Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
One drought is ready to end for the Union High football program.
Another one is just 48 minutes from coming to an end.
The 10th-seeded Scotties (6-3) are appearing in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since the 2003 season. They are set to meet seventh-seeded Beth-Center at 7:30 p.m. today at California High School in Class A action.
“The guys are excited. They’re keeping things business-like,” said Union coach Stacy Robinson, who is in his 16th season at the helm. “We’ll try to keep it that way. We don’t want us to get big eyes and then go down there and get ambushed.”
The winner advances to meet the survivor of the Sto-Rox-Carmichaels matchup Nov. 9 at a time and site to be determined.
The last time Union won a playoff game was in 1979 when it defeated Albert Gallatin in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals. The Scotties lost the next week against Knoch in the semifinals. Robinson was a junior on that team.
“Winning in the playoffs is great for the program. Moreso, it’s great for the kids,” Robinson said. “Like I can recall from when I played, it’s a memory they can take with them wherever they go; it’s a pleasant memory.
“For the program, we need it. We work hard. We work just as hard as any other team. It won’t be given to us. We’ll have to work for it. But we’ll be prepared.”
CHANGE OF PLANS
The game was originally scheduled to be held at Beth-Center. Higher seeds get to host first-round playoff games in the WPIAL football playoffs. But because the Bulldogs play on grass and the field was in such poor shape, the game site was changed Wednesday to California.
“On the one hand, I don’t blame teams for wanting to play at home,” Robinson said. “All year, they thought they’d get a home game as a reward for having a good year and a high seed.
“But it’s out of everyone’s hands. I’m glad (the WPIAL) came to their senses and moved the game.”
This will be the second straight game for Union on an artificial (field turf) surface. The Scotties lost to Neshannock last week in the regular season finale, 42-34. That was the first time Union played on anything but grass since last year.
“New Castle High School has been kind enough to let us use their field (Wednesday and yesterday),” Robinson said of his team’s preparation for the surface. “You can stop more abruptly and start quicker on field turf. We have to get used to running on it. After running on it for an hour or two, it becomes second nature.
“I don’t think playing on field turf gives either team an advantage, but there’s no disadvantage either. Visions of Dick Butkus running all over the field in the 60s in the mud are over. There’s no reason to play in the mud if you don’t have to.”
Making the decision Wednesday to switch the site came as a relief to Robinson.
“I’m glad the decision was (made Wednesday),” Robinson said. “It lets us concentrate on the game now. Nobody in western Pennsylvania wants to play in the slop or mud. We can move on now and get ready to play the game.”
STOPPING THE OPPOSITION
Gino Faieta, a 6-foot-3, 226- pound junior quarterback, paces the Bulldogs attack. Faieta is 59 of 108 through the air for 817 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He has a good arm,” Robinson said of Faieta. “He has good control of the offense and talented skill people around him.
“He’s a pocket guy. He drops back and he can see the field very well, that’s for sure.”
Robinson said Faieta can attack a defense in multiple fashions through the air.
“He can throw it short and he can throw it long,” Robinson said. “He likes to throw the deep ball.
“He’s mobile, too. He can bootleg.”
Anthony Gilpin, a 6-0, 158-pound senior tight end, has 16 receptions for 340 yards. Matt Riggle, a 5-9, 170-pound junior running back, has 16 catches as well for 150 yards.
“They spread the ball around so much,” Robinson said. “Gilpin is pretty good and so are the other guys.”
Cody Durant has a team-best 685 rushing yards for Beth-Center (8-1) on 75 carries. He has 14 touchdowns as well.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of him; he’s one of their top playmakers,” Robinson said. “They like to get him in space. He’s a guy that has to be hit and hit with authority.
“We need to get on him real quick. Wrap up and get him to the ground quickly. He can definitely spin out of tackles and he has a lot of quickness.”
Union’s biggest test might be on both sides of the line.
“They’re big and they can get the power game going,” Robinson said. “We have to teach our linemen to be aggressive and get on the ball.
“Their running game is their strength. We’re going to have to be ready right from the start. They like to get on you right away and make you play from behind.”
The Bulldogs, champions of the Tri-County South Conference, are outscoring the opposition, 40.1-5.1.
“They play multiple fronts defensively,” Robinson said. “They look like a 4-3, a 3-3-4 stack. They’ll play variations of the 50. They try to confuse you with what they’re doing on defense.”
Beth-Center reached the WPIAL playoffs last year, but dropped a 33-14 decision at home to Fort Cherry. Two of last year’s statistical leaders — quarterback Sal Faieta (Gino’s brother) and running back Jake Sofran — graduated.
Joe Salmen, a 6-0, 170-pound senior quarterback/defensive back, directs the Union attack. Salmen has completed 64 passes in 136 attempts for 1,027 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He ranks second in the county in passing yards.
Drew Robinson, the coach’s son, leads the Scotties’ ground game with 973 rushing yards on 111 attempts and 15 touchdowns. He’s third in the county in rushing yards and third in scoring (92 points).
Union’s Benjamin Young, a 6-1, 175-pound wide receiver/defensive back, ranks fourth in the county in receiving with 11 catches for 265 yards.
Attempts to reach Bulldogs coach Ed Woods for comments were unsuccessful.