Game of the week: Highlands (1-0) at Montour (1-0), 7:30 p.m.
They are bound by being seniors and positional denotation -- and that is just about where the similarities end for Montour quarterback E.J. Banks and Highlands quarterback Jeff Sinclair.
And the teams they lead -- both 1-0 -- will collide tonight in a WPIAL Class AAA non-conference matchup at Montour, as the Spartans, at No. 2 in the Post-Gazette rankings, meet No. 4 Highlands.
A 6-foot-3, 185-pound kid with a big arm, Sinclair threw for 154 yards, one touchdown and completed 15 of 27 passes in a win against Fox Chapel a week ago. He finds comfort in finding a receiver and unleashing a rocket at him.
"He can really hurt you with his arm," Montour coach Lou Cerro said of Sinclair. "What I like about him is that, although he isn't a big threat to pick up a lot of yards running, he keeps plays alive with his legs, scrambles out of the pocket and can throw the ball on the run very well. That is where he can really hurt us."
While Sinclair is known for his merits as a passer, Banks is different -- he is a player with superior athleticism, who is just as comfortable hitting a receiver in stride as he is breaking containment, tucking it under and roaring through the secondary.
Banks rushed for four touchdowns, threw another and accumulated 166 yards passing and 117 yards rushing in a 35-27 victory against Pine-Richland a week ago.
Perhaps the most telling measure of Banks' athleticism is this: He has made a verbal commitment to Notre Dame as a defensive back.
"He is definitely the real deal," Sinclair said of Banks, who is 6 feet, 180 pounds. "Just watching him last season, and seeing film on him this year, you can see where he is so good because he is such a great athlete."
Highlands coach Sam Albert made a point of saying that Banks is much more than just a find-a-seam and hit-a-hole runner.
"What was crazy was that you hear about how E.J. is pure speed, and I am telling you that is not the case," Albert said. "I saw film of him [from last week] against Pine-Richland and he took the whole pile from the 10 into the end zone. Then, later, he ran right through a linebacker, I mean right over the kid.
"Speed? That is just one thing E.J. has, and we will see all he has when we go up against him."
Highlands and Montour students sound off on the big showdown tonight:
Mike Henderson, senior -- "With Jeff Sinclair's passing game and Billy Devlin's running game, I think it's a pretty unbeatable combination. I predict Highlands by 30-27."
David Buterbaugh, senior -- "I think that this year's Highlands team is actually better than past years. We might be young but we have a great leader with Jeff Sinclair, and we have a lot of kids stepping up and filling positions. Our team might not be the biggest but we play like we are. I predict the score to be 21-14, Highlands."
Dawnie-Kay Baczynski, senior -- "Montour is very overrated. We know that we are going to crush them like we have everyone else in the past. Our team has a very strong defensive and offensive line, so they better watch out. Just make sure you're ready when you see the Rams coming your way. Go Rams!"
Michael Gardner, senior -- "What comes to our school's mind when talking Spartan Football? The Montour Maniac Section. I'll tell you exactly what comes to the Maniacs' minds about the Spartans -- they are focused, well-prepared, determined and ready for Friday night lights. This Friday when Montour matches up against Highlands the maniacs will witness another victory by the Spartans. With our all-star athlete E.J. Banks in charge, Highlands better re-think being 'Golden' because they're going home 'black and gold.' "
Alaina Santucci, junior -- "Montour football has not had much support up until last year when they proved to everyone that there was no backing down. In the long run, this determination and support will be what keeps the team motivated to move forward."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published on September 5, 2008 at 5:41 am