Frazier stays in 'must-win' mode
Nobody has to tell Frazier football coach Mike Steeber how big Friday's home Tri-County South Conference game is with unbeaten Avella.
Not only do the Eagles (5-0, 4-0) come into the game with a perfect record, but the Commodores (4-1, 4-1) continue to find themselves in a must-win situation if they want to accomplish their goals of winning the conference title and getting a home playoff game.
“The last couple of years we made the playoffs as the fourth-place team in the conference, and it set us up for a pretty rough first round game,” Steeber said. “Our goal has been to put ourselves in a better situation going into the playoffs this year and to do that, this a game we have to have.”
Since losing to Carmichaels the first week of conference play, the Commodores have reeled off three straight wins.
Upping that streak to No. 4 won't be easy, however.
“Avella has a good football team,” Steeber said. “They don't have a lot of depth, but they have a real senior-heavy team and that class has some good football players in it.
“We're expecting to have our hands full.”
The meeting is eerily similar to last season when the Eagles were 5-0 going into the contest, which Frazier won, 20-13.
“We had to go four strong quarters to win that game,” Steeber recalled. “I don't expect anything less because those (Avella) kids who played in that game are all back for this one.”
The Eagles have several players who have caught the attention of Steeber, including quarterback Santino Paris and his top receivers, Walter Kopko and Zach Thompson.
“Their quarterback does a lot of things well. He has a nice arm,” Steeber said. “And their two receivers are pretty good. (Kopko) is a big, lanky kid and (Thompson) has great skills.”
Paris has thrown for 586 yards and eight touchdowns, while Kopko and Thompson each have 12 receptions and have combined for nine TDs.
Steeber also had high praise for Avella fullback Jake Temple, who did not start the season with the team, but has come on as of late.
“He is a big, strong kid,” Steeber said of Temple. “He runs real hard.”
Temple only has 12 rushing attempts, but he averages 10.2 yards per carry and has scored five TDs.
Avella's leading rusher and scorer is Nick Kusich, who has 315 yards rushing and seven TDs.
While Steeber says his team won't be looking past Avella, he says his own squad has done some good things after that loss to Carmichaels.
“Defensively, we've gotten off the field at key times lately and we also forced some big turnovers that have helped us,” he said. “On offense, we have run the ball better and (Charles) Manack has remained pretty consistent.”
Manack, Frazier's quarterback, has thrown for 851 yards, completing 44 of 79 passes. He has 11 TD passes and only three interceptions.
“He has done a great job of leading this team,” Steeber said.
His top receivers are Michael Luce (14 receptions, 251 yards, three TDs), Dakota Hixson (12-376, four TDs) and Nathaniel Zurich (9-122, four TDs).
Nick Smalich is the team's leading rusher with 436 yards on 33 carries and four TDs.
“Nick has done a good job since we lost Chase Bertocci for the season in the Carmichaels game,” Steeber said.
Bertocci, a returning fullback/linebacker, hurt his knee on the first play of the game against the Mikes and had surgery Wednesday.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.