Quad East powers McKeesport, Penn-Trafford set to square off
If practice makes perfect, then McKeesport has been putting in some extra work.
That's because if Tigers coach George Smith isn't satisfied with practice, he doesn't let them leave.
“They don't leave until they get it right,” Smith said Tuesday after practice went a half-hour longer than planned. “We're far from a great football team, and I have to get them to play with a sense of urgency.”
McKeesport (3-0, 2-0), ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA by Trib Total Media, plays host to Penn-Trafford (2-1, 2-0) at 7 p.m. Friday with first-place in the Quad East Conference on the line.
Smith knows this game won't be easy.
McKeesport, which is chasing the 600th win in school history this week (599-389-47), has surprised some by winning its first three games after Smith returned to the sideline following a three-year hiatus. The players candidly say Smith has them playing with confidence.
Smith, who traveled to Cape Cod and Myrtle Beach the past few years, returned to the school where he won PIAA and WPIAL titles and last week scored his 200th career victory.
He reinstalled the flexbone offense, and the Tigers have picked it up running. Smith said quarterback David Queen has done a nice job running the offense.
“The quarterback makes the offense go, and the offensive line has done a nice job,” Smith said. “The line goes one-way, but some may have to play both ways because of injuries.”
Smith said the offensive line of center Jaylin Short, right guard Tomi McKelvy, left guard T.J. Fichera, left tackle Evander Dillard, right tackle Kameron Bostic and tight ends Justice Smith and Jawan Hill has been consistent.
If Queen doesn't carry the ball, he has four backs he can hand the ball to, led by Mikell Moore, who has rushed for a team-high 326 yards.
McKeesport opened eyes when it began the season with a win at Hempfield, but it let the WPIAL know it was on the way back when it toppled Woodland Hills.
“We were lucky and caught them at the right time,” Smith said. “I hope the wins gave us confidence. I don't want them to get conceded or they'll be done.
“They are not the greatest team, but as a group, they play well. If everybody does what they are supposed to do, play with a sense of urgency and know their assignments, we're OK.”
But Smith will make sure they stay focused. That's why he continues to push them at practice.
“We are hard on them,” Smith said. “After every win, we practice harder and expect more out of them.
“It's a tremendous start, but I want to see how we respond when the tide is going against us. That will determine what kind of savvy they have.”
Penn-Trafford kicked off the season with a tough home nonconference loss to North Hills. The Warriors have responded with two strong defensive efforts in wins against rival Norwin and at Altoona.
Those performances pleased Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane but he knows the group will be challenged by McKeesport's flexbone offense.
“It's really tough to defend,” Ruane said. “It doesn't matter what situation they're in, they're going to run it at you. They put you to sleep and then bang, they rip off a big run. You can't take a play off.”
Ruane said stopping the quarterback is key.
“I believe that 90 percent of the time, the quarterback is reading the defense,” Ruane said. “They are making quick reads and always seem to make the right call.”
Getting his defense to play disciplined is what has Ruane concerned.
“The defense has improved every game and quarterback Brett Laffoon is getting use to the speed of the game,” Ruane said. “The defense is playing more physical and with more urgency.
“We're doing a lot of things right offensively except scoring. We'll have to score if we want win at McKeesport. The McKeesport game is always the most physical game of the season. You're pretty sore the next day.”
Laffoon and fellow sophomore Timmy Vecchio are starting to click in the passing game. They have hooked up eight times for 171 yards.
Both coaches said winning the game is important so they can stay a top of the conference.
“Penn-Trafford is a good team and it is getting better every week,” Smith said. “I like the way they are running things. They are big, physical and are going to run right at you. Some of the stuff they do is similar to what we do. It should be a tough game.”