West Mifflin, Mars will wage WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal showdown

West Mifflin's James Wheeler scores on a 1-yard touchdown plunge over the Thomas Jefferson defense on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.
West Mifflin's James Wheeler scores on a 1-yard touchdown plunge over the Thomas Jefferson defense on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.
Photo by Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

It took a long time for the West Mifflin and Mars football teams to play.

Now it seems like they can't escape each other.

After never playing before a WPIAL Class AAA opening-round matchup in 2011, the teams will square off again at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at Fox Chapel. Though the Titans won that matchup last season, 21-8, both teams assume little can be gained from reviewing film and trying to find something to help them as they prepare for this year's matchup.

“I think they're a very good football team, but we lost so I'm not sure what you can take out of that,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “That was the first time we ever played so it was a new experience for us and for them, and they've got a lot of speed. They had a lot of speed last year, and this year they might be even faster.”

West Mifflin has had an extraordinary amount of success running the ball thanks in large part to senior running back Jimmy Wheeler, who has converted his state championship-caliber ability as a sprinter into a deadly force in the backfield (1,856 yards, 24 touchdowns). Senior quarterback Derrick Fulmore has run more than he has thrown (81 rushes to 64 passes), but he's accounted for more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns.

A major part of the reason for West Mifflin's formidable ground game has been the play of the offensive, line led by senior tight end and Division I prospect Markus Martin. Most of the starters are seniors and have played together for at least two seasons, which gives the team a lot of continuity up front.

“They've been a big key, obviously, and they've been doing it for Derrick and Wheeler and you're obviously not going anywhere without a strong offensive line,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “Those guys have been opening some great holes, and we obviously wouldn't be where we are without those guys.”

Because most of West Mifflin's linemen play on both sides of the ball, it will be intriguing to see how they handle their first look at the Delaware Wing-T offensive scheme with its pulling guards, inside handoffs to the wingbacks and the power running game featuring sophomore fullback Joshua Schultheis, who has run for 1,637 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“They run the Wing-T the way it's always been run, and it's never easy even if you have seen it,” Braszo said. “They have an excellent line, a good runner and a good quarterback. A lot of the plays they run, we've seen, like Thomas Jefferson likes to run a lot of traps and counters. They may not run it out of the same formation, but they have the same interior blocking.”

Because fewer schools are running the Wing-T or any of the many variations, it has become a much harder offense to scheme against. It's also why Mars is a difficult challenge for any team not used to scheming against it and why the Planets have no intention of altering their offense.

“I think it's an advantage and that's why we continue to do the Wing-T because not too many people still do it,” Heinauer said. “At one point in time it was a very popular offense, but we look at it as the best offense for our kids.”

Still, even though West Mifflin was able to stall the Mars' attack last season, the team in not taking anything for granted. If the Titans can use anything from last year's win, it's that it doesn't mean anything now.

All they have to do is remember their loss to Thomas Jefferson in the regular-season finale two weeks ago. The Titans found out the hard way that, just because you beat a team in 2011 doesn't mean it will happen again in 2012.

“You just have to get ready for this team,” Braszo said. “Anything that happened last year really doesn't matter.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 ext. 1977.

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