Trojans must 'cover the spread'
The California Trojans find themselves in a strange situation going into Friday's Black Hills Conference finale against Brentwood.
The Trojans (4-4, 4-4) not only need to beat the Spartans (5-4, 5-3), they need to win the game by at least 10 points.
If that happens and Chartiers-Houston (6-3, 5-3) loses at Fort Cherry (8-1, 7-1), then California would get the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference based on the Gardner Points System.
“I've never had to coach a game where you had to cover a spread,” said California first-year coach Bo Teets. “It is unique. We're going in with the mindset that we have to win the game. If we win by 10 points and the rest happens, then we make the playoffs.
“The goal has always been to make the playoffs. We just want to make sure we win the game first and then see what happens.”
Teets noted that uniqueness of the situation going into California's senior night game.
The Trojans could win the game by fewer than 10 points and finish the season with a winning record. After last season's 2-7 campaign in the rugged Black Hills, that would be an amazing turnaround.
But with the 10-point circumstances, the Trojans could win a close game and still feel like they lost.
“Yes, yes indeed,” Teets said. “It is strange. But coming into the season I don't know how many people thought we would be in this position. But it's Week 9 and we are fighting for a playoff spot. As a coach, that's all you can ask for this time of the year.”
Of course, the Spartans will have a little bit to say about that as well.
Brentwood is riding a two-game winning streak in which the Spartans have outscored the opposition, 77-19.
They have one of the WPIAL's top quarterbacks in Connor McWilliams, who has thrown for 1,374 yards, hitting 90 of 164 passes. He has 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“He's a big, rangy kid who can find his receivers,” Teets said of McWilliams. “He has a good arm. We need to put pressure on him and take him out of his comfort zone.
“If we force him to make quick decisions, maybe we can create some turnovers. That's the challenge we are putting to our front four or five.”
Even though Brentwood is playing without last season's 1,000-yard rusher, Justin Vickless, Teets says the Spartans have a couple of other running backs who are pretty good.
“They have some kids back there who are getting it done,” he said.
One of them is Bill Madeja, who is also the team's leading receiver with 27 receptions for 426 yards. He has scored 10 TDs.
California has been fighting the flu bug this week and Teets said some of his key players have been under the weather.
“We have been dealing with it all week and hopefully by Friday those kids will be well enough to give the effort we are going to need,” he said. “It's a tough time to have the flu going around.”
Teets said the key to winning the game is pretty much the same formula the Trojans have relied on all season.
“We have to control the line of scrimmage and be physical,” he said. “We have to get people after the ball, 11 hats on the ball, and make things happen. We have to create our own breaks.”
Teets said Friday's game will come down to a matter of focus and execution.
“If we have the focus we need and we execute, we can get it done,” he said. “We can win.”
Can the Trojans win by 10 points?
Teets smiled and said, “If the kids want it bad enough and get after it, we can do it.”
He then paused and said, “But if we do win and don't win by 10, I won't let them feel like losers because this has been one heck of a season by this group.
“But it would be nice to take it at least another week longer.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or email@example.com.