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Steel Valley hoping to maintain conference's top spot

| Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012, 11:42 p.m.
Steel Valley quarterback Patrick O'Malley. Ronald Vezzani Jr./ for the Daily News

Over the past few years, Steel Valley has consistently played South Fayette as well as any team in the WPIAL.

In fact, during the Lions run to the 2010 state finals, the Ironmen were the only team in the western half of the state to stay within 10 points. About the only thing Steel Valley hasn't done is come up with a way to win, as South Fayette has captured the last four meetings between the schools.

“They're just talented,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “The last couple years they've had great running backs and they have talent all over the field to cover our kids so, when you have athletes that can do that, you're going to be competitive.”

Steel Valley (2-0, 2-0) will have its latest opportunity to end the drought at Trib Total Media Class AA No. 4 South Fayette (2-0, 2-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. when the two meet with a share of first place in the Century Conference on the line. The rivals also feature impressive statistics after opening with wins over teams with a combined 0-6 record and will likely struggle to stay out of the conference basement, so this will be the first real test for both.

“I think they're going to do what they're going to do. They're a very good football team, they're very well coached and they're fundamentally sound,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “It's not so much about what they're going to do because they are who they are. It's going to come down to what we do and how we execute.”

Shutting down the South Fayette offense is always a challenge, even with a sophomore quarterback — Brett Brumbaugh — who has just five varsity starts to his credit. Brumbaugh's brother, Christian, led South Fayette to the WPIAL Class AA title in 2010 and his brother, Luke, is a senior signal-caller at the other team tied for the conference lead, Seton-La Salle (2-0, 2-0), so the pedigree is there to be a lot more mature for his age.

It also helps that, in a spread offense that features one back and four receivers, he has a veteran pass-catching corps led by senior Zach Challingsworth, a Pitt recruit who almost singlehandedly deflated Steel Valley in last season's 23-20 Lions win. In the first half, he had two interceptions and two touchdown receptions and, with the team trailing 20-16 late in the game, he was a perfect decoy that allowed South Fayette to spread the ball to other receivers and move downfield to score the winning touchdown.

“He creates problems, but the other thing is that our other receivers have progressed so much that it's so hard to take Zach away,” Rossi said. “Then we move him around — he'll be outside, he'll be inside — and make sure that we get him some touches.”

To counter, Steel Valley will bring a solid running game with D'Andre Pickens, who saw only limited action in last week's 41-0 win over Burgettstown because of a minor lower body injury he suffered during a walk-through. Despite his reduced role, he still caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Patrick O'Malley, who completed 13 of 20 for 202 yards, threw for two scores and ran for another.

O'Malley, in fact, could be the key to Steel Valley's hopes of an upset. He had only started two games before taking on the Lions last season, but has more of a leadership role this year and is more comfortable running the team.

“He's got some games under his belt now against top competition. He's got a better grasp of what we're trying to do offensively, and it helps him a lot,” Steele said. “I can tell by his maturity, by the way he acts on the field and the way he talks on the sideline, he's a much improved player from a year ago, and hopefully he can step up and have a big game for us.”

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

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