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Norwin defense making strides in first two weeks

| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford running back Devin Austin dives for extra yardage in front of Norwin defender Garrett Cockeram during the third quarter of their WPIAL Class AAAA game on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at Warrior Stadium in Harrison City. Penn-Trafford defeated Norwin, 17-3.

When the Norwin football team targeted areas for improvement heading into the 2013 season, defense topped the list.

After a 2012 season that saw the Knights allow more than 30 points and 350 yards per game, coach Art Tragesser said the team's defense needed to improve in order for it to succeed this year.

While Norwin dropped to 0-2 with a 17-3 loss to Penn-Trafford last week, Tragesser is seeing those improvements on defense. Through two games, the Knights have allowed just 38 points.

“Against Altoona (a 21-0 loss Aug. 30), we gave them the ball at point-blank range,” Tragesser said. “So the defense played really well. I thought this week we played really well, too, because Penn-Trafford had two of the best running backs in our section. They're very tough to deal with when you have two kids like that.”

Norwin held Penn-Trafford (1-1, 1-0 Quad East Conference) to 10 points until a late fourth-quarter drive. The Warriors' first score came on an 85-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

“The big play is what really killed us,” Tragesser said. “We kicked it down to them deep in their territory, and then they came up with that big play. That's one that was really tough.”

After that play, Norwin tightened defensively and forced three turnovers, with juniors Corey Chrisman and Logan Deri forcing fumbles and sophomore Nick Amendola intercepting a pass.

The improved defense will face its biggest test yet, however, when Tribune-Review Class AAAA No. 6 McKeesport (2-0) visits Norwin Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

McKeesport coach George Smith, who won state championships in 1994 and 2005, returned this season and brought his powerful flexbone offense back with him. The Tigers rushed for 247 yards and four touchdowns in a 33-20 victory over Woodland Hills on Saturday, with David Queen adding a 56-yard touchdown pass.

“After seeing them play Saturday against Woodland Hills, I'd have to say they're the best team in our section, top to bottom,” Tragesser said. “I know Gateway has a lot of Division I players, but the way (McKeesport) executed Saturday and the skill level they have at the skill positions — to me right now, I'd say they're the best in our section.”

The Tigers' offense can be difficult to stop because they use a triple option, with anyone in the backfield a threat to run the ball.

“What makes it so difficult is that you can't practice it the way they run it,” Tragesser said. “You can't match up the speed, (and) you can't match up the skill with your scout team. It always presents a problem.”

While the Knights will look to limit McKeesport's offense, their own offense will need to put up some points of its own. Norwin scored its first points of the season on a 26-yard field goal by Daniel Passarello last week.

Turnovers again hurt, as quarterback Nick Amendola threw four interceptions. One came late as Norwin, down 10-3, was driving for a potential tying score.

“Obviously, we have to put some points on the board,” Tragesser said. “Going into the game, realistically looking at it, for us to shut them down is going to be really difficult. So we've got to try to put some points on the board and play with minimal mistakes.”

With six conference games remaining, Norwin will need to make up some ground in order to achieve its goal of making the playoffs. Tragesser said he saw some positives in the loss to Penn-Trafford, and he believes the Knights are on the right track.

“We're showing signs, and the kids are hustling,” he said. “It's just that we have to put everything together.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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