Mt. Lebanon, Seneca Valley passing attacks take center stage
Mt. Lebanon's Mike Melnyk and Seneca Valley's Don Holl aren't from Pittsburgh, which might explain the coaches' affinity for wide-open, pass-oriented offenses.
“We have different styles,” Melnyk said, “but we're not the traditional WPIAL line up and smashmouth right at you, type of thing. I think if you grow up in Pittsburgh, that's the kind of football you've grown up with.”
Yet, with their alternate approaches, both offenses remain squarely in contention for a WPIAL title. The teams meet in a playoff quarterfinal Friday night at North Allegheny that could become a high-scoring affair.
No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (8-2) has Class AAAA's leading passer and receiver. No. 5 Seneca Valley (9-1) has reached the 50-point mark in consecutive weeks.
But here in November, these pass-first teams are showing they're more than one-dimensional; seven of their combined 11 touchdowns last week were scored rushing.
“Ultimately, that's the sign of a good quality team,” Melnyk said, “being able to run when the weather gets cold. We'll see what kind of success we can have through the cold weather.”
Melnyk and Holl were successful coaches in other PIAA districts with offenses that they since have brought to the WPIAL. Melnyk was at District 3's Manheim Township when Mt. Lebanon hired him in March. Holl coached at District 10's Erie Cathedral Prep before joining Seneca Valley in 2009.
However, the two teams' playbooks have influences from beyond Pennsylvania's borders.
Seneca Valley's spread, which helped senior Jordan Brown become a 5,000-yard career passer last week, has traits of the Clemson-inspired offense Holl once coordinated at Gannon University.
But each of the past three springs, Holl spent a few days in Oregon with Ducks coach Chip Kelly, who Holl became acquainted with when Kelly was at New Hampshire.
“There are some differences,” Holl said, “but scheme-wise we're probably the most like them.”
Seneca Valley can score like the Ducks, having averaged 40.3 points, second in Class AAAA behind only Gateway (40.8). The Raiders had a lopsided 50-20 victory over Hempfield in the first round.
Brown has 1,492 passing yards and 17 touchdowns this season, and senior halfback Forrest Barnes leads Class AAAA with 1,500 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. Against Hempfield, Barnes had two touchdown runs and two scoring catches.
While both offenses are dual-threat, their passing games appear among the league's more complex.
“I think everybody's goal is to make it complex to defend while you keep it simple for your own kids,” Holl said. “We're able to do that, and I think they're the same way. I don't think there are a ton of difference concepts, but then you layer them with a different formation or motion or personnel group. You do the same thing a lot of different ways.”
Mt. Lebanon's Tyler Roth and Troy Apke have broken a number of team records for passing and receiving. Roth, a senior, has thrown for 2,373 yards and 27 touchdowns. Apke, a junior, has 50 catches, 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Roth threw two touchdowns in last week's 31-7 victory over Butler, but Mt. Lebanon also rushed for two scores.
“When you get into the playoffs, you've got to be able to run the football,” Melnyk said. “A lot of people think of us as a throwing team because we do get a lot of yards through the air, but we try to be balanced.”
Mt. Lebanon's offense borrows ideas from Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who was previously a Michigan assistant. And some of his plays were borrowed from Sean Payton's playbook.
“I always say that the best coaches are thieves,” Melnyk said with a laugh. “You pick and choose, steal good ideas from people, and fit them into your own system.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.