Experienced South Fayette squad preparing to go out on top
For the South Fayette football team, this season's goal is clear – go out on top.
The Lions are preparing for what should be their final season in Class AA and the Century Conference. Due to ever increasing numbers in the school, South Fayette is looking to make the jump into Class AAA in 2014.
“We want to go out with a big win,” junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh said. “That would be the Century Conference and then WPIALs. We are taking things one game at a time though. If we can keep our focus, it should be a good season.”
Brumbaugh returns under center after having a standout sophomore season. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,823 yards and 37 touchdowns.
“The biggest jump in a player's progression is usually from the sophomore to junior year,” coach Joe Rossi said. “Our offense is all about the quarterback making the right decision and with him being another year older, he is going to improve that much more.”
A group of receivers will be at the offense's disposal to keep the passing game fluent. Last season's leading receiver Zach Challingsworth – who finished with 1,190 yards and 15 touchdowns – will be playing at Pitt this season. But Brumbaugh will still have two big targets in seniors Justin Watson and Conner Beck.
Watson – who committed to the University of Pennsylvania last week over offers from Akron, Buffalo, Bucknell and other Ivy League programs – was second on the team in receiving in 2012 with 592 yards and eight touchdowns. Beck was third with 457 yards and four touchdowns.
“We are on the same page whether it is a short fade or a dig route,” Watson said on his relationship with Brumbaugh. “We are right there with each other.”
In addition to the pair of seniors, South Fayette will be able to rely on senior Hayden Orler, junior Ryan Schmider and sophomore Nick Ponikvar for receptions. Junior tight end Logan Sharp will be worked into the passing game.
Gateway transfer junior Roman Denson has impressed his teammates during his first preseason camp with the Lions.
“When he is in the backfield for swing routes or in the slot, he can do things,” Beck said. “Good things happen when he has the ball in his hands.”
A three-headed monster will return at running back as seniors Grant Fetchet and Zach Walker and junior Jared Walker return. The trio combined for 24 touchdowns in 2012.
“It is awesome to be part of that,” said Fetchet, who recorded 932 yards on the ground last season. “Having three experienced guys who can come into the game fresh is great. Being able to run the ball like this is fun.”
But what might help the offense click this season is the experience on the offensive line. The team returns four starters – seniors Ben Berkovitz, Bryce Christoff and Spencer Girman and junior Anthony Davidson – from a group that gave up only three sacks last season.
“We don't expect anything less this year,” Berkovitz said. “We lost one guy from last year but we have enough experience to back the new guy up. The line came together as a group during the offseason.”
The linemen will get some extra work this season as the Lions lost all four of 2012 the defensive lineman to graduation.
“We were fortunate enough to two platoon the lines outside of a few kids last season,” Rossi said. “The guys on the line will need to play both ways. We will need to rest them at certain points of the game. That will be important for us.”
While the defensive line is fresh-faced, the rest of the defense returns several veterans. The linebacker core will be led by Zach Walker, who finished with 59 tackles last season. He will be joined by brother Jared (31 tackles), Fetchet, Schmider, Sharp and junior Matt O'Rourke.
The defensive secondary will look for another strong season with Beck, Denson and Watson all filling in.
“We have a great secondary,” Beck said. “We didn't give up a passing touchdown last season so we have a lot to live up to.”
While South Fayette has become known to a high-octane offense, the defense has been dominant in recent years. The team finished with six shutouts last season, including ending the regular season on a 204-0 four-game streak. The most points given up by the defense during the 2012 regular season was 12 in a 39-point win over Seton-La Salle.
“The fans like to come out and see us put 50 on the scoreboard,” Watson said. “But how many shutouts did we have last year? We always preach defense first.”
Despite winning the Century Conference three of the last four season, the Lions are not taking anything for granted. The team said it expects better seasons from Keystone Oaks, McGuffey, Quaker Valley and South Park in addition to the always strong Seton-La Salle and Steel Valley squads.
“You have to go out and brawl from whistle to whistle,” Fetchet said. “You cannot expect anything less.”
It will likely be the last time South Fayette will be seeing any of these opponents for the foreseeable future but the team is handling the 2013 campaign like any other season.
“We always want to get three championships – conference, WPIAL and states,” Watson said. “Our goals never change.”
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.