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Confidence climbs for Kittanning, Deer Lakes football teams

| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 11:43 p.m.
Kittanning wide receiver Sterling Henry (right) watches a ball into his hands during practice on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.
Kittanning wide receiver Nick Bowers prepares for a catch at practice on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.

When Kittanning coach Frank Fabian and Deer Lakes coach Todd Hazlett looked around their locker rooms earlier this week, both noticed a bit of bravado among their players.

There's no mystery why: The Wildcats and Lancers secured wins that meant a great deal for this season and for their respective programs. Kittanning toppled cross-town rival Ford City a week ago, and Deer Lakes won its third straight by rallying from a 14-point deficit to defeat Summit Academy.

Both face the challenge of sustaining their swagger Friday, as Deer Lakes (3-3, 2-3) hosts Kittanning (3-3, 3-2).

“Just because we beat Ford City doesn't mean we're set,” said Kittanning senior Sterling Henry, who had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown last week. “We're still going to practice hard like we always do.”

The Wildcats won against the Sabers for just the second time in 11 meetings. They did not trail in the game, and they scored the most points against Ford City since 1985, when Kittanning won, 53-18.

There's an element of excitement in the way Kittanning scores points these days. The no-huddle spread offense creates tempo that entertains fans and wears down opponents. It has contributed to Kittanning's identity as a late-game team: The Wildcats have outscored opponents, 118-60, in the second half and 70-20 in the fourth quarter.

“The thing I notice with this team more than any other is that when we come in at halftime, I never see a panic in these kids,” Fabian said. “They know how fast we can go and that we're never out of a game.

“As a coach, I welcome that. I just wish we'd get out ahead a little more often. A couple games we were behind by a lot early.”

Hazlett knows the feeling.

Two of Deer Lakes' three wins were second-half comebacks. The Lancers scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to beat Summit Academy, 18-14, last week. And they edged East Allegheny, 23-22, by outscoring the Wildcats, 16-6, in the second half.

Deer Lakes also used a 20-point third quarter to pull away from Charleroi for a 40-20 win in Week 5.

“I joked with the kids that you're giving every parent their five dollars' worth,” Hazlett said. “But the thing I've noticed the most is our kids almost seem to evolve as the game goes on. They're paying attention, they're learning, and they're seeing what the other team is presenting us with. … I'm getting some great feedback from my senior leadership.”

To spur last week's rally, the Lancers turned to quarterback Josh Plocki, who threw for 156 yards in the second half. But Hazlett said the Lancers prefer to stick with their Power I run game and grind out wins. There's not much incentive to engaging Kittanning in a high-scoring affair.

“They're very talented, very tall, and they have a very athletic quarterback,” Hazlett said. “I'd like to know what's in the water with some of those (receivers) being 6-foot-4, 6-5.”

Fabian, meanwhile, hopes his Wildcats get a lead early and don't leave a door open for Deer Lakes to storm back.

“They're very resilient,” he said. “I think they're a confident team, and a confident team is a dangerous team.”

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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