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South Fayette running over opponents

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
South Fayette running back Grant Fetchet leaps over Steel Valley defenders on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at Steel Valley.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
South Fayette running back Grant Fetchet leaps over Steel Valley defenders on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at Steel Valley.

Airing it out is often the first things people think of when the South Fayette offense is talked about, and rightfully so. Over the past four years, Lion quarterbacks have thrown for more than 10,000 yards and 140 touchdowns.

But while South Fayette's passing attack is one of the best in the WPIAL, its running game has been something no team can overlook – especially this season as the team returns a talented backfield duo of senior Grant Fetchet and junior Justin “J.J.” Walker.

“These are two guys who have been playing for a few years and have a lot of game experience,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “The experience they have is priceless. It is the same thing with (Brett) Brumbaugh at quarterback and (Justin) Watson at receiver.

“Anytime you have experience, you'll be successful.”

Fetchet has been an intricate part of the running game since he was a sophomore. He finished 70 yards shy of 1,000 last year.

“With having a spread offense like we do, it really opens up the running room,” Fetchet said. “A lot of teams want to focus on our passing and that opens it up.”

Through the first three games of the 2013 season, Fetchet already has recorded 367 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Those are the most yards and touchdowns he had his entire career through the first three weeks,” Rossi said. “He is making good cuts and his vision is just better.”

Walker, on the other hand, isn't a running back you will see going on any 50-yard runs. The junior fills in a short-yardage role and has been extremely proficient. On 16 carriers through the first three games, Walker recorded six touchdowns.

“I like it,” Walker said of being the team's shot-yardage running back. “It helps that I know when I get the ball, the line will help me get it in.”

The line is a major factor behind success of both running backs. The line returned four starters from last season – seniors Ben Berkovitz, Bryce Christoff and Spencer Girman and junior Anthony Davidson – and has been able to make holes for the runners.

“If they weren't doing their jobs, we couldn't do ours,” Fetchet said. “When they get the initial blocks, it makes holes for us that helps us get into the secondary.”

The line added two talented players as junior tight end Logan Sharpe has shown an ability not only as a receiver but also as a blocker.

And Jared's older brother, Zach, moved to the line this season. Zach was a major piece of the rushing attack in 2012, finishing with 163 yards and five touchdowns but made the sacrifice to help the team in an area that was needed.

“He gave up the running back position to allow us to use him on the line to strengthen it,” Rossi said.

While Fetchet and Walker have been the featured backs, other players have seen time in the backfield. Sophomore Hunter Hayes has recorded 144 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Junior Roman Denson and sophomore Nick Ponikvar – both listed as receivers – have both gotten carries.

“We have been fortunate enough to be ahead in a few games so we have been able to get some younger guys touches,” Rossi said. “Hunter Hayes will be a phenomenal tailback for us in the future and will get a lot of touches.”

Having success and depth at the running back position is key if a team hopes to make a trek through the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

Weather conditions will worsen, leading to greater reliance on rushing. It is a lesson the Lions learned first hand when they made a run at the WPIAL Class AA title and PIAA title game in 2010.

“That is key,” Rossi said. “You have to have to have a run game when you are playing into November. When we went on our championship run a few years ago, we had Jeff Davis run for 1,500 or 1,600 yards

“At some point, you know you will need a running attack.”

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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