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Burrell prepares for Shady Side Academy's talented tailback duo

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Burrell's Nick Nitowski hustles for the ball during football practice at Burrell High School on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Matt Hess anticipates a play during football practice at Burrell High School on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Matt Hess directs a play during football practice at Burrell High School on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Nursing ankle injuries, Shady Side Academy's top two running backs watched from the sideline during last week's 16-6 victory over Valley.

Even though juniors Jarred Brevard and Dennis Briggs won't show up in film of that contest, Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt is aware of the productive rushing duo and that they probably will play a major role this week.

Stopping the run will be a top priority for No. 8 Burrell (3-0, 2-0) when it hosts No. 10 Shady Side Academy (3-0, 3-0) for a critical Class AA Allegheny Conference clash at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

No. 7 Freeport (3-0, 3-0) is the only other undefeated team in the nine-school conference, although Burrell has played one less conference game than the other two frontrunners.

“Those two young men (Brevard and Briggs) are great running backs,” Horwatt said. “We need to control the run. But at the same time, we have to play a complete football game. We can't come out lopsided.”

In Shady Side's first two games, Brevard (5-foot-8, 185 pounds) rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries, while Briggs (5-10, 185) added 161 yards and one touchdown on 26 attempts.

“I think if we had been at Heinz Field on Friday night, they probably would have played,” Shady Side coach Dave Havern said of Brevard and Briggs. “We have a tough stretch of games coming up (which includes Freeport next week). I thought it would be better if they got completely healthy for the stretch run. I thought our primary backups could do the job.”

Last week, Shady Side senior quarterback Matt Granato took more of a leadership role and rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 116 yards. Granato had served as the backup to Reggie Mitchell, who's now a freshman cornerback at Wisconsin, before this year. However, Granato gained valuable experience in a 35-14 loss to Jeannette in the WPIAL quarterfinals last year.

“(Granato) has got a great arm and mobility in the pocket, but he's not as strong a runner as the quarterback they had last year,” Horwatt said. “But don't take anything away from him. He can throw the deep ball down the field.”

Cole Bush, Burrell's 6-2, 220-pound senior running back/outside linebacker, has given opposing defenders trouble as he's carried a large portion of the load for the Bucs. Bush has more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns.

However, experience-laden Burrell also features senior quarterback James Liput, who passed for 106 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score last week, and 6-foot, 225-pound senior tight end/inside linebacker Matt Hess, who converted from center during the offseason.

Hess is looking into playing Division I rugby in college.

Havern said his team can't afford to let Bush and Hess, in particular, get loose past the defensive line and use their size to run over smaller defenders.

“This is a big game,” Hess said. “Last year, they beat us. So it's redemption time for us. Every week is a big game, but we can put this one above some others. Freeport and Shady Side look like they'll be the top two games.”

Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at pkogut@tribweb.com or 724-224-2696.

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