W. Mifflin, Central Valley poised for WPIAL semifinal shootout
If contrasting styles make for compelling fights, West Mifflin and Central Valley could produce a special WPIAL Class AAA semifinal Friday night.
Third-seeded Central Valley's exceptional talent against the precision of the Titans' ball-control offense illustrates two contrasting teams with one common goal — to play next week at Heinz Field.
Led by tailback Jimmy Wheeler and an offensive line that has dominated almost every opponent this season, West Mifflin (10-1) is fresh off an upset over second-seeded Mars and feeling confident.
“It's not going to be easy,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “But beating a team like that last week does have us feeling good. It's not cockiness, but it is confidence.”
Braszo's style is simple, but it works. He wants his team to run the ball effectively and have time-consuming drives. Against an explosive team like Central Valley (9-2), such a game plan already is required.
Central Valley coach Mark Lyons knows what No. 7 West Mifflin will do Friday, and he also knows that having advanced knowledge of the Titans' plan is worthless.
“That's the thing about Coach Braszo's teams over the years,” Lyons said. “They don't try to trick you. His teams are going to be fundamentally sound, they're going to execute as well as anyone, and they won't make mistakes. That's what they do. His teams have been that way for a long time.”
If West Mifflin is the stoic, predictable team in this matchup, Central Valley is the opposite.
Boasting one of the WPIAL's best players and one of its most explosive offenses, Central Valley would prefer to turn the game into a shootout.
West Mifflin will have an eye on Central Valley wideout Robert Foster, Braszo said.
“He's just an incredible football player,” Braszo said. “They have a lot of good players, but he's different. He's just so big, and if he gets in the open field, forget about it.”
Foster, one of the area's most sought-after players, is a significant part of Central Valley's game plan. The West Mifflin defense might be the best Foster has faced all season, but Lyons intends on getting his star the ball as much as possible.
“He's a special talent,” Braszo said. “We're coming down to the end of an extraordinary high school career. We're hoping we can extend it just for the sheer enjoyment of watching him play again.”
Keeping Foster off the field is West Mifflin's ultimate goal, and they might have the perfect attack to make such a thing happen. Wheeler, a star in his own right, has exploded onto the scene this season by becoming the first player in West Mifflin history to rush for 2,000 yards.
Wheeler's talent is obvious, but Braszo is just as eager to applaud his offensive line.
“I've been saying all along that those guys are the key for our football team,” Braszo said. “They've done a great job of making holes for our running backs. If you're going to have success in our offense, you better have a good line. They've been a heck of a strength.”
For all their schematic differences — West Mifflin regularly runs the ball out of the same formations, while Central Valley is more balanced and frequently changes looks — the teams both average 36 points per game.
“It should be a great game,” Lyons said. “Just two good teams going at it.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.