McKeesport eyes revenge vs. Bethel Park
It has been two years since Bethel Park's comeback shocked McKeesport during head coach Jim Ward's first playoff game.
The McKeesport program has never been quite the same.
Ward and the Tigers have a chance for redemption — and a third chance to claim Ward's first postseason win as a head coach — when Bethel Park visits McKeesport on Friday night.
Many coaches prefer to forget about the past, insisting that each year is different and that previous defeats don't resonate.
“I think about it quite often,” Ward said of the first-round game between McKeesport and Bethel Park in 2010. “I was just laying on my couch at home a couple of weeks ago and started thinking about that night. It never really goes away.”
Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny isn't so plagued by that memory.
“But I will say this,” Metheny said. “When McKeesport and Bethel Park play, it's always a great football game. I'd expect nothing less on Friday.”
McKeesport led that playoff game two years ago, 21-10, with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. However, Bethel Park stormed back to score two touchdowns in the final minutes to steal the victory and send McKeesport into something of a spiral.
In 2011, McKeesport began a stretch that saw the once mighty program drop six of nine games. Only in recent weeks have the Tigers found themselves, winning four straight before dropping a close game in Week 9 to powerhouse Gateway.
“I feel like we're really starting to put it together and that we're playing our best football of the season right now,” Ward said. “We were hit so hard early on by injuries and just all the youth that's on our team.”
A victory against Bethel Park would solidify Ward's belief that his team is on the rise.
But he knows it won't come easy.
These two teams typically play memorable, competitive games and neither coach believes this contest will rewrite the rivalry's script.
“Not at all,” Ward said. “I look at them and I see a classic Bethel Park team. They're just big and strong, physical, and so strong fundamentally. They never change much. Just a solid football team.”
Bethel Park has been forced to practice indoors most of the week because of storms from Hurricane Sandy.
Although workouts at Cside Sports, an indoor baseball facility in Washington, is hardly ideal for practicing football, Metheny isn't concerned. His team is thick with players who possess playoff experience and who aren't likely to become distracted by the week's unusual schedule.
“We're going outside (Thursday),” Metheny said. “Not a big deal. The kids aren't out getting sick, at least. The conditions were pretty extreme this week.”
Friday's game will feature Bethel Park's power against McKeesport's speed.
“We don't have too many guys on our sideline who can run like guys on their sideline,” Metheny said. “We know that going in. We just have to adjust.”
Both quarterbacks figure to play a huge role in the game. Bethel Park freshman Levi Metheny has enjoyed a terrific season and Ward is concerned about his ability to connect with big-play receiver Avery Dibble.
“They run the ball well but they take their shots down field,” Ward said. “We really need to be ready.”
McKeesport's Eddie Stockett is a gifted passer but usually runs in McKeesport's offense.
“Such a talented guy at keeping plays alive,” Metheny said. “We aren't going to stop him, but we need to slow him down. It's a big part of the game for us.
I have no doubt this will be a heck of a football game.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.