Surging Valley meets rival Burrell in Allegheny Conference clash
Emotions of joy and relief flowed as Valley's football team celebrated the end of a 22-game losing streak after a hard-fought victory against Deer Lakes last Friday night.
By Saturday morning, the Vikings were scanning the horizon.
Soon after sacking that ignominious streak, Valley turned its attention to ending another skid of local significance, particularly in the vicinity of Route 366.
Valley (1-0, 1-0) will visit next-door neighbor and archrival Burrell (1-0, 0-0) for a Class AA Allegheny Conference game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium.
Valley has dropped its last three meetings to Burrell, but the Vikings plan to continue their turnaround.
And for the first time since 2009, this matchup is more than a nonconference contest for bragging rights. Valley spent two winless seasons in Class AAA before being returned to Class AA by the WPIAL's biennial realignment.
“Being a conference game makes it even more special,” first-year Valley coach Chad Walsh said. “Not only is it a big rivalry, but now it's for position in the conference standings. To get a big win early certainly helps out down the line.”
This game marks the start of conference play for Burrell, which is ranked No. 8 in Class AA by Trib Total Media after rolling over Brownsville, 41-7, in nonconference action.
In front of what's expected to be a large crowd, the Bucs will aim to make an early statement that they still are a conference heavyweight after tying for third place in the Allegheny last year.
“It does add to it that it's a conference game,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said. “It doesn't take away from it when it's nonconference, but it means so much more when it's a conference game. It's always a battle between Burrell and Valley, and it's great for the surrounding communities.”
Horwatt, a former Burrell quarterback who's in his second year as head coach, recalled when he made his first varsity start as a sophomore on the road against Valley.
“It was unbelievable, the nerves, the tension, and knowing all the past,” Horwatt said. “That puts so much more on the line. We've got to have the kids relaxed this week.”
Last week, Valley rallied to edge Deer Lakes, 14-7. On Friday, the Vikings will face a much more experienced team, which is led by 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior running back/linebacker Cole Bush, who rushed for 221 yards and five touchdowns in the season-opener. Valley must slow Bush to have a shot at pulling off an upset.
“If we can limit what he does, eliminate his big plays, and maybe get some three-and-outs, that will be huge,” Walsh said. “The more hands we get on him, the better. We have to trust in our gang-tackling.”
Walsh was pleased with the performance of Valley's offensive and defensive lines in the season-opening win. When the Vikings competed in Class AAA, they were outsized at the line of the scrimmage and struggled to rush the ball and stop the run.
The Viking linemen should match-up better against Class AA opponents, but Walsh pointed out there are big and experienced teams in the Allegheny Conference, including Burrell.
“We've stressed the defensive and offensive lines have to play really well this week,” Walsh said.
Burrell has won the last three meetings with Valley and matched its streak from 1993-95. But the Bucs have never pieced together four victories in a row against the Vikings. That could change Friday when one of the top rivalry games in the WPIAL is played.
“You couldn't ask for a bigger stage,” Horwatt said. “It's exciting to think the kids get the opportunity to play Valley when it's a conference game.”
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.