Troy Cook was prepared to use a college-like rotation.
In the days leading up to his team’s season-opener, the first-year Otto-Eldred football coach still hadn’t decided on a replacement for departed do-it-all quarterback Sawyer Drummond — the battle for which had been between senior Chase Sebastian and his younger brother by two years, Cole.
To Cook, the Terrors couldn’t go wrong with either. But the team came to him with the opinion that it would be better to name an outright starter, if only for preparation purposes. And so, Cook sat down with his coaching staff and made a decision.
Cole got the nod. And it worked out well.
The younger Sebastian finished 17-of-24 for 251 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and Chase caught five passes for 94 yards and two of those scores to lead O-E to a 34-6 victory over Port Allegany Friday night.
Granted, those performances came against a Gators team still trying to find its way, but it was an encouraging start for the Sebastians, neither of whom had focused entirely on those positions in the preseason.
“We just sat down with both of them and had a little chat,” Cook said. “Chase was a little disappointed. He really wanted the spot; so did Cole. But Chase was also looking forward to being able to help the team elsewhere. He came out and had a very nice game.
“Someone who wasn’t sure if he could be a decent wide receiver … he has five catches, almost 100 yards and two touchdowns his first game. Cole played very well at quarterback, too. You could tell at some points that it was his first start ever; other points, he looked like he’d been back there for a while.”
He added: “I think those guys have found a home and we can continue to build on that a little now.”
More than clarity at an important position, the win gave O-E something it generally hasn’t had this time of year: momentum.
The Terrors went on to win each of the last two Allegheny Mountain League North championships, but due to the enormous gap between the North and South in recent years, started both campaigns 0-2.
Friday gave Otto-Eldred its first 1-0 start since 2004. Having the chance to open on a positive note — and avoid those early decimations at the hands of the South — could go a long way, Cook acknowledged.
“It really allowed us to not have to try to get a bunch of things crammed in scheme-wise on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We could kind of ease into things a little bit more, and just the confidence level alone … bringing in a bunch of younger guys and allowing them to kind of learn on the fly.
“We didn’t have that option before because they were coming right in and jumping into battle. It’s a little bit nicer being on a little bit more even playing field. Everybody can kind of ease each other in, take their lumps and get some even competition.”
Given the setup in the new District 9 League, it likely won’t take the usual month to find out which teams might separate themselves in the Small School North (or the South for that matter).
It may have only taken a weekend.
O-E, Coudersport and Smethport all won convincingly over Port A, Cameron County and Sheffield, respectively. The same went for Elk County Catholic, Clarion-Limestone and Redbank Valley, who got by Curwensville, Union/AC Valley and Keystone with ease.
The Terrors will try to go 2-0 for the first time since 1994 this Friday against a new, but familiar opponent: Redbank Valley escaped with a 15-8 win over O-E in last year’s District 9 Class A quarterfinals.
Cook’s team is looking forward to the rematch.
“It would be nice (to win),” Cook said. “1-0 is a big deal, 2-0 is even better. I know a lot of the guys are looking forward to the Redbank Valley game. It was a good battle, so they’re hoping to pick up where they left off last year.
“It’s impressive that it hasn’t been since 1994, I wasn’t aware of that. That’s quite a while, and if we’re lucky enough and prepared enough to start out 2-0, then we’re doing something right.”
The O-E/Port Allegany matchup was the game of choice for most Big 30 committee members in Pennsylvania’s Week 0. And though the Terrors had the game well in hand by the start of the fourth quarter, it wound up being one of the closer contests score-wise (aside, of course, from Bradford’s record-setting shootout with Brookville).
The story, they said, was equal parts the Sebastians and a Port Allegany passing defense that struggled.
“The attack by Otto-Eldred came from the two Sebastian boys, with Cole often finding Chase, Cameron Magee and Michael Welch,” one observer said. “Brady Valerius ran the ball well for the Terrors, and Steven Langworthy had a good game as well. Charles Lee was excellent on both sides of the ball.
“A lack of good defense on the outside and a weak passing defense from the Gators caused the game to get out of hand in the second half. Justin Young and Dalton Distrola, however, were solid in that area for Port Allegany.”