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Ford City, Kittanning understand each other's midseason plights

| Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012, 12:36 a.m.
Kittanning sophomore Brady Crissman (right) wears a blue jersey as he runs plays against the first-team defense at practice on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012 to symbolize Ford City senior running back Devan Willyard, the Sabers' leading rusher and receiver. (Bill West | Leader Times)
First-year Kittanning coach Frank Fabian (center) some Wildcats a Ford City play to run against the first-team defense at practice on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012. Fabian is a Ford City graduate.
Ford City senior defensive back Justin Retzer. (Bill West | Leader Times)

On the surface, Kittanning and Ford City's football programs stand in stark contrast to each other.

A new and fairly young coaching staff leads the Wildcats, while Ford City's collection of coaches has barely changed in the past decade.

With their no-huddle spread offense, the Wildcats throw the ball without hesitation. The Sabers remain committed to their diversified but still run-oriented wing-T system.

And the Wildcats (2-3, 2-2) excel in the fourth quarter, during which they've outscored opponents, 55-13, through five weeks. Ford City (2-3, 1-3) has been outscored, 60-13, in the final quarter, yet its overall point differential (minus-8) isn't all that far from Kittanning's (11).

These are superficial differences, though. Here's the heart of the matter: Both teams dealt with some bad luck during the first half of the season, and both desperately desire to start a hot streak Friday night at Kittanning's David “Red” Ullom Field.

“I think Coach Bart mentioned it last week, but they very easily could be a 4-1 football team if a couple things go their way,” said Kittanning coach Frank Fabian, referring to Ford City's John Bartolovic. “In no way, shape or form do I think their record is a reflection of how good they are. And we're in the same boat as Ford City. A couple breaks here and there, and our record is a lot different.”

Playmakers' absences affected both teams the past couple weeks.

Notably for the Sabers, their leading rusher and receiver, senior Devan Willyard, missed last week's 20-14 loss to Summit Academy for personal reasons. A shoulder injury forced senior fullback and linebacker Ben Young to sit out the fourth quarter, during which Summit Academy rallied from a 14-0 deficit. And earlier in the fall, Ford City dealt with a flu bug.

Kittanning has operated with a depleted linebacker unit. Tyler Crissman and Nick Bowers missed last week's 56-35 loss to Burrell with injuries, and Zac Croyle (ankle) played at less than full strength. Safety/wide receiver Mitch Pirhalla missed the game for personal reasons.

Neither Bartolovic nor Fabian knows how close to full strength his team will be Friday. And neither is interested in excuses if key players remain sidelined.

Fabian has focused on what he can change, and he has extended that philosophy to the dark cloud that looms over Kittanning, the losing team in nine of the past 10 games between the Wildcats and Sabers.

“We can't control what happened in the past,” Fabian said. “I guess the past is where you leave it.”

His players have attempted to follow his lead.

“It's not brought up as much by the players as it is by the community, by everybody else,” lineman Colton Toy said. “Amongst the players, we don't really talk about it much. We know this is a different team, a different coaching staff.”

Bartolovic recently broke out a sheet of Ford City individual and team records and posted it in his office as a way to push his players to uphold tradition.

“We showed them past records and things that other teams have done — our records against Kittanning, what our level is and where we expect to be at,” Bartolovic said. “And anything less really isn't acceptable.”

Ford City's players met Bartolovic's gesture with understanding.

“We forget about last week and look forward to this week,” quarterback Dave Lattanzio said. “We never get down on ourselves. We always expect to win. That's just how we think about it at Ford City.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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