South Fayette's defense making the difference
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Talk about the South Fayette football team, and the conversation will likely center around points scored.
How many? Perhaps.
The Lions' offense is anything but average.
But South Fayette's defense — and the lack of points scored against it — cannot be ignored when the Lions face Aliquippa Saturday at Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class AA title.
Often overshadowed by the gaudy numbers put up by quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, receivers Justin Watson and Conner Beck and running back Grant Fetchet, the Lions' defense has equally as much to do with South Fayette reaching the WPIAL final for the first time since winning the 2010 Class AA title.
“Our defense has stepped up, which gives Brumbaugh the opportunity to throw as much as he does,” defensive tackle Ben Berkovitz said. “We have a special group.”
Though undersized — Berkovitz is a 225-pound tackle, tied with Bryce Christoff for the heaviest on the team — the Lions' defense has been successful because of unselfish play.
Instead of worrying about tackles, Berkovitz and Christoff try to consume as many blockers as possible, enabling middle linebackers Zach (99 tackles) and JJ Walker (112) to get the credit.
“Because Berkovitz, Bryce, Spencer (Girman) and (Anthony) Davidson are willing to take up two men instead of saying, ‘Hey, I'm going to go make the play,' that lets us linebackers fly around and make the stops,” Zach Walker said.
Sure worked during a 35-7 semifinal win over Beaver Falls, a game in which the Lions held Damian Rawl and Kahlil Caracter to 62 yards on 20 carries.
But an even more daunting task awaits in trying to stop Dravon Henry and Terry Swanson, two backs who've combined for more than 9,000 career yards.
“We just have to do what we did the other night, which is tackle,” Rossi said. “We never gave those kids extra yards.”
If South Fayette is able to shut down Henry and Swanson, that will force quarterback Darrien Fields to test South Fayette's secondary of Gateway transfer Roman Denson, Watson and Beck.
Beck has excelled in run support with 57 tackles. Watson and Denson are solid in pass coverage. Linebacker Hayden Orler has four of South Fayette's 17 interceptions.
Overall, South Fayette (five shutouts) is allowing 95.6 rushing yards per game, 52.6 through the air and just five points per game, best in the WPIAL this season.
“I think it's going to be our offense against their defense,” Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. “Whether we can sustain drives, move the ball and score.”
Also hold onto it. Aliquippa fumbled four times in the 2010 title game while the Quips fell to South Fayette, 19-16. Three of them came inside the 20.
South Fayette didn't quite have that same effect on Washington's Shai McKenzie last year; he gashed the Lions for 293 yards and four touchdowns in the WPIAL semifinals.
That prompted Rossi to take over the defense from Darren Schoppe, who left for Bishop Canevin. Tim Sohyda (defensive line) also came aboard after spending the previous three years as head coach at Canon-McMillan.
Those changes, combined with South Fayette's unselfish play, have forced teams to not concentrate solely on the Lions' high-powered offense.
“I think the most impressive thing about them is defensively, believe it or not,” Zmijanac said. “They certainly haven't given up many points to anybody.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Central Catholic wins 5th WPIAL football title
- Thomas Jefferson uses defense, running game to capture WPIAL title
- Aliquippa wins 16th WPIAL title, ends South Fayette’s 44-game winning streak
- Clairton captures 12th WPIAL football championship
- WPIAL Class AAA notes: Title games draw 16,500 to Heinz Field
- WPIAL Class AA notes: South Fayette’s Saxton sets WPIAL finals record
- WPIAL Class AAAA notes: P-T unable to snap playoff skid vs. Central Catholic
- WPIAL Class A notes: Return sparks Clairton for 2nd straight week
- Clairton among greatest WPIAL dynasties; Aliquippa, South Fayette close
- WPIAL Class AAA final preview: Big-play passing attack paying off for defending WPIAL champion Central Valley
- WPIAL history full of football dynasties