Kittannning, Shady Side Academy to play for Allegheny Conference title
The Allegheny Conference couldn't have scripted a better finale.
Two undefeated teams, Shady Side Academy and Kittanning, will put their perfect records on the line with the conference title going to the winner Friday in Fox Chapel.
Shady Side Academy (8-0, 7-0) was generally regarded as the team to beat in the conference entering the season, and the Indians have lived up to the expectations with a chance for their first undefeated regular season in five years.
Kittanning (8-0, 7-0) has played the role of the upstart this year, and after clinching its first home playoff game in 12 years last week, the Wildcats have a chance to enter the playoffs undefeated for the first time since 1976.
While the conference title is the biggest prize up for grabs, both teams also have a chance to improve their WPIAL playoff seeding with a win in a matchup of two teams hoping for a deep playoff run.
“It's a great opportunity for all the kids, ours and Kittanning's,” Shady Side Academy coach Dave Havern said. “You've got to play everybody, but that it worked out like this at the end adds some cachet to the game.”
“I think last week (playing Valley) helped us a lot, because that almost seemed to have a playoff atmosphere,” Kittanning coach Frank Fabian said. “I guess we're kind of looking at it like our playoffs have started a little early.”
The Indians' offense centers around its two senior running backs, Fordham recruit Jarred Brevard and Pitt recruit Dennis Briggs. Brevard leads the team with 628 rushing yards, while Briggs has run for 388 and added another 144 receiving.
Shady Side Academy uses a number of spread formations and varied looks on offense, but Fabian said that in watching game film, the formations are just the Indians' way of setting up an old-fashioned power running game.
“They have two really good tailbacks, and they feed them the ball and come right at you,” Fabian said. “It's a spread set, but it's the old school mentality that they're going to come downhill and put a hat on you. When we charted out their plays, they're about the only team that runs it more than we do.”
Kittanning took a while to get its run game going against Valley, but it paid big dividends in the second half for the Wildcats. Junior quarterback Braydon Toy has run for 682 yards, including a game-clinching 82-yard score last week, while freshman running back Zane Dudek's 546 yards have come on just 48 carries.
Though both teams like to run first, the Wildcats take to the air more often than the Indians. Toy has thrown for 1,273 yards, while Shady Side seniors Chuck Calabrese and Tucker Gillman have combined to throw for 554 yards on the year.
“You can tell (Kittanning's) offense is maturing, and it's a pretty cool offense to look at,” Havern said. “They're big and strong up front, and that's Kittanning. Any time we play them, you know someone's going to get hit.”
Line play will be pivotal for both teams, but Shady Side Academy's front puts forth a different challenge than the Wildcats have faced recently.
Many of the other teams in the Allegheny Conference have quick, athletic lines, Fabian said, but he likened the Indians' front to their lone nonconference opponent, Greensburg Central Catholic, in terms of size and strength.
“I think Shady Side has a pretty young line, and that's the type you'd prefer to catch early in the year,” Fabian said. “They're nine games into it now, and they're a good looking group.
“They're physical, they use their hands well, and I think they're certainly in a class with (Greensburg Central Catholic) as one of the best lines we've faced. But our guys on the line have done a good job all year, and I see them taking this game as another challenge for them.”
Regardless of which team comes out on top, the winner will be able to know it captured its conference title with a win over their toughest opponent to date. The way the schedule wrapped up for both teams means that both of the conference's top two know they are battle tested for the postseason.
“We've been fortunate to play three games in a row against playoff teams in Jeannette, Summit Academy and now Kittanning, and they had the same thing playing Valley last week,” Havern said.
“Certainly there's a lot of importance to this game.
“I'm sure a lot of Kittanning folks will be coming down here, and our school is very excited about it.
“Both teams are going to be physical, and it's going to be old-time football.”