Class AAA rematch has different look this time around
The Class AAA championship is a rematch from the regular season, but this isn't the same Central Valley team West Allegheny beat by a touchdown in Week 5.
The Warriors have a new dynamic quarterback in the lineup, and coach Mark Lyons will be on the sideline, unlike the last time when he was suspended.
“They're different,” West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said.
“I think they're better. I really do. They've always got great skill, but (new quarterback John George) adds an element. He says ‘let's go,' and they say ‘OK.' ”
Central Valley's only Week 5 touchdown was an interception returned 55 yards by Ryan Roberson. With star junior Jordan Whitehead contained, the Warriors offense struggled. But Whitehead has a newfound confidence.
“That loss frustrated me for a while, because the team relied on me,” said Whitehead, who considers that 13-7 loss to West Allegheny his season's turning point.
The Indians challenged Whitehead physically and schematically, an approach that he said left him admittedly upset. His emotions peaked when he sealed the loss with a fumbled punt return.
“People coming up to me saying it wasn't my fault made me more frustrated,” Whitehead said. “That made me change.”
Lyons has seen a difference since that loss. Whitehead can better handle the expectations that follow one of the best players in the WPIAL, Lyons said.
“It was a maturation process, learning to handle the burden of your teammates looking for you to make a play,” Lyons said. “When you allow that to consume you, you're not at your best.”
Whitehead's offensive role also changed. He played tailback exclusively in the first five weeks but has since switched to slotback. That allows him the flexibility to catch passes or run sweeps. It resembles the unpredictable role Alabama freshman Robert Foster filled during his senior year.
“You have to keep your emotions in check,” Lyons said. “Jordan realized he got out of his element a little bit as far as just concentrating on the game. He really grew from that.”
The quarterback change also made Central Valley less predictable. George, a junior, replaced injured starter Nate Climo in Week 7 and hasn't lost since. He scrambles more often than Climo, which proved valuable last week. George's versatility was troublesome for Thomas Jefferson.
“We call him Johnny Football,” Whitehead said. “There are so many options on offense now.”