Derry hosting Central Valley in 1st home playoff game since 1983
When Derry and Central Valley kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the opening round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs, it will be the first time Derry has hosted a playoff game since 1983.
That night, Knoch edged Derry, 9-6, in overtime on a field covered with snow. The extended forecast Friday isn't calling for the white stuff, so neither coach will have to worry about playing conditions.
No. 4 Derry (10-0), the only undefeated team in the WPIAL playoffs not seeded 1 or 2, will face a perennial playoff power in the No. 5 Warriors (7-3).
Since Monaca and Center merged in 2010, Central Valley has won two WPIAL titles (2010 and '14), reached the finals in '13 and '15 and lost in the semifinals in '11 and '12. Its playoff record is 18-4.
While Derry coach Tim Sweeney seemed unfazed by his team's low seeding, WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley said because it awards teams home games for winning the conference, the football committee had to be innovative with the seedings.
Some took it as the committee really seeding Central Valley ahead of Derry because of its past success. The Interstate Conference was given the Tri-County South or old Keystone Conference treatment.
Those conferences had their problems winning games in past playoffs and felt disrespected.
“(The committee) looked at everything, and the fact that Derry's conference has had difficulties in the playoffs was probably a reason of the seeding,” O'Malley said.
The Interstate Conference has had some playoff success in recent years. In the past five seasons, at least one team from the conference advanced to the next round. Prior to 2015, at least two and sometimes three teams advanced past the first round.
Washington in 2012 and Jeannette in '11 also played in the WPIAL finals.
“We're just happy to be in the playoffs and at home,” Sweeney said. “Our focus remains on us. Central Valley has an outstanding program and is well-coached. We have to be ready for a real battle.”
Derry posted a 10-0 record for the first time in school history.
The Trojans are led by seniors Tyler Balega, Noah Wiencek, Owen Whitacre, Josh Bauer and Collin Holden, all who endured a 0-10 season as freshmen.
That Derry team allowed 56 points per game and scored only six.
“We don't look in the past,” Sweeney said. “We're more concerned about us.”
Balega has rushed for 1,344 yards and scored 22 touchdowns, and junior quarterback Ryan Polinsky has been effective enough — 47 of 104 for 718 yards — to keep opponents honest.
Derry, which is 1-10 in the playoffs, has been in some tight situations during the season and has found ways to make plays defensively to preserve wins.
“They look like they're having fun playing the game for each other,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “They are loose, relaxed and playing with confidence. They look like they want to make a play for one another.”
Derry (27-15) and Central Valley (56-13) defeated Elizabeth Forward this season, their lone common opponent.
Central Valley didn't know it qualified for the playoffs until Beaver Falls defeated Beaver last Friday night. Central Valley was idle the final week because Shady Side Academy forfeited to them.
It gave Central Valley a chance to rest and players like quarterback Nico Battisti, who has passed for 900 yards and eight touchdowns, a chance to heal injuries.
If he's unable to go, Curtis Latshaw will be behind center and Central Valley is likely to rely on its ground game.
Lyons said he doesn't think his team has much of an advantage just because they've been in the postseason before.
“It still comes down to blocking and tackling,” Lyons said. “When you're on the road, you still have to play great defense and take care of the football.”