McKeesport looking to bounce back against Woodland Hills

| Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012, 12:20 a.m.

Geographically, there aren't many WPIAL Class AAAA stadiums closer than Weigle-Schaeffer Stadium in McKeesport and the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek.

Despite the proximity, however, the two schools, McKeesport (0-1) and Woodland Hills (0-1), haven't played each other since the 2005 WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field. Even stranger, the Tigers and Wolverines haven't tussled in the regular season since 2001.

“I didn't realize it, but in one sense, we both kind of sit on the fringes and can go in any direction outside the north, and I think they want to maintain rivalries with Woodland Hills-Penn Hills and McKeesport-Gateway,” McKeesport coach Jim Ward said. “Woodland Hills has name recognition, and there's a history between the two schools.”

It has been a difficult week for McKeesport, to be sure. The Tigers are coming off a tough 33-18 loss to a Hempfield team it had owned in their previous four meetings and have been answering questions all week about an incident that happened during the game. Players from the schools got into an on-field altercation and a referee was knocked unconscious while trying to separate the players. He was taken via ambulance to UPMC-McKeesport.

As far as the game, McKeesport allowed more than 250 yards in the first half and trailed, 20-6, at halftime.

McKeesport has to find a way to bounce back and avoid going 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 2002.

“We have no choice,” Ward said. “I have to give Hempfield a lot of credit ... but we're just a very young, injury-plagued team and we may be getting a couple guys back this week. We started seven sophomores and a freshman on defense on Friday, and with that is going to come some poor plays and that's obviously what we had.”

McKeesport was gashed along the right side of its defensive line by Hempfield's no-huddle, spread-option attack that left the Tigers gasping for, and grasping at, air. This week there is optimism, however, as the team may get back three starters — senior lineman Brenden Green, junior Jaylin Short and Aaron Knight.

And it will need every able body it can muster to get pressure on Woodland Hills quarterback Cody McClelland, who threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns in the Wolverines' loss to Upper St. Clair in Week 1.

“Those guys that were playing on the interior were third-team guys, and one was a fourth-team guy; that's how depleted we were,” Ward said. “If we can get those guys back, we should be able to shore it up.”

Offensively, there may be some upside for McKeesport. Despite a mistake-filled game that saw the team commit several key turnovers, including a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, the Tigers will be seeing a Woodland Hills defense that was raked for 28 second-half points in a Week 1 loss to Upper St. Clair.

“It was very inconsistent because we've got so many new starters, because we have four new starters on the offensive line and, at times, we didn't block people,” Ward said. “Typically, at this point in the year a lot of those kids would be playing junior varsity, and there are a lot of things to grow from and improve upon, but it was a typical first game.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-664-9161 ext. 1977.

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