West Mifflin looks to spoil West Allegheny's perfect record in WPIAL finals
There are very few constants in WPIAL football but one has held true for more than a decade.
When West Allegheny makes it to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game, whether at Three Rivers Stadium or Heinz Field, the Indians win.
West Allegheny (11-1) has qualified for the finals five times — in 1997, 1999-2001 and 2009 — and the Indians have come away with a title every year. That also includes a 2000 win over West Mifflin (11-1), the team it will face when it goes for its sixth title in 16 seasons Friday at 8 p.m. at Heinz Field.
The Titans have only been to the championship game one other time, a 2004 loss to Thomas Jefferson, since West Mifflin North and South merged in the 1980s. West Mifflin North defeated Butler for the Class AAA title in 1963.
“We never really talk about the history and things like that, and most of the time we never even stress that they have to win because we just want them to do their best to prepare and everything will fall in place,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “We haven't made it a major point and it hasn't been stressed by us, and we'll let the chips fall where they may.”
The two teams have very similar approaches when it comes to their plan of attack, albeit with different methodology. Both rely heavily on their running games and staunch defenses, but while West Allegheny has a three-pronged ground game, West Mifflin utilizes a two-man game with quarterback Derrick Fulmore and speedster running back Jimmy Wheeler.
And, though neither coach had seen their opponent firsthand before going through the film this week, both had similar reactions to their counterparts.
“Wow they've got a lot of talent,” West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said.
Wheeler, who was known more for his track prowess as one of the best sprinters in the state before becoming the team's feature back this season, is the WPIAL's second-leading rusher behind Washington's Shai McKenzie with 2,141 yards and 28 touchdowns. Fulmore provides a talented counterpoint as a dual-threat quarterback and is coming off an outstanding game against Central Valley in which he rushed for 162 yards and three scores and capped the night with the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime.
Fulmore has more than 1,700 combined rushing and passing yards and, along with Wheeler, provides a defensive challenge.
“Wheeler is really quite a talented young man and he's just got a gift. It's easier said than done, but we just have to be as sound as possible and tackle well because, since you don't see that speed in practice, you have to adapt and adjust your angles in the game,” Palko said. “Fulmore is really good too, and we haven't seen a team that has two players like that this year.”
By the same token, West Allegheny has three running backs — Chayse Dillon, Armand Dellovade and Nick Halbedl with more than 450 yards.
If that weren't enough, the Indians also have an added passing threat with sophomore Andrew Koester, who threw his fifth touchdown in a semifinal win over Thomas Jefferson.
“You can't get real sophisticated because they do so many things, so you kind of have to stick with what you do and make sure that your guys know exactly where to line up and know their assignments, but that's why they're in the final,” Braszo said. “Nobody's really found an answer to it, but with both teams being ball-control teams, we just have to be able to move the ball as well as they do.”
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.