Blogger's note: This is the final series of short stories on stops made by The Tribune-Democrat sports editor Mike Kovak during training camp. I know, I know. We're two weeks into the season already.
It was a rare dreary day in mid-August and the scene outside Kanter Middle School was a peaceful one, save for a raging bonfire burning at the far end of the practice field.
The fire could play tricks on the eyes, as it was only a few feet behind a parked vehicle, which gave the illusion that it was burning.
Upon speaking with North Star coach Stacy Schmitt, who has guided the Cougars to consecutive District 5A championships, and mentioning the fire, he quipped, "They'll look for any reason to burn something around here."
On paper, it looked like the North Star offense would burn through WestPAC defenses this season, which was a big reason why conference coaches overwhelmingly selected the Cougars as they team to beat this season. Coaches also considered North Star the favorite to repeat as district champions and return to the PIAA playoffs, where a possible game against perennial power Clairton could await.
Then something interesting happened last Friday.
Portage 13, North Star 10.
The Cougars get back on the field today at Ferndale - a team without a record following Week 1 because of an unusual game postponement against Conemaugh Valley. (In case you haven't heard, the Blue Jays and Yellow Jackets played two-and-a-half quarters last Saturday before the game was postponed by thunderstorms that never actually hit the stadium. The game will be resumed Tuesday, Sept. 18.)
And North Star will be without starting quarterback Brantley Rice, a standout pitcher on the baseball team. Rice was ejected from the Portage game and PIAA rules dictate he must miss the next game.