Offensive tactics vary between Kittanning, Burrell
At practice Monday afternoon, Kittanning senior safety Mitch Pirhalla asked coach Frank Fabian whether Burrell threw the ball as often as the Wildcats.
Definitely not, answered Fabian, who estimated that the Bucs ran the ball about 80 percent of the time during their four wins.
Such an exchange would've sounded absurd during the past few seasons. But there's no doubt about the current offensive identities of Kittanning (2-2, 2-1) and Burrell (4-0, 3-0), the two highest scoring teams in the Allegheny Conference at 24.8 points per game and 34.3 per game, respectively.
The Wildcats, once a run-first wing-T program, now throw the ball without hesitation.
The Bucs, balanced on offense during the previous two or three years, now bully opponents around the field with a brutal I-formation-based ground game.
These opposing styles will clash when Kittanning hosts Burrell on Friday night.
“If we get the look that says throw the football, then that's what we'll do,” said Fabian, who replaced the wing-T with a no-huddle shotgun spread scheme. “We're not going to bang our heads against the wall trying to block seven- and eight-man boxes. We'll throw the ball out there, and we think we have some pretty good guys on the edge.
“I think you build your team around your strengths. One of (Burrell's) strengths is they seem like they have a lot of linemen. And when you have a talent like Cole Bush, at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, who runs downhill, it's easy to see why that's their scheme of choice.”
Bush, a senior running back, ranks among the best ball carriers in the WPIAL. He has 13 touchdowns and more than 750 yards rushing. Three of those scores and 130 of the yards came in last week's 27-6 win over Shady Side Academy, which, when combined with Freeport's loss to Valley, gave Burrell sole possession of first place in the conference.
Fabian attended the Burrell-Shady Side Academy game — his Wildcats played and defeated Summit Academy, 28-0, last Saturday. The coach also watched Burrell in person one week earlier when the Bucs traveled to Summit Academy on Sept. 15 and won, 28-22.
His impression of the Bucs, who also allow just 10.3 points per game, did not change.
“They're very physical up front,” Fabian said. “And Cole Bush obviously is as advertised. … Just overall, they're a pretty good football team.
“I think we have to rally to the football and just limit their big plays. If we can do that, hopefully we'll be around in the fourth quarter where it could be anybody's game.”
Kittanning continues to excel in the fourth quarter, during which it has outscored opponents, 55-6.
But to beat Burrell, the Wildcats' offense likely needs to find a rhythm early. It's a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of senior quarterback Kevin Barnes.
Barnes has beaten defenses with his arm and his feet in his first year as the starter. A former wide receiver, he's thrown for six touchdowns and more than 600 yards, and he's also rushed for almost 400 yards.
“Barnes is a very strong runner and a great thrower,” Burrell coach Kevin Horwatt said.
Horwatt acknowledged the stylistic differences between Burrell and Kittanning's offenses add more intrigue to a game that already holds a high potential for entertainment.
“It's going to be exciting,” Horwatt said. “This is going to be a whole different look for us. You scheme differently.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-543-1303 ext. 1321.