South Fayette defense dominating the competition
It's not really surprising that the offense is talked about at great lengths when the South Fayette football team is discussed.
Sophomore quarterback Brett Brumbaugh has completed 82 of 124 passes for 1,582 yards with 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Senior receiver and Pitt commit Zach Challingsworth has recorded 635 yards through the air with eight touchdowns.
The running attack has been effective with juniors Grant Fetchet and Zach Walker and freshman Nick Ponikvar all pounding it out on the ground.
As a whole, the South Fayette offense has recorded 2,615 yards of total offense through six weeks of the season. – best in the WPIAL's Class AA.
But offense isn't the only thing South Fayette has been doing well this season. If the old saying ‘ defense wins championships' plays true, the Lions faithful had better get ready for a trip to Heinz Field.
“They're on top,” South Fayette defensive coordinator Darren Schoppe said when comparing this unit to defenses he coached in the past. “With three shutouts and the low number of points they have given up, they're on top. They have really excelled.”
The defense has surrendered only 698 yards through six games – second best in Class AA behind only Aliquippa and third best in the WPIAL.
The Lions' 6-0 start to the season – which includes shutout wins over Keystone Oaks, Steel Valley and Quaker Valley – is even more impressive with a 51-12 shellacking of Seton-La Salle. The Rebels offense has averaged 41 points in its other games this season.
“It was just a really good game,” senior defensive tackle Aaron Gross said. “Everyone worked really hard and we shut them down.”
The success can be partially credited to a highly experienced group of seniors on this season's roster. Dating back to 2009 – the seniors' freshman season – the Lions have played in 11 postseason games, giving players extra weeks of practice.
“It always helps when you have senior leadership on either side of the ball,” Schoppe said. “They have a lot of game experience, especially with that run to the state title game two years ago.
“I can't speak enough about how those extra weeks have helped.”
The line has been boosted by the play of senior defensive ends Brad Haney and Dylan Witt. The duo lead the Lions in sacks – Haney with five and Witt with three – and have combined for 40 tackles.
The line was upgraded with the addition of Gross, who has recorded 34 tackles. The 6-foot-3, 280 pounder – who transferred from City League's Perry Traditional Academy– was described by Schoppe to be the “missing link” the defense needed when it went into preseason camp.
“It was hard picking up the playbook during two-a-days,” Gross said. “But I have gotten more comfortable with each game.”
The linebacking corps has been led by Pete Cochran. The senior leads the team in tackles with 41 and has recorded three sacks.
“(Cochran) has been a pleasant surprise,” Schoppe said. “He has really stepped up for us.”
Senior Dylan Nock has been solid with 34 tackles and senior Dylan Opar, junior Zach Walker and sophomore Jared Walker have all contributed.
Members of the front seven spoke highly of their success stopping the opponents' rushing attack. The team has given up on average only 71 yards per game on the ground.
“We have done really well on stopping the run,” Cochran said. “No one has been able to run on us.”
The secondary has excelled with several talented athletes. Senior Mike Fetchet has been solid with 32 tackles and an interception.
Challingsworth leads the team in interceptions with two, and junior Conner Beck has recorded 22 tackles. As the team sees the regular season winding down, the members of the defense said there are improvements that need to be made.
Cochran said the defense needs to improve on wrapping up tackles.
“We need to make sure to keep plays to negative yards instead of any positive yards,” Cochran said.
And Gross said the team needs to remain focused for the remainder of the season.
“We need to make sure we finish all nine games,” Gross said. “After that, we just want to keep it going to Heinz Field.”
But if the Lions can keep the intensity going, it won't be a surprise if the team reaches its goals.
“We want a WPIAL championship and a state championship,” Cochran added.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.