Loaded backfield returns for champion West Allegheny
It was no secret that a West Allegheny running back would be handed the ball on most snaps last season.
The uncertainty was which one?
With leading rushers Chayse Dillon, Tory Delmonico and Armand Dellovade all returning this season, the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion could have opponents guessing once again.
“Teams knew we were running the ball, and we just kept running the ball,” said Dillon, a speedy junior who led the Indians with 951 yards and 12 touchdowns on 124 carries. “It may have been boring to watch, but we had a great team.”
Combined, the Indians rushed for 3,155 yards and threw for just 950. Dellovade, a junior, had 778 yards and eight touchdowns on 106 carries. Delmonico, a senior, had 726 yards and eight touchdowns on 111 carries.
Nick Halbedl, who has graduated, added another 641 yards and nine touchdowns.
“I loved it,” Delmonico said. “It's better than passing the ball.”
The run-first approach, which often used Delmonico at quarterback to take direct snaps, was an invention of necessity, said coach Bob Palko. His Indians had intended to feature a little more balance, but stuck with what worked.
“That's what we needed to do to be successful,” he said. “People asked: ‘Why didn't you throw the ball?' You have to protect the quarterback and we weren't real adept at that at times. This year, maybe we'll be able to throw the ball a little bit more.”
A season ago, they rarely needed to throw. In four WPIAL playoff games, the Indians outscored opponents, 120-24. Against a very solid defense, none scored more than a touchdown. That postseason run included a 34-8 victory over West Mifflin in the championship game at Heinz Field.
Now, the Indians are the early-season favorites to repeat.
“The expectations are very high,” Dillon said. “Coming off last season, I think we're expected to win.”
The Indians return an abundance of skill-position players, including junior quarterback Andrew Koester and a deep wideout group that includes as many as seven potential contributors. Senior cornerback Jake Johnson, a returning starter, leads a strong defensive secondary.
But to repeat last year's success, the team must do so with almost entirely new lines. Senior lineman Dustin Peluso returns, but his offensive linemates all have graduated. That includes tight end Zech Medved.