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Steel Valley prepares for multiple offensive schemes in PIAA semifinals

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steel Valley's Paris Ford (left) celebrates with teammate DeWayne Murray after Murray scored during the first quarter of the WPIAL Class 2A championship game against Neshannock on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, at Robert Morris.

Wilmington's Terry Verrelli earned his 300th coaching victory last week, a celebrated milestone in a 39-year career seasoned with the idea that great defense wins in the playoffs.

But after scouting Steel Valley, he will tweak his philosophy for a PIAA semifinal that matches the champions of the WPIAL and District 10.

“I've always told people that if you want to win big games, you have to have a good defense,” Verrelli said. “And obviously, you have to play descent defense. But in this game, we have to move the ball offensively. The longer they have the ball, somebody's going to break loose or score.”

Steel Valley (13-0) faces Wilmington (12-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny. The winner is headed to the Class 2A final Dec. 10 in Hershey. Wilmington was Class 2A champion in 2008 and runner-up in 1988. Steel Valley never has reached the state finals.

But led by star seniors DeWayne Murray and Paris Ford, Steel Valley has forced the mercy rule in every game this season. The team's string of lopsided victories includes a 49-14 win in the WPIAL final, when Murray rushed for 213 yards and five touchdowns.

Steel Valley had three touchdowns of 55 yards or longer, and Neshannock was scoreless until the fourth quarter.

“They're a pretty unusual team, I'll give you that,” Verrelli said. “I'm not sure I've seen that many skilled people on one field at the same time. I can see how it's difficult to move the ball against them.”

Steel Valley built significant leads over Neshannock in total yards (441-203) and time of possession (28:31-19:29). The Lancers lost three turnovers, and quarterback Frank Antuono completed just 7 of 23 passes for 51 yards.

Ford, a Pitt recruit, forced a fumble, had an interception and was one off the team-lead with seven tackles. Neshannock trailed 21-0 after the first quarter, when it managed 16 yards on 19 plays.

“They just come off the ball and come and get you,” Verrelli said. “And they play man (coverage) with their great skill players. You don't have enough time to throw, and it's difficult running against a full line coming after you.”

Steel Valley averages 54.5 points and allows 7.8. But Wilmington's season stats aren't far off. The Greyhounds score 43.5 and allow 8.8.

Wilmington traditionally used a wing-T offense, but Verrelli blended in a spread formation for balance in recent years. The Greyhounds totaled 505 yards from scrimmage in their PIAA first-round victory over Kane, 42-0. The Greyhounds rushed for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for 228 and four scores.

“They do a variety of different things,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “They use their personnel in a variety of different ways, so they'll be a challenge. ... They're not always in (the wing-T), but they can do it.”

Senior quarterback Reese Bender threw four touchdowns in Wilmington's win over Kane, with the longest a 70-yarder to Bryson Verrelli, the coach's grandson. Greyhounds senior Spencer DeMedal caught two touchdowns and added 195 yards from scrimmage on 12 touches.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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