Burrell, Valley set for another rivarly battle
All teams get two scrimmages before they open the season, but Burrell had more than the customary dress rehearsal to get ready for Class AA Allegheny Conference play.
The Buccaneers (1-0, 0-0) last week opened with a 46-14 nonconference win over Brownsville in what amounted to a preseason game.
The Bucs made strides offensively, with quarterback Cody Wolfe passing for 190 yards and rushing for 111, and Ryan Sowol running for 97 yards in the win.
“I think (the nonconference) game is huge for us,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “You get a chance to see what you have, and you can work on some things.”
Valley (1-0, 1-0), meantime, jumped right into conference play with a 42-16 season-opening win at Deer Lakes.
Running back Demetrius Houser ran for a career-best 287 yards and three touchdowns on just 17 carries. Valley, though, was plagued by a rash of unnecessary penalties — all told, 22 of them for 190 yards.
Valley coach Chad Walsh said he prefers to open with a conference game, but knows his team must clean up its act and keep the yellow flags in the referees' pockets.
“It forces you to play sharper and avoid mistakes because you don't have time to,” Walsh said of opening with a conference game. “It gives the team a little more sense of urgency.
“We made way too many mistakes, though, and have to play more disciplined football.”
It remains to be seen how much Burrell's tune-up and Valley's into-the-fire contest will impact the teams when they face each other Friday night in New Kensington.
The Alle-Kiski's most popular rivalry game seems to have lost some zest. But now that it's a conference game, its value could be growing again.
Vikings quarterback Ty Matthews also would rather start Allegheny play right away.
“It shows people in our conference we mean business right off the bat,” Matthews said.
Valley has won 19 of 33 meetings, but Burrell is making a comeback.
Last year, the teams played each other in conference for the first time since 2009. Burrell rolled to its fourth straight win in the series, 41-6, as bruising running back Cole Bush, an all-timer at Burrell, ran for 242 yards and three touchdowns.
Valley managed only 48 passing yards in the loss.
But Bush is gone and Burrell is looking for new leaders to emerge in conference play. Wolfe is first in line.
“That's what we're hoping for,” Horwatt said of finding new go-to players. “This is a good time for that to happen.”
Valley, which doesn't play out of conference until Week 6 against Yough, kept most of its offense on the ground in its opener, rushing 40 times or 448 yards — 11.2 yards per carry. Houser averaged 16.9 yards per touch, a number that will be tough to maintain. But Burrell knows the big-play ability exists, much like Valley did last season with Bush.
Burrell will try to test Valley's young, but skillful secondary. Wolfe completed 13 of 15 passes last week, and found Nick Pattock seven times for 120 yards.
Valley returns more starters than Burrell, but also is tagged with greater expectations after a that's-more-like-it season saw the Vikings reestablish themselves as a playoff team.
Valley senior lineman Terrell Fields is well aware of the all-time series, which Valley leads, 19-14, but he also knows the Vikings haven't won since 2008.
“We have to come out and smack them in the mouth,” Fields said.
“We have to change things up.”
Fields tweeted that he expects attendance Friday “will be in the thousands.”
Horwatt is all for friendly jabs between the neighboring teams, but doesn't want his team to get too enamoured with the rivalry after kickoff.
“It's all about energy and having fun,” Horwatt said. “Go out, run around and have fun with the game.”
Both teams' openers seemed to drag on with a number of stoppages, some due to the scoring. Both coaches hope for a much crisper, better-flowing game this week.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.