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Central Catholic looks to stop hot Woodland Hills

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 10:15 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Central Catholic's Luigi Lista-Brinza scores a first-quarter touchdown during a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal against Penn-Trafford on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, at West Mifflin.

Trevon Mathis remembers how the Woodland Hills football team prepared for its Week 3 game against Bethel Park.

Focused, alert and ready could've described the Wolverines, though it came as a shock to Mathis given Woodland Hills had started 0-2.

“We needed those two losses,” Mathis said of falling to Upper St. Clair and McKeesport. “We were cocky. We needed those losses to find out where we were at, and it just went from there.”

Where it went was to Heinz Field, the location of Saturday's WPIAL Class AAAA final between the Wolverines and Central Catholic (12-0.)

Woodland Hills (10-2) has been perhaps the hottest of the eight teams left, rattling off 10 straight wins starting with a 38-23 defeat of Bethel Park and averaging 36.6 points per game during that stretch.

“We started playing as a team,” running back Miles Sanders said. “At the beginning of the year, we were still developing. We had to beat Bethel Park. That was our first goal. Then we just had to take it one game at a time.”

The reasons for Woodland Hills' slow start were many.

Upper St. Clair and McKeesport, of course, are no slouches; they reached the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals and quarterfinals, respectively.

The Wolverines also were breaking in several new starters — six on offense, seven on defense. Quarterback Harry Randall tore his ACL three games into the 2012 season and was only cleared the week before playing Upper St. Clair.

He was hardly the player who since has accounted for 1,659 total yards and 25 touchdowns.

“Earlier in the year, we were ranked high because we had some good, skilled athletes,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “But they didn't focus as much as they had to each week.”

While Woodland Hills has struggled starting seasons, Central Catholic has battled the opposite problem: finishing them as well as anyone would like.

Since winning the 2007 WPIAL Class AAAA title, the Vikings have failed to make it back to Heinz Field, falling in the quarterfinals three times and the semifinals twice, despite some tremendously talented teams.

“They've had some disappointing losses in the playoffs in past years, but this group drew a line in the sand and said they're going to come together and get there,” Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said. “So far that's what they've done.”

The Vikings have a Florida State recruit at quarterback in J.J. Cosentino and a pair of 1,000-yard running backs in Luigi Lista-Brinza and Riley Redman. They start 10 seniors on offense, five on defense. Their offensive line averages 256 pounds, the defensive line 245.

Still, Lista-Brinza isn't buying into any of the praise that Central Catholic has enjoyed since limiting opponents to 5.7 points per game and shutting out six teams during the regular season.

“We're just worried about what we've been doing since January, which is working hard,” Lista-Brinza said. “Woodland Hills has a good team, so we're going to come out and try and stop them.”

The way Woodland Hills has played this season, that's a much different task than it was back in September.

“They do that every year,” Cosentino said. “They don't have a great beginning to the season then they finish strong. It happens every year. It will be interesting to see how they can do. We've been watching a lot of film on them. They're getting a lot better.”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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