NEW CASTLE —
Familiar faces. Familiar place. Familiar stakes.
Wilmington High football makes a return to the the District 10, Class AA Championship when it clashes with Hickory at 7:00 p.m. tonight at Slippery Rock University. This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season as the Greyhounds seek their 11th district title since 1994. Wilmington outscored the Hornets 35-28 in September.
“I said last week it is very difficult to play a team a second time, especially if you are on the winning end of it. Hickory has more talent than anyone in our league. They have great skill people,” Wilmington coach Terry Verrelli said. “They’re difficult to stop, it’s that simple.”
The Greyhounds (9-2) will be making their second trip to Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in as many weeks. Wilmington beat Greenville in a 10-9 double overtime thriller on the same field last Saturday. Hickory (10-1) buzzed past Grove City 35-13 and will be looking to win back-to-back Class AA championships.
For the second week in a row, the ’Hounds will take part in a rematch of a regular season contest. After handling the Trojans in the regular season 26-0, Greenville almost pulled the upset last week. The first contest between the Hornets and the Greyhounds was a tight battle to the end, and Verrelli expects the title game to be no different.
“It was tied 21-21, then we went up a couple of touchdowns on them,” he said. “They scored once more when we fumbled and they scooped it up and ran it in. We were able to move the ball. I think that’s the key this week too. It wont be an easy chore, that’s for sure, but we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
Film study is vital to a successful football program. Looking back on a matchup, a team can evaluate and reflect on strengths and weaknesses for an upcoming rematch. Hickory coach Bill Brest saw many mistakes his team could correct.
"That first game we started fast like we always want to do," the Hornets coach said. "We were up 7-0 and we turned it over. They answered by scoring right away. We're not happy with the mistakes we made. However, clearly Wilmington through three-and-a-half quarters was the much better team. We need to improve on that."
The gameplan has been the same for the Greyhounds all season. Tyler Donati, who leads the county in rushing with 1,571 yards on 183 carries and 20 touchdowns, will be called on to pound the rock for Wilmington. Combined with Alex Patton and Nic Pugh, the trio brings a blend of size and speed to the ’Hounds backfield.
"Their fullback, Donati, is their best," Brest said. "He does a great job running that football on a dive, crossblock, or a fullback trap. He has great vision. His greatest asset is he's a hard-nosed physical runner. We have to be prepared for him."
If the running game struggles, the Greyhounds can fall on the strong arm of quarterback Cody Llewellyn, who has only thrown one interception this season. Placekicker Slavi Pontius provided the Greyhounds with two crucial kicks, an extra point and a 21-yard field goal, in the team's win last week.
The Hornets DeShawn Coleman is dangerous when he has his hands on the football. Any team looking to beat Hickory will make containing Coleman its top priority.
“He’ll scramble around anywhere he wants to,” Verrelli said. “He has such speed, and he cuts so well. You have to be able to move the ball on them and you have to stop Coleman and their running game. They win games on him breaking long runs. He’s very capable of that any time. It’s just a very difficult thing to stop him. It’s key to keep him over there where he belongs, on the sideline.”
A reliance on Coleman has been successful, as the Hornets average 270.5 yards rushing per game from a variety of different sets and formations.
“They like to run from a spread and a pro set. Their main set is their I-Pro set where they pitch it to Coleman,” Verrelli said. “They’ll also spread you out and run Jet.”
Hickory also has threats at the other skill positions with Matt Voytik and Michael Nardone under center and Dionte Pope and Davon Tindall being the primary receiving options . The Hornets average 41.5 points per game.
“They can pass. Their skill people are their receivers. They can run, they can catch, they’ve got some height to them. They have a couple of quarterbacks who can throw the football.”
We have to do what we have to do to keep the ball moving. We’re a running team, but if it’s throwing the football, we’ll throw the football. We have to figure a way to keep the ball moving defensively.
The Greyhounds' defense was almost unbeatable last week against the Trojans, not allowing a point in regulation. The unit has surrendered 10.9 points per game with most of its success starting at the line of scrimmage.
"My philosophy has always been winning th line of scrimmage," Brest said. "Wilmington did during our last game. It starts up front for them. Guys like defensive lineman Jon Yohman, Keith Fulkman and Chris Welch. Any time you have a 295-pound and 355-pound guy inside, and an athletic 240-pound defensive end, that's pretty good. They cover up so Donati at inside line-backer can shoot the gaps. Alex Patton at safety fills alleys on runs very well. They have some solid kids there. With Wilmington, they play team defense. They have 11 players doing their job every play."
Brest's defense was caught off guard by the schemes and formations the Greyhounds used in the initial contest.
"They did something completely different. They went away from base defense," Brest said. "They went with a 5-3 set and primarily used Cover-0, spying the tailback. We're prepared now for that and their base set. It's been a long season. We've seen all the fronts we can see."
Hickory presents a variety of unique fronts to confuse offenses.
“They like to come hard and get on the line of scrimmage with everybody that they can. Their corners are fast, so they’ll come up near the line also. Last time we played them, there were 10 guys on the line of scrimmage. They left a safety back there, and they had 10 guys right on the line. That’s what the want to do defensively. They’re very aggressive and they run to the football.”
A young group of sophomores has stepped up for the Hornet's defense. Hickory allows just 11.6 points against per game. Brest attributes the success of his defense to a new-found physicality.
"We're playing more physical now," Brest said. "We looked back at week three and week four, and we had seven underclassmen starters. What's happening now is these kids are maturing and understanding the game. Linebacker Daulton Linton has done an outstanding job. Dequan Lewis is a physical kid out on the perimeter. Joey Hines has provided stability at nose tackle Jaylan Sharper has really come out of nowhere defensively for us."