South Allegheny, Steel Valley to face off in Century battle
For many teams, qualifying for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs is no big deal. It's expected year in and year out.
Some teams make early bus reservations for a trip to Heinz Field for the WPIAL title game or hotel reservations in Hershey for the PIAA finals on Dec. 14-15.
At South Allegheny (6-1, 5-1) however, there has never been a bus trip to Heinz Field. Or Three Rivers Stadium. And the state championships didn't even exist the last time the Gladiators made the district tournament in 1986.
The team did win the 1977 WPIAL title before the games were played at a professional stadium.
Now, as the playoff-bound Gladiators prepare for Century Conference rival Steel Valley (4-3, 4-2), they have to vaccinate themselves up against a contagion that creeps into postseason locker rooms and infects the players at this time of the year.
“(Making the playoffs) was a welcome accomplishment and they certainly appreciate the accomplishment that they have achieved,” South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said. “But I think, like every competitive team, that was a temporary accomplishment and they're moving toward the next level and the next goal.”
South Allegheny has won six consecutive games and, as a result, the next goal could be a share of the Century Conference title if South Allegheny can extend that streak to eight with victories against Steel Valley (4-3, 4-2) on Friday and South Fayette (7-0, 6-0) in Week 9. The Gladiators have not won a championship of any kind since taking the 1986 Three Rivers Conference title, but they will be hard-pressed to close out the season with wins against a team in striking distance of qualifying for the playoffs and another that could conceivably end up with the top seed in the tournament.
“We've got two games left on our schedule and both are good teams,” Monroe said. “We still have the goal of winning the conference championship, and you have to win the next one to do it.”
Steel Valley has yet to clinch a spot in the postseason, but only needs a win in one of its final two games, against South Allegheny or at home against McGuffey, to lock up a berth. The Ironmen had a rough spate in the middle of the season with losses to South Fayette, Seton-La Salle and West Allegheny, but have rebounded well and are poised to extend their season.
“We're just looking at it as another conference game,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “They're a quality opponent, and we're getting ready for it like it's just another regular season game. It's not like this is a playoff game They're a good football team, our kids know they're a good football team, they know they're a good football team and we just have to go out and play the game.”
Unlike South Allegheny, which has been reasonably injury free this season, Steel Valley lost a couple of key cogs to its defense when senior defensive end Richard Brooks (ACL) went down against South Fayette and junior linebacker Ajan Smith (labrum/vertebrae) was knocked out in the loss to Seton-La Salle.
“The depth is an issue we've had to deal with as a staff,” Steele said. “But all we can do is to put the kids in there, coach them up and still be competitive. Even in the games we lost, we've still been competitive.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 ext. 1977.