Swarming defense keys McKeesport
When you think of McKeesport football, you think of that confounding triple-option offense that tends to send opposing coaches and players into tantrums.
The flexbone is a fingerprint of coach George Smith, a style he brought back to the program in his second go-round with the Tigers this season — and it's been a whopping success.
But defense isn't lost in Smith's vocabulary.
“Defense is No. 1,” he said. “We spend the same amount of time on it as we do the offense. Defense is No. 1, the kicking game is No. 2, and offense is No. 3.”
Wrap them all up, and No. 4 McKeesport has been a major player all year, rolling to an undefeated record (7-0, 6-0 Quad East) with two regular-season games remaining and clinching a playoff spot along the way.
Visiting Kiski Area (4-3, 4-2) is next up for McKeesport on Friday night.
“George runs the no-huddle, and that complicates matters more,” Kiski Area coach Dave Heavner said. “When you're on defense, you better line up right. Everybody's got to know their responsibility.
“We've watched film after film after film, and even if you defend them right on four straight plays, if you slip up once, they're gone for 50, 60, 90 yards. We're preaching to our guys to do your job and don't worry about the guy next to you.”
Smith said Kiski Area, which has won two in a row, will provide another tough challenge for his team.
“They're equal to us,” Smith said. “Really. They have great team speed, and they have a great two-way player in Shane Kuhn.”
That much, most would agree, is true.
Kuhn, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end/inside linebacker, is a standout on the gridiron, with offers from Youngstown State and Colgate, and as a wrestler, where he won the 2013 WPIAL heavyweight championship and finished third at the PIAA Tournament.
“He's certainly one of the leaders for us,” Heavner said. “The No. 1 thing he brings to us is his work ethic. He doesn't say much, but when he goes out on the field, his work ethic is second to none. He's a tenacious, intelligent football player.”
Kuhn's younger brother, Chad, quarterbacks the Cavaliers' offense, and the 6-1, 190-pound sophomore is learning on the fly.
“Chad has been pretty consistent for us,” Heavner said. “He's certainly been doing it with his arm and with his legs. He's young, but he relishes the opportunity to be our quarterback.”
In Kiski Area's 34-14 victory over visiting Penn-Trafford on Friday, Chad Kuhn scored on fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 27 and 57 yards.
Meantime, McKeesport is averaging a Quad East-best 32.1 points per game behind quarterbacks David Queen and his backup, TyWann Smith. What seems to be overlooked is the Tigers' stout defense, which has yielded the fewest points (70) in the conference.
“We're pretty good on the defense,” Smith said. “We put our best athletes in key positions on defense. Some of them don't even play on offense, some of them split time on offense.”
Heavner, like others, quivers at the thought of McKeesport's two-headed attack. If it's not the Tigers' offense that's coming at you hard, it's a defense that's on top of you in a moment's notice.
“Smothering,” Heavner said. “They swarm.”
McKeesport must be careful not to look ahead to a regionally televised Thursday night date with No. 3 Gateway (7-0, 6-0) on Oct. 24 in the regular-season finale.
The two teams are tied atop the conference standings.
“The greatest compliment I can give George Smith,” Heavner said, “is that he is a football coach. I mean at every level — the staff around him, his techniques of teaching, the expectations he puts out there. His teams approach things in a business-like fashion.
“They are physical, and they get after you.”