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Kittanning, Shady Side Academy fighting for playoff berths

| Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012, 1:11 a.m.
Kittanning's Kol Lazaroff (left), Kevin Barnes (center) and Zac Croyle look for coaching input during a recent practice. The three Wildcats are just some of the weapons utilized in Kittanning's spread offense.

The sting of Week 8's last-minute loss to Valley might subsist well after Kittanning's season ends. But coach Frank Fabian wants his Wildcats numb to that setback for at least the rest of this week.

Kittanning (4-4, 4-3) must beat Shady Side Academy (5-3, 5-2) Friday at David “Red” Ullom Field to make the postseason. A victory gives the Wildcats the head-to-head tiebreaker over Shady Side Academy, so Kittanning would advance as the fourth-place team from the Allegheny Conference. Shady Side Academy also needs to win to qualify, though it'd move forward as the third-place finisher.

“It's a desperation game for both teams,” Shady Side Academy coach Dave Havern said. “I think it's going to be a helluva football game.”

A Kittanning win would not only put the Wildcats in the playoffs, it would represent progress. The Wildcats are 0-4 against teams that currently have winning records. Three of those four losses were decided by 11 points or fewer.

“We're approaching it from the point of view that this is for the seniors,” Fabian said. “We don't know what's going to happen beyond this week, but we just want to send our seniors out the right way, because they've done a lot for us. … They've helped us turn an edge and get things back to being more competitive.”

Last week, the Wildcats came closest to that breakthrough win, as they led Valley, 17-14, with 5:54 left in the game. They also managed to get the ball into Valley territory with less than a minute left in the game.

The Wildcats look to get their offense back on track after scoring their second-lowest point total of the season. Fabian identified line play as a concern, particularly because injuries have hampered several starters up front.

Whether Kittanning, which had fewer than 100 yards passing the last two weeks, will shift away from its recent dedication to the run game and return to its early-season, throw-first tactics remains an undecided issue for Fabian.

“We felt good about (running the ball) the week before at Deer Lakes,” said Fabian, whose Wildcats accumulated 282 rushing yards against the Lancers. “We've got to do a better job of maybe just keeping teams honest on the outside.”

Havern acknowledged the potency of Kittanning's passing and rushing attack.

“They have some serious athletes that could give us some problems with matchups,” Havern said. “We'll have to control the ball and keep that offense off the field.”

There's not much mystery surrounding Shady Side Academy's offensive strategy. With mobile senior quarterback Matt Granato and star junior running backs Jared Brevard and Dennis Briggs, the Indians grind out most of their yards on the ground.

Kittanning will look to contain Shady Side Academy's ball carriers better than it handled Valley's runners, who combined for almost 200 yards.

“They're going to line up and come right at you, and they're very good at doing that,” Fabian said of Shady Side Academy. “So we're going to have to buckle our chinstraps and get ready for a physical game.

“And when we do get to the ball carrier, we've got to wrap and bring him to the ground. We tried to emphasize that last week, and I don't think it was a lack of effort by our kids. I think it was more a credit to Valley's backs.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at wwest@tribweb.com or 724-543-1303.

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