Hickory up next for South Fayette
Roman Denson (No.4) is a high-stepper on defense for South Fayette, ranking among the team’s leaders with four interceptions. He hopes to guide the defense and the team to victory against Hickory on Dec. 7 in the PIAA semifinals. Kick-off is 1 p.m. at Slippery Rock University.
Eleanor Bailey / Staff
Conner Beck (No. 26) is a threat on both offense and defense for the Lions as South Fayette takes on Hickory at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Slippery Rock in the the PIAA Class AA semifinals. In addition to ranking as one of the team’s top receivers with 1,010 yards and 10 scores, Beck has had two key interceptions in the past two playoff games, including one last week in a 57-21 win over Karns City.
Eleanor Bailey / Staff
One down, one to go is the mantra of the South Fayette football team.
For after their come-from-behind 57-21 victory over Karns City, the Lions are a game away from contending for a state championship. Before they can conceive of traveling to Hershey, the undefeated Lions must beat Hickory (13-1) at 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Slippery Rock in the PIAA semifinals.
Before the Lions entered the PIAA tournament and dispatched the Gremlins, Joe Rossi told his players that it was a three-game season. “We are hoping to play three games,” explained the SF head coach. “We have one more to go, and they are a very tough football team.”
Indeed, the Hornets prove a formidable opponent. They are 13-1 overall after beating Central, 37-27, in their state quarterfinal playoff game. Their lone loss during the 2013 campaign was to Greenville, 22-21.
Hickory is much like the Lions and their previous opponent from Karns City. All featured high-powered offenses, engineered by outstanding signal callers. All boast impregnable defenses.
Hickory averages 45.7 points per game, while the Lions have racked up 655 points in 14 games for a 46.7 average. The Lions have allowed only 109 points, with the biggest single outbursts coming in the past two victories, 34-28 over Aliquippa in the WPIAL Class AA championship and the win last Saturday at Clarion University. SF trailed Karns City, 21-15, before exploding for 42 unanswered points.
“We bend, but we do not break,” Rossi said of his defense. “We are able to get the key stops on defense when we need to.”
“Everybody talks about our offense,” added Brett Brumbaugh, who has passed for 3,440 yards and 38 TDs this fall, “but it’s our defense. That’s the heart and soul of this team. They know whenever we need a big play to happen, they usually come up with a turnover or fourth-down stop.”
The Lions defense stopped Aliquippa and their offense secured victory in the final 2:38 of play. Defense also enabled the Lions to top the Gremlins. In fact, interceptions by Roman Denson and Conner Beck set up scores during SF’s four-TD explosion in the final 6:16 of the second half.
Denson’s fourth pick of the year set up Logan Sharp’s 26-yard TD reception from Brumbaugh that afforded the Lions a 29-21 lead at 5:43 in the second stanza. Beck’s interception set up Brumbaugh’s 10-yard hook-up with Justin Watson that gave the Lions a 43-21 advantage at halftime. Later, Spencer Girman forced a fumble and Grant Fetchet recovered, setting up another Brumbaugh-to-Watson TD connection for a 50-21 lead in the third frame.
In addition to Denson and Beck, Hayden Orler, Ryan Schmider and Jared Walker spearhead the secondary, which has produced more than 15 interceptions this season. Walker and his brother, Zach, lead the team in tackles with 134 and 124 respectively while Beck and Ben Berkovitz follow with 72 and 58. With eight and seven sacks respectively, Berkovitz and Walker pose a strong front for Hickory to penetrate.
The Hornets, who have racked up 600 points this season, however, are not without their premier players.
Daulton Linton anchors the defense. The 5-10, 200-pound senior has recorded 124 total tackles, only 45 of them assisted. In addition to averaging 10.3 tackles per game, he has 5.5 sacks for the season.
Also, Jordan Wombacher and Zach Cirillo both have five sacks. Cirillo has 65 tackles; Wombacher, 41 tackles.
Lou Derloni, like many of the Hornets, provides a 1-2 punch on both sides of the line. The junior ranks No. 3 on defense with 50 tackles. He is also the team’s leading rusher with 960 yards on 118 carries. He has scored 12 TDs. Offensively, the Hornets are versatile, in addition to Derloni, DeQuan Lewis and Chuck Carr are two addition weapons senior signal caller Matt Voytik has in his arsenal. Lewis averages 7.5 points a game. He has rushed for 372 yards and 8 TDs on 24 carries. He has 21 catches for 335 yards and six more scores. A freshman, Carr also has 8 TDs and 564 yards rushing on 54 carries for a 10.44 average.
Meanwhile, Voytik, whose cousin is the back-up QB at Pitt, presents a dual-threat to SF’s defense. The 6-1, 180-pound senior averages 147.2 yards passing per game and 200.5 total yards per game. He completed 10 of 14 passes for 230 yards last week against Central.
Voytik has passed for 1,914 yards and 25 TDs this season. He has also rushed for 692 yards on 112 carries for 6.18 yards per carry and 8 TDs.
Voytik’s top targets are: Andrew Pryts and Anthony Canone. A sophomore, Pryts has 787 yards on 35 receptions for 8 TDs. He is also the team’s No. 2 tackler with 61. A senior, Canone has 476 yards on 27 catches for seven scores.
The Lions, however, have demonstrated that they can keep pace with any offense.
Brumbaugh controls the reigns and sets the tone, a responsibility he takes seriously as he took the blame for South Fayette’s slow start against Karns City. Three touchdowns by Tristan Rhoades, two on short bursts into the end zone and one on a 30-yard interception, vaulted the Gremlins into the lead, 21-15.
“That’s on me,” Brumbaugh said. “We didn’t come out as focused as we should have been. But, I dialed in and my line gave me great protection after that.”
As a result, Brumbaugh completed 17 of 31 passes for 320 yards and five scores. Justin Watson grabbed three of those touchdowns but Beck had the longest on an 80-yard scoring strike that vaulted SF to an 8-7 lead after Brian Coyne’s two-point conversion run.
Watson finished with five receptions for 72 yards, bringing his season total to 1,403 yards and 20 scores. Beck, who also had five grabs for 146 yards, has 1010 yards receiving and 10 TDs.
Sharp and Orler are additional targets for Brumbaugh, who ranks fourth on the WPIAL’s all-time passing list with 6,865 career yards. Sharp and Orler have 368 and 303 yards receiving respectively. Sharp’s 26-yard score against Karns City gave him five TD passes for the season.
“Its not just (covering the receivers), you have the quarterback getting the ball to them,” said Karns City head coach Ed Conto. “You’ve got a triple threat.”
The Lions, however, are a threat to run the football, especially when they near the goal line.
JJ Walker rushed for three short scores against the Gremlins. Though he has only rushed for 300 yards this fall, the junior has scored 17 times.
Grant Fetchet leads the ground game. The senior has gained 1,176 yards this season and has scored 18 touchdowns.
As a result, South Fayette is a formidable opponent for Hickory.
“That’s a great offense and a great combination,” Conto said, noting as well the Lions’ play on the offensive line. “They give them all kinds of time.”
Hickory up next for South Fayette
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