Bishop Canevin offense not afraid to air it out
It was a stat from Week 1 that Bishop Canevin football coach Bob Jacoby knew would have to change.
Thanks in part to an outstanding performance by senior fullback Jim Tersak and sophomore running back Giovanni DeMarzo, the Crusaders only had to throw the ball five times in a 21-6 win over Imani Christian.
“We knew people were going to start bunching up at the line,” Jacoby said. “We would like to throw the ball 20 times a game. We also don't want to have the game dictate when we throw it.
“We don't want to throw it in a third-and-15 situation. We want to throw it on first down or in a second-and-short situation.”
The goal of getting the passing attack going has been a success through Week 4. Bishop Canevin is 4-0 and has outscored opponents, 87-18, since the opening game.
Senior Nico DiPaolo has been the man under center. DiPaolo played as backup to Kevin Mechas last season while also getting some time at a wide receiver.
Putting a future quarterback at the wide receiver spot has led to success: Mechas made the same move last season and finished with 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air.
DiPaolo has thrown for 520 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. That is on pace with Mechas, who threw for 562 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception through the first four games of the 2011 season.
In a 39-14 road win over California last week, DiPaolo completed 11 of 23 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
“He has progressed with each game,” Jacoby said. “We are going to need to have a passing game in the second half of the season. We are facing some of the top teams in the conference, so we need to be ready for them.”
DiPaolo has the additional responsibility of starting at defensive back. While the strain of playing both ways might seem daunting, DiPaolo said the coaches give him plenty of time to rest on the sidelines.
“The coaches do a good job of getting me breaks so I can catch my breath so I can be able to lead the offense to its fullest,” DiPaolo said.
DiPaolo has not had much trouble getting timing down with his top receivers. Seniors Mike Tambellini and Matt DeCello have been teammates of DiPaolo's since the sixth grade at Our Lady of Grace.
“We have been playing together for so long that we really have the chemistry down,” Tambellini said. “We know where each other will be on the field. I know he will make the pass and have it right there each time.”
Both receivers are coming off ACL tears in their junior campaigns — DeCello in Week 1 and Tambellini in Week 2 — that forced them to be sidelined the entire season.
“It was like they were redshirted because we didn't have them all of last year,” Jacoby said. “They were our No. 3 and No. 4 receivers last season so we had to come up with other options who all turned out to be seniors. (DiPaolo) had to practice with those receivers and didn't get much time with (Tambellini and DeCello).”
The receivers said it was hard to watch the team achieve great success last season — Bishop Canevin went undefeated in the regular season and reached the WPIAL Class A semifinals — but they are reedy to help this team reach the same heights.
“I just want to help the team get the win,” Decello said.
Junior Tyler Reddy and Luke Decello also have stepped up as receiving threats.
While the passing attack is hitting its stride, Jacoby is adamant about not having to force the air attack into game-winning situations. The long-time coach said the Crusaders need a balanced attack — as well as top-notch play from the defense — if they hope to contend for the Black Hills Conference title.
“The passing attack needs to complement the run game,” Jacoby said. “We want to avoid high-scoring games. We feel we have a good defense right now. We feel if we can keep opponents under two touchdowns, we have a great shot of winning.
“We know we have a potent offense that can put more points on the board than that.”
The quarterback and receivers embrace the idea of the balanced attack.
With Tersak and DeMarzo possessing the ability to find the end zone on the ground — the duo has combined for 10 touchdowns — teams likely will focus on them, creating favorable matchups in the secondary.
“Once they bring up the linebackers to stop the run and we get in man-on-man situations on the outside, we will be able to make plays,” Decello said.
Bishop Canevin hosts Monessen Friday night and follows that game with a trip to Fort Cherry, a battle against Clairton — the Tribune-Review's No. 1 team in Class A — and a trip to Brentwood.
The athletes said they know the next stretch of games will be a challenge but are ready to test their skills against Black Hills Conference foes.
“They are all very good teams,” DiPaolo said. “It is going to test our abilities on the pass and run. We are going to be facing some very good defenses.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.