Knoch set for matchup with longtime rival Hampton
Hampton installed a new scoreboard at Fridley Field this summer, but Talbots coach Jacque DeMatteo hasn't had much time to take in feedback on the upgrade.
“I just know it's a lot nicer when the home team's side is lit up and the visitor's side isn't,” DeMatteo said.
Making that happen could be a mega challenge when high-scoring Knoch rolls down Route 8 for a Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.
Knoch (4-0, 3-0), ranked No. 7 by Trib Total Media, will be shooting for its sixth consecutive victory over No. 10 Hampton (3-1, 2-1).
In recent history, this matchup of longtime rivals usually has been decided by a touchdown or less. But a big exception occurred last year when an experienced Knoch squad crushed Hampton, 42-6.
“That game was a little bit of an anomaly,” Knoch coach Mike King said. “Hampton has always played us tough. They've always played good defense.”
Still, Knoch continues to light up scoreboards around Western Pennsylvania.
Even though the Knights graduated their leading rusher and passer from last year's WPIAL runner-up team, they have outscored opponents, 143-28, this season. Knoch is averaging 35.8 points, which is just below last season's average of 36.6.
“They keep reloading,” said DeMatteo, who's looking for his first win over Knoch since taking over at Hampton in 2008. “Their running backs are just as good as what they had last year. You can't tell the difference.”
Knoch senior Ben Tackett, who moved from wide receiver to running back during the offseason, has led the way with 550 yards and 11 touchdowns on 64 carries.
Senior Dakota Bruggeman also relocated — from receiver to quarterback — and has completed 22 of 47 passes for 387 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior running back/linebacker Mike Cunningham has provided a spark on both sides of the ball for the Knights.
Meanwhile, Knoch's defense, which revolves around senior nose guard Jonathan Whalen, is allowing only 7.0 points per game.
Hampton fielded a relatively young team last year and benefit from the return of its leading rusher (senior Anthony Bianco), passer (senior Jon Nigro) and receiver (junior Jon Floss). The Talbots are scoring 31.0 and allowing 14.8 points per game.
“They did have a young team last year, but sometimes you have to put younger kids in the game and let them develop as a group,” King said.
Hampton also leans on one of the top linemen in the WPIAL — Noah Shulman. A 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior guard/nose tackle, Shulman is being recruited by Division I Football Championship Subdivision Patriot League schools, including Lehigh, according to DeMatteo.
“(Shulman) jumps off the film,” King said. “He did last year in many ways. We gotta take care of him. All three of their defensive linemen in their 3-3 stack scheme are very good. The key to this game is controlling the line.”
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-224-2696.