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Allegheny rivals Burrell, Ford City face off in must-win game

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Long run of success

Ford City and Burrell have long been two of the standard bearers in the Allegheny Conference. The last time both teams failed to make the WPIAL playoffs was 1997, when teams played a 10-game schedule, and just three teams from each conference reached the postseason.

That year, Ford City finished 3-7, while Shady Side Academy, Laurel and Freeport reached the Class AA playoffs. Burrell, at the time, was a Class AAA school in the Greater Allegheny conference. The Bucs were 6-4 that year and finished behind North Catholic, Highlands and Kittanning.

Top high school sports
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

Friday is do-or-die time in Lower Burrell.

Two of the Allegheny Conference's better programs over the last decade, Ford City and Burrell, will come together in an Allegheny Conference game from which the loser will see its playoff hopes disappear, and the winner could be one game away of the final playoff spot.

Ford City (2-4, 1-4) is coming off a lopsided loss against archrival Kittanning, 62-27. Burrell (2-4, 1-4) is trying to bounce back from a painful loss of its own, 12-10, against Freeport.

Those losses would provide motivation enough, but given the high stakes for the contest, both coaches expect a keen effort from their players.

“Burrell's been a powerhouse for years, and they're always well coached,” Ford City coach John Bartolovic said.

“We're going to come to play and work hard because nothing's going to be given to us, certainly not this year.”

“For our kids, it's their last home football game,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “I think the kids understand we have to win from here on out to make the playoffs. It doesn't need to be said. They know the importance.”

The Sabers will get a boost coming into the game from the return of a number of players who were inactive because of injury or ineligibility against Kittanning.

With a deeper bench, players will be able to move back to their natural positions and get a rest, when needed.

“We have most everybody back from that standpoint, so that will help,” Bartolovic said. “With the youth we have, we've been working on kids taking care of their own jobs and not trying to do too much and getting out of position.”

Staying at home on defense will be crucial to stopping a Burrell offense that uses some similar plays and formations to Kittanning.

Bucs quarterback Cody Wolfe has 493 passing yards and 177 rushing yards, and much of Burrell's work in the backfield goes to Ryan Sowol, who has 529 yards on 109 carries.

“It helps that we'll have back-to-back weeks seeing similar looks, but the thing that will help us most is getting people back,” Bartolovic said.

Burrell knows it has to be wary of the Sabres' big-play ability. Leading rusher Chantz Schrecengost (544 yards) and leading receiver Cody Peppler (176 yards) scored touchdowns of more than 70 yards last week — Schrecengost's on a run and Peppler's on a kickoff return.

“(Bartolovic) and his staff do a great job, and no one knows how to run the Wing-T like John,” Horwatt said. “They make it exciting, the way they run their offense, and they have great athletes up there.”

Whichever team wins will be hoping heavily favored Valley can take care of business Saturday at fourth-place Summit Academy.

The Knights must lose Friday and against first-place Shady Side Academy next week.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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