is hoping to be a top tier squad again after last year's memorable run to the District 1-AAAA final.

But there are still some questions for the Rams — including at quarterback, where Brandon Leacraft will get the nod.

"The big thing is to limit our mistakes,' Brubaker said. "We've struggled a lot mentally on both sides of the ball. We have a lot of new guys in different positions.'

That is also the case for Whitehall, which competes in the Lehigh Valley Conference and is coming off an 8-3 season in which it reached the District 2/11-AAAA quarterfinals.

"They lost a lot overall,' Brubaker said of the Zephyrs, "but they're replacing them with guys that would have likely started in every other year. They're really solid across the board. They don't have a lot of weaknesses, position-wise. It's going to be tough; a real test.'

The same goes for Perkiomen Valley, which fell to Plymouth-Whitemarsh 20-16 in last year's opener. The Colonials went 7-0 in the Suburban One League's American Conference on the way to a 9-2 campaign highlighted by a trip to the District 1-AAAA playoffs. P-W returns four out of five starting lineman, led by the standout tackle duo of Jack Mailey and Ryan Bischoff.

Last year's encounter was also the debut of the Vikings no-huddle offense, which sputtered to several three-and-outs in the early going.

"Game 1 is such a question mark,' PV coach Scott Reed said. "That's when you find out a little about yourself. We're hoping to get off to a much better start (than last year). I truly believe we lost that game in the first quarter.

"We felt like we were right there; they just had a little more than we did. They played good against us. We moved the ball, but they wouldn't let us score. Hopefully we can do better.'

The tough Week 1 matchups aren't just limited to the area's top squads.

Daniel Boone opens with Lancaster-Lebanon Section 2 power Cocalico (42-18 over the past five seasons) tonight; Pope John Paul II visits Berks Catholic (9-2 last year) tonight; Pottstown travels to Schuylkill Valley, which has qualified for the District 3-AA playoffs for the past three years, tonight; and Methacton gets underway Saturday against a Bayard Rustin squad that reached the District 1-AAAA tourney last year.

DISTRICT 1 DOINGS

It will be a reunion of sorts tonight at Poppy Yoder Field when Pennridge (which Spring-Ford defeated 35-24 in last year's District 1-AAAA semifinal) plays host to Emmaus. Former Rams coach Randy Cuthbert debuts as the head man for the Green Hornets. ... In a big game Saturday night, North Penn takes on LaSalle at Plymouth-Whitemarsh. ... Defending District 1-AAAA champ (and PIAA runner-up) Coatesville, ranked third in Class AAAA by the Pennsylvania Football News, visits York, where Red Raiders coach Matt Ortega was formerly the head coach. ... Other District 1 teams in the PFN preseason AAAA poll are Neshaminy (No. 6), North Penn (HM), Ridley (HM) and Spring-Ford (HM).

AROUND THE STATE

Berks County's most enduring rivalry will be broadcast statewide tonight on the Pennsylvania Cable Network when Wilson visits Governor Mifflin. The Bulldogs have won five straight Lancaster-Lebanon Section 1 titles, while the Mustangs have won 18 straight Berks League Section 1 games. Mifflin enters the season ranked first in District 3-AAAA by PennLive; Wilson is ranked fourth. ... Clairton, whose 63-game winning streak is best in the nation, plays host to Chartiers-Houston, which played the Bears tough in a 22-20 season-opening loss last year. ... In a battle of high-profile WPIAL squads, Woodland Hills, ranked first in the state in Class AAAA by the Pennsylvania Football News, takes on seventh-ranked Upper St. Clair.

Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD