The Derry Area football team trounced Central Valley in the playoffs last season.
Routed. Total blowout. The Trojans had the running-clock mercy rule on Central Valley by the third quarter of that 46-point WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal-round shutout at Derry Stadium that took place just 371 days ago.
Derry Area coach Tim Sweeney is eyeing a victory for sure, but he doesn’t expect the same lopsided margin when his fourth-seeded Trojans meet No. 1 Central Valley during a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal-round game Friday (7 p.m.) at North Allegheny High School in Wexford.
“They’re a complete football team,” Sweeney said of Central Valley. “They’re well-coached, they’re obviously well-prepared in their games, and it doesn’t seem like many teams have been able to hang with them. It’s going to be by far our toughest challenge of the year.”
Derry Area is in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals for the third time in four years, and the fourth time in school history. The Trojans went through Central Valley to reach the semifinals in 2016 and ‘18, and ultimately advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the first time in school history last season.
A third playoff win against Central Valley will send the Trojans back to the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field on Saturday, Nov. 16 (2 p.m.) against No. 2 Aliquippa or No. 7 South Park.
“How can you not be excited when you have an opportunity to advance in the playoffs?” Sweeney said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, throughout the year, football games are hard to win. The amount of preparation kids go through on a weekly basis to try and play their best football game during the regular season is difficult.
“When you get to the playoffs, the competition is elevated and these teams we’re playing are more than formidable. You have to be ready to play.”
The Trojans were ready to play the last two times they met Central Valley in the playoffs. This is the third time in four seasons Derry Area will face Central Valley in the playoffs.
There was a groundswell of emotion at Derry Stadium the first time the Trojans met Central Valley in the playoffs. The Trojans jumped on CV early and defeated the Warriors by 13 points in that 2016 meeting, the first home playoff win in school history and first home playoff game in 33 years.
It was another playoff performance for the ages last season against Central Valley, as DA rolled to 399 yards of total offense — 363 rushing — and the defense pitched a shutout in a 46-0 whitewash.
“I think the 2019 Central Valley team is a much better football team than the team we played in 2018 and ‘16,” Sweeney said. “I don’t think there’s any comparison to what they’re doing now vs. the previous two times we played them. My hat’s off to them on how much improvement they made and the level they’re playing at right now.”
Central Valley captured a difficult WPIAL Class 3A Tri-County West Conference with a perfect 7-0 record this season. The last three Class 3A state champions — Aliquippa, Quaker Valley, Beaver Falls — have come from the Tri-County West Conference. The Warriors are 10-1 overall, falling only in exhibition play against Thomas Jefferson, the No. 1 seed in Class 4A.
“What stands out to me, No. 1, is their confidence,” Sweeney said. “Their players are a year older, and a lot of these guys are battle-tested.
“They were very young last year and you can see their development in the offseason and their commitment to what they want to do. It looks like they play a lot faster.”
To Sweeney’s point, the 2018 Warriors returned just four starters from the 2017 team. This year’s group brought back seven starters on each side of the ball.
Sweeney said the Warriors’ maturity impressed him most.
“It’s an entirely different football team with a lot of the same players,” Sweeney said. “A lot of those guys played last year and had a lot of success.”
Success has been synonymous with Central Valley since the formation of the program a decade ago.
Central Valley was formed in 2010 after the merger of the Center and Monaca school districts. The Warriors have appeared in four of the last nine WPIAL Class 3A championship games, winning titles in 2010 and ‘14. They also advanced to the state championship game in 2014, when they lost to Archbishop Wood.
The Warriors only missed the playoffs once in the school’s existence. That came in 2017 when they finished 6-4 overall and 3-3 in conference play, missing the playoffs by just one game.
It’s been a different story this season.
Central Valley opened the season with six wins prior to the Warriors’ home loss against Thomas Jefferson. The Warriors defeated Blackhawk, the Class 4A No. 4 team, Beaver Falls (Class 3A, No. 5) and North Catholic (Class 3A, No. 3) during their six-game winning streak to open the season, in which they outscored the opposition by 241-47. The Warriors, who outscored the opposition by an average 40-8 margin during that run, pitched a shutout defensively and held three other teams to single digits.
Central Valley scored the first points against Thomas Jefferson, but the Jaguars rattled off four straight touchdowns for a 28-3 exhibition win. The Jaguars led, 14-3, at halftime and scored two additional second-half touchdowns to set the final.
The Warriors closed the season with three straight wins, including victories against South Park and Aliquippa, the remaining Class 3A semifinalists. The Warriors faced six playoff teams in the regular season and beat five of them.
The victory against Aliquippa might have been the shock of the season in the WPIAL, much as it was for the Warriors entering last year’s Class 3A playoffs.
In 2018, Central Valley scored a 14-8 home victory against previously-unbeaten Aliquippa, a win many labeled as the upset of the regular season. The Central Valley defense shut down an Aliquippa offense that averaged 50 points per game and eventually won the Class 3A WPIAL and PIAA state championship.
