Norwin battles McKeesport's talent, tradition
McKeesport football coach George Smith said he has no secret formula for the success of his program during the past 26 years.
He said he has been just blessed with hard-working players who love to play the game.
Since Smith has been at McKeesport, the Tigers have won numerous conference titles, two WPIAL titles and two PIAA titles. His record is 180-100-5.
Friday night, the fourth-seeded Tigers (9-1) try to take another step in the playoffs when they battle fifth-seed Norwin (7-3) in a WPIAL Class AAAA game at West Mifflin High School.
McKeesport loves to run the football down opponents' throats, and they've been very successful.
"The quarterback is the foundation of the our flex-bone offense," Smith said, whose offense racked up 370 yards on the ground and did not turn the ball over against North Hills. "He has to be run the ball and make good decisions.
"We try to throw by surprise. I might throw right off the bat against Norwin. It all depends how they play us."
If McKeesport quarterback J.J. Eckels throws to open the game against Norwin, or even attempts a pass, that would make news. "Pass" is a foreign word to the McKeesport players.
Norwin coach Dan Conwell said stopping McKeesport's running game is obviously the key.
"I'd like to make a rule that they can't have the football," said Conwell, whose squad lost to McKeesport, 48-14, in last year's playoffs. "They may have a lot of different players this year, but it's the same McKeesport-type of team. They have big-play capabilities and an aggressive defense that gets to the ball.
"They're very aggressive. They like to get to the football and arrive in a bad mood. They have good linebackers and a good secondary. We'll have our hands full with their speed."
Conwell said ball control and playing mistake-free is the key for his team. Norwin survived four turnovers in its win over Woodland Hills last week.
"Secure the football and keep their offense on the sidelines is our goal," Conwell said. "Because they're so athletic and they run their offense to perfection, it makes it difficult to defend. Their quarterback makes the right decisions 99 percent of the time."
Smith said Norwin scares him because it's so big and because they run the same things over and over.
"They'll run the isolation and throw deep to (Mike) Shanahan," Smith said. "That's their game. They don't vary. It's the same, but they're doing it with experience."
Norwin's offensive line has been one of the strengths this season. They are right guard Brad Rodgers, left guard John Carter, center Ryan Slack, right tackle Jesse Dominy and left tackle Donald Rhodes. They've opened up running lanes for Tyler Urban, Mike Salopek, Matt Griffiths and Chad Tatkus.
McKeesport doesn't vary itself much from year-to-year. Smith's philosophy is simple: the seniors play and the underclassmen, if not great, bid their time.
"The seniors and juniors have earned their playing time," Smith said. "The underclassmen develop on the junior varsity and sophomore teams.
"The entire offensive line played jayvee last year. They have stepped up and done the job. They blow people off the ball. The offensive line is the key to our success this season."
Smith said right tackle David Mossa, right guard Eric Hampton, center John Reichert, left guard Dan Kessler and left tackle Carlos Brown have played well.
"Our goal is try to move the ball on them and force them to play a different defense," Smith said. "That's what we do every game."
McKeesport has turned the ball over and committed too many penalties to satisfy Smith.
No. 5 Norwin vs. No. 4 McKeesportWPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, quarterfinals
7:30 p.m., Friday, West Mifflin Titan Stadium