Wolverines hungry to cement big resurgence
It is the elephant in the room, whether or not coach George Novak's football team is choosing to discuss it.
When Woodland Hills (10-1) faces Bethel Park (10-1) in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal playoff contest at West Mifflin Area's Titans Stadium tonight, the Wolverines will have they opportunity to advance to the title game at Heinz Field for the first time since 2005.
That season, Novak's four-time WPIAL champion Wolverines fell to eventual state champion McKeesport Area.
The 25 seniors currently on Woodland Hills' roster were in the eighth grade.
But when they take to the field tonight, the Wolverines will not be focusing on their opportunity to leave an indelible mark on the program by giving Novak his first WPIAL crown since 2002.
Instead they will have only one thing on their mind the defending WPIAL champion Black Hawks.
"Every week before practice I tell them that this game is the most important game of the year," Novak said Thursday. "We take one game at a time and that's the way we approach every team. We stress that we don't even talk about the next game and who's going to be there, even though they're probably thinking about it."
Lying in wait for either Woodland Hills or Bethel Park will be the winner of Quad-A's other semifinal contest between Gateway (11-0) and North Hills (6-5) at Fox Chapel tonight.
Despite the fact that this year's WPIAL championship game could come down to a rematch between the Black Hawks and Gators, who dueled at Heinz Field in 2008, Bethel Park coach Jeff Metheny also has made it a priority for his players to remain focused on the task at hand.
"The kids know what's at stake," Metheny said. "You don't have to rah-rah too much this week. We want to get back (to Heinz Field). These kids understand that we're going to be working very hard to get back there."
For the second straight week, Woodland Hills will face a playoff opponent that it beat during the regular season.
The Wolverines dismantled Central Catholic, 36-3, last Friday after having pounded the Vikings, 27-3, back in Week 5.
"I think it's going to be tough for both teams," Novak said. "For us (we have) to look back at them to see what we did right against them and what we did wrong."
The Wolverines have won 10 straight games since dropping their first game of the season, 13-0, to Steubenville in the Wheeling Hospital Rally in the Valley. That streak includes a thrilling 21-17 Week 4 victory over Bethel Park at the Wolvarena.
Although Woodland Hills won the midseason non-conference showdown, Novak's Wolverines have not been inspired by too much confidence from that particular victory.
"The only place we beat them was on the scoreboard," Novak said of the game. "It definitely didn't make us overconfident. We're going to have to play better than we did."
The Black Hawks garnered more passing yards, dominated the time of possession, racked up nearly an equal amount of rushing yards and missed an opportunity to win the game when quarterback Matt Bliss tossed an incomplete pass on a fourth-and-goal play from the Wolverines 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter.
Bliss led Bethel Park with 216 yards passing in that game.
If the Black Hawks are to be successful the second time around, though, the offensive game plan will need to be much different.
Against a large and physical Woodland Hills defensive line led by Pitt recruit Khaynin Mosley-Smith (6-1, 287), Bethel Park will look to control the clock again by leaning on running back Bre Ford, who has rushed for 1,222 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
"You've got to run the ball on them," Metheny said. "You aren't going to beat them throwing the ball all over the place. We have to establish the line. We've played in a lot of big games with these kids. They won't flinch. They'll play to the end."
The same can be said for the Wolverines.
Although the Woodland Hills offense is led by two-year starting senior quarterback John Yezovich, whose favorite target has become Purdue University tight end recruit Mike Lee, the Wolverines will rely heavily upon senior running back Dom Timbers.
The 5-foot-10, 183-pound Syracuse University recruit rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings last Friday and has rushed for 1,244 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
"We've got to be able to stay in our gaps and play sound football," Metheny said. "They're pretty simple in what they do. They just do it well."
Defensively, Bethel Park will look to its veteran run-stoppers on the line to contain Timbers and the Wolverines rushing attack.
Senior Corey Spegel (6-3, 235) anchors Bethel Park's defensive front along with Max Bair (6-4, 251) and Anthony Herko (6-1, 224).
"They have six starters back from a defense that won the WPIAL championship," Novak said.
"They're a force to be reckoned with. They're the defending champs."