Undefeated Quad North teams to battle at Highmark Stadium
Gone are the record-setting rusher and his two Division I teammates, and with them left Seneca Valley's best chance to win the conference.
At least that's what many thought.
“A lot of people were doubting us at the beginning of the year,” senior linebacker Tucker Van Dyke said. “Everybody's looking at us now saying, ‘Wow, we were wrong.' ”
With a lineup of mostly new starters who waited their turn, Seneca Valley has its first 4-0 start in school history.
The Raiders no longer have stars Forrest Barnes, Jordan Brown or Jonathan Dorogy, but this year's rather unheralded roster has accomplished things previous lineups had not. Accomplishments like beating rival North Allegheny for the first time in more than a decade.
“We miss those guys like anybody would,” Seneca Valley coach Don Holl said, “but the guys playing now are doing a very good job. ... We feel like a lot of these guys might have got on the field for other teams last year, but we had a really strong senior group that kept them sort of in the background.”
Now, they've certainly been noticed.
Seneca Valley, ranked No. 5 in Class AAAA, will face No. 1 Central Catholic on Friday night in an undefeated Quad North matchup at Highmark Stadium. Two weeks after the biggest game of their season, the Raiders find one even greater.
A season ago, Seneca Valley won this game, 34-7.
“This could be a section title on the line,” Van Dyke said. “It could be an undefeated season on the line. It could be a million things. But our main focus right now is just to get a win and become 5-0.”
It's a start few truly predicted.
Seneca Valley began the season with just one returning starter on offense, junior tackle Tyler Hudanick (6-foot-5, 285 pounds). The others were either backups or part-time players a season ago.
“We've played through some growing pains and found a way to win the first four,” Holl said. “We have some gritty seniors who have been there and they've been a steadying influence,” Holl said. “We have some juniors who played as sophomores. And we have some new guys who have played through the butterflies.”
The success hasn't surprised Van Dyke.
“We have a passion to keep (the success) going,” he said. “We started making the playoffs a few years ago and now it's the motto now: If you don't make the playoffs it's a down year. Everyone wants to keep winning. Each year there are new kids to step up and take on the role that the older kids above them had.
“They're enjoying every part of it and playing 100 percent every snap.”
A talented junior class has helped. Junior quarterback T.J. Holl leads Seneca Valley's offense. The first-year starter has thrown for 624 yards and four touchdowns, including a 13-yarder to Brad Hensler in last week's 36-0 victory over Connellsville.
Holl leads the Raiders with 235 yards rushing and had touchdown runs of 12 and 10 yards last week.
Junior tailback Mason Dehart has scored six rushing touchdowns for an offense that has averaged more than 30 points in its four victories.
“I don't know that we're playing great football all the way around,” Coach Holl said, “but we have a lot of kids who believe in what we're doing.”
Central Catholic has averaged 48.5 points, which ranks first among Class AAAA teams. Only Class AA's South Fayette has averaged more (54 points per game).
Senior tailback Luigi Lista-Brinza ranks third among WPIAL rushers with 739 yards and nine touchdowns. He had a 49-yarder in last week's 49-10 victory over Fox Chapel. Florida State-bound quarterback J.J. Cosentino scored twice.
“They are a downhill running team that will stick with its physical run game,” Coach Holl said. “If you don't have answers for that, you're in for a long night. They're not going to do anything else but run it down your throat. If you force them to the second page of the playbook, they have other answers.”
Central Catholic went three weeks without allowing a touchdown in victories over Shaler, 65-3, North Hills, 24-0, and Canon-McMillan, 56-0. This will be the Vikings' second game at Highmark Stadium. Central Catholic beat Fox Chapel there last Friday.
Seneca Valley has victories over Butler, 28-3, and Pine-Richland, 43-25. But its confidence was boosted most by a 20-6 victory over North Allegheny on Sept. 13.
“That was the biggest confidence boost you could have,” Van Dyke said. “We hadn't beaten them in 12 years, and they hadn't lost a WPIAL game in three years. That showed people we're really here to play football. Nobody should be doubting us.”