WPIAL playoff history shows kickers can have big impact
They are generally the outsiders on the football team, the undersized kids whose uniforms are always clean and whose shoes never seem to match.
Whether it's with extra points, field goals or kickoffs, place kickers sometimes can have the biggest impact on WPIAL playoff games. For better or worse.
"Any time you are playing in championship rounds like we are in now, you are expecting close games," Greensburg Salem coach George Kemerer said. "We tell our kids every year four or five games are decided by the kicking game. We tend to think that we have the advantage."
That's because the Golden Lions have one of the WPIAL's best long-range threats in senior Matt Boe, who converted school-record field goals of 50 and 51 yards in a 13-10 win over Derry. Boe, who is 5 of 8 on field-goal attempts, had the length but missed wide left on a 56-yarder last week.
"Once we cross the 50," Kemerer said, "we get the field goal team ready."
High school teams are learning to place a premium on having a reliable kicker. Every point counts in the playoffs, and kickers who can score are becoming a hot commodity.
"It's one of those things where you don't realize how important it is," Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said, "until you don't have it."
In 2002, TJ went to great lengths to ensure that its kicker was available for a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal game. Jaguars boosters had then-kicker Jon Browne flown by helicopter from the PIAA soccer finals in Hershey.
Browne's brother, Evan, is TJ's top scorer this year, with 79 points. Not only has Browne converted five field goals and 34 of 34 point-after attempts, but he also punts and regularly sends kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
"It's a huge weapon for us," Cherpak said. "We know anytime we get inside the 30-yard line, it's three points. And, with kickoffs, if he kicks it in the end zone, you take away a dangerous player."
Even Aliquippa, criticized at the 2000 and '03 PIAA championships for its non-existent kicking game, finally has someone who can kick. Marc Pellegrini has made two field goals this season, the Quips' first since '96.
Some of the most memorable WPIAL championship games have been decided by missed point-after attempts or failed two-point conversion attempts by teams who didn't trust their kickers with the game on the line:
"You'll see a game or two in these playoffs when it comes down to a short snap, a long snap, an extra point or a field goal," Mt. Lebanon coach Chris Haering said. "We like our special teams. We're not good enough to ignore that. "Sooner or later it catches up with you."
Mt. Lebanon senior kicker Brad Stombaugh watched that WPIAL final as an eighth-grader. Tonight, Stombaugh and the Blue Devils play Woodland Hills in the first round. The senior kicker has made 2 of 4 field goals this season and would relish the opportunity to make a game-winner.
"They sure do love you when you make one," Stombaugh said. "But when you don't, they get on your back."