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Penn Hills' defense must be better, Gordon says

Kevin Gorman
| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

The birth of his son kept Neil Gordon away from the Penn Hills sidelines against McKeesport last fall. The Indians coach about had a baby himself after escaping with a 47-42 victory over the Tigers last Friday.

And it would have been twins.

'This year is the one I would have liked to have missed,' Gordon said. 'We couldn't stop them and they couldn't stop us. If we go in with the same execution against Central Catholic, we're going to get embarrassed.'

Gordon is keeping his fingers crossed that No. 2 Penn Hills (6-0, 3-0) can keep its undefeated season intact when it plays No. 3 Central Catholic (5-1, 3-1) in a Quad East conference game at 3 p.m. Saturday at West Mifflin.

Central's only loss is a 31-28 triple-overtime defeat at Quad East foe Woodland Hills, Class AAAA's top-ranked team in both the WPIAL and PIAA. And Gordon isn't quite sure that the Vikings aren't the best team around.

'It's a toss-up who's better, them or Woodland Hills,' Gordon said. 'And I don't think anybody else is in their league.'

Whether Penn Hills is remains to be seen.

Central is aware of the letdown that can follow such an emotional game, after nearly losing to Hempfield the week following their game against Woodland Hills. So they don't know what to expect from the Indians.

'You never know how to take those games,' Central Catholic coach Art Walker Jr. said. 'It was a tough, physical and long game. But they also won and have a lot of confidence about that. It works for them, too.'

The Indians got a 219-yard, five-touchdown performance from Brandon Anderson, a shifty but powerful 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior running back. 'It was just a shootout,' Anderson said. 'Whoever got tired first would lose the game. We're still going strong.'

Gordon credited quarterback Anthony Morelli, a 6-4, 193-pound sophomore, with playing his best game. Gordon cited Morelli's audible from an off-tackle dive to a 65-yard scoring pass to Jeff Hancock as a sign of his maturity.

'Morelli is, by far, the best quarterback I've seen of the younger QBs,' Walker said. 'I don't know if I've seen a sophomore with the strength of his arm and his physical stature. And he has a beautiful throwing motion. You can definitely see he's more mature and confident than last year.'

Gordon points Penn Hills' progression from primarily a running team to a more balanced offense to the improvement of Morelli and the wideouts. They've added a new dimension to the Indians in that they can run and throw deep.

'We're trying to be very balanced in everything we do,' Gordon said. 'Teams aren't going to throw that eight-man front at us anymore. It's why we're 6-0. If I wanted to sit down and pick a team that has the balance I hope to have, it's Central Catholic.'

The Vikings have a versatile offense that features a pinpoint passing game led by quarterback Bob Tudi, sure-handed receiver Drew Garcia and tight end Steve Buches, a major-college prospect. They have a rising star at tailback in sophomore Andrew Johnson, who combines power with breakaway speed.

Penn Hills will counter with a young defense led by junior tackle Mike Hill, a 6-2, 250-pounder who transferred from Kiski School in Saltsburg. Gordon said Hill's ferocious play on the line has been a pleasant surprise that allows inside linebacker Earnest Clark to make big plays. The Vikings, however, will test a young secondary with first-year starters in juniors Marc Ferguson and Tom Claiborn at cornerback and Matt Palermo at free safety.

'We really look at it as another game we have to win,' Central's Buches said. 'It has playoff implications but it's also a big rivalry.'

Penn Hills comes in with the momentum and an undefeated record, but Gordon believes that Central is as good as any team in the WPIAL. The Vikings are nothing if not resilient. They played Woodland Hills even, won at Baldwin after losing home-field advantage because the game was moved after the Sept. 11 attacks and are calling West Mifflin home for the first time this season.

'We know what it's like to win and how to act when we win,' Buches said. 'We go in expecting to do well. Nothing fazes us at this point. We don't have a home field, we never play at a set time and it's just the same to us.

'We just go out and play football. That's what we do best.'

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