Similarities abound for Elizabeth Forward, West Mifflin in Big 9 battle
It is difficult to discern the difference between the Elizabeth Forward and West Mifflin football teams this season.
Sure, the Titans offense may be a little more potent, but both are outstanding on that side of the ball and led by dual-threat quarterbacks. And the Warriors may have slightly better defensive numbers, but each force turnovers and are aggressive getting to the ball.
When all is said and done, as the two prepare to meet Friday at West Mifflin (5-0, 5-0), the only real difference between the two teams is 11 points. That's how many it would have taken for Elizabeth Forward (3-2, 3-2) to make this a matchup of undefeated teams.
Instead the Warriors lost to Trinity in their opener, 14-7, and dropped a 21-19 nail-biter to Thomas Jefferson on a missed two-point conversion and have since rebounded for their first three-game winning streak since opening the 2008 season 3-0. They also are over .500 five games into a season for the first time in 13 years.
It may be one of the reasons Elizabeth Forward has, to this point, sailed just a bit under the radar.
“It's hard to speak for other people and what they think, but I knew we played very well in the first two games and obviously there's a feeling that we can do better and that's what we're working at,” Elizabeth Forward coach Mike LeDonne said. “But it's our second year in, the kids are understanding the offense and defense better and they have a full year of weight training. The kids got stronger and they're executing better.”
To say the improvement is dramatic would be an understatement. Elizabeth Forward has already won one more game than it had in the previous two seasons combined. Though part of it is coaching and the kids buying into the system, it helps to have an athletic quarterback such as McKeesport transfer JaQuan Davidson — who was a student at West Mifflin as a freshman but did not play varsity football — running the spread-option offense as well as he has.
“I think they've really improved. Their record shows it. They're playing teams really tough, and they picked up the Davidson kid at quarterback that's really making them go,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “Playing against their spread, it kind of makes you move people around a little bit and put them in different positions. And it changes your reads, and you really have to shift your people into places where you wouldn't want to.”
Of course West Mifflin, which is averaging a Class AAA-best 47 points per game, knows a little bit about offense as well. Titans quarterback Derrick Fulmore is just as dangerous running as throwing, and no team has been able to stop running back Jimmy Wheeler, who leads the WPIAL with 1,151 yards, an average of 230.2 yards per game.
“We have our game plan ready to kind of slow (Wheeler) down, and obviously he's had a heck of a season and put up yards against everybody he's gone up against,” LeDonne said. “Hopefully, what we can do is do our keys well and get to the football. This is a great challenge for us as far as our defense is concerned, and we've got to find a way to slow him down.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, ext. 1977.