It happened again this year. The Warriors throttled Aliquippa, 45-6, during the final week of the regular season to clinch the Tri-County West championship. Central Valley blasted Aliquippa at home, dropping the Quips to 72-3 at Carl Aschman Stadium in the last 15 years. It was also the fourth time the Quips were mercy-ruled in the last 15 years and the first time Aliquippa was mercy-ruled at home.
“They got on a roll midseason and beat the No. 1 team in the state, who won the state championship last year,” Sweeney said. “You see those same guys playing and the level they’re playing at is what’s outstanding to me when I watch them.”
Ameer Dudley leads the Warriors, completing 70 of 123 passes for 1,389 yards with 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also has 369 yards rushing on 74 attempts and seven touchdowns. Dudley had 187 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in last week’s 42-6 win against Mount Pleasant in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals.
Dudley rushed for 25 yards and completed just seven of 15 passes for 103 yards against Thomas Jefferson. Dudley was 13 of 20 for 99 yards with an interception and minus-three yards rushing in the playoffs against Derry Area, as Central Valley managed 114 yards of total offense in that game.
Sweeney remains cautious of a Central Valley team that scores 40.2 points per game and allows 11.6 a contest, No. 2 in Class 3A.
In addition to Dudley, Jawon Hall leads the Warriors with 22 catches for 578 yards and 10 touchdowns while Jaylen Guy has a team-best 128 carries for 969 yards and 11 scores. Myles Walker also has nine touchdowns and Stephon Hall eight for the Warriors.
“Their quarterback throws a great ball,” Sweeney said. “He’s elusive when he runs and their schemes spread you out. They put a lot of pressure on your defense.
“They’re big and physical up front and they fly to the football. Nobody’s been able to score points on them. It’s going to be a massive effort on our part to hang with them.”
The Trojans hung with, and knocked off, a highly-touted No. 5-seeded Beaver Falls team during last Friday’s WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal-round game at Derry Stadium. It was the Trojans’ 25th win in their last 26 games played at Derry Stadium.
Derry Area, in the playoffs for a record fourth-straight year, has won 40 of its last 47 games, including 29 of the previous 35 and six straight, currently. Sweeney, a 1985 Derry Area graduate, improved his record to 49-17 overall and will go for his 50th win as head coach on Friday.
Standout running back Justin Huss scored the last of his four touchdowns in overtime against Beaver Falls, and Chance White kicked the extra point to send the Trojans to the semifinals following a 28-27 victory. White has connected on 43 of 45 extra points and two field goals longer than 40 yards this season.
Huss has 1,995 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns in 10 games played this season. No. 2 in the WPIAL in rushing and scoring, Huss is just five yards from the 2,000-yard mark.
“He does it all for us on both sides of the ball, particularly offensively,” Sweeney said. “He’s a threat and he poses challenges for defenses, but a lot of that credit goes to our offensive line. He’s the benefactor of running behind all of those guys his whole high school and junior high career.
“It’s fun to watch him on Friday night. He gives max effort like anybody else who’s carried the ball a ton for us this year.
“He’s going to get over the little bumps and bruises he has because he takes a pounding. He’s as tough as they come and I’m really proud of the way he’s playing.”
Huss broke DA’s single-game school rushing record in consecutive weeks during the regular season. He rushed for 304 yards on just 10 carries against Deer Lakes — breaking a 59-year-old record — and followed it up with a 402-yard effort at Burrell. Huss, who rushed for 192 yards and four scores against Beaver Falls, has 898 yards and 14 touchdowns in the last three weeks.
“When you have a defense as physical as Beaver Falls, for Huss to have almost 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns, that speaks for itself,” Sweeney said. “For him to rack up stats like he is doing is quite unbelievable and special.”
Huss slugged it out with Beaver Falls’ backs Josh Hough and Shileak Livingston, two bruising standouts who combined for 326 yards last Friday.
The Derry Area defense is No. 4 in Class 3A, giving up 14.2 points per game. The Trojans allowed a score on the first play of the game, but rallied for the next two touchdowns and never trailed again until Beaver Falls scored on the second play of overtime.
“That first touchdown (against Beaver Falls), the coaches and I made a mistake, so that was on us,” Sweeney said. “There are things we need to shore up, and we need to tackle better. Big backs like that aren’t going to come down with arm tackles, so we have to be more physical when tackling.
“With Central Valley, I don’t think they’re putting out big backs the size of Beaver Falls, but they’re fast, whether it’s their quarterback or running back carrying the ball, so they present different challenges. We have to correct the things we were doing wrong against Beaver Falls.”
If the Trojans can correct those mistakes and knock off the No. 1 seed with another win against Central Valley — their third in four seasons — they could find themselves returning to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the WPIAL Class 3A championship game.
“We just want to play the best football game that we can possibly play,” Sweeney said. “If we do that and it’s a win, that’s great. If we lose, that’s also great.
“I want our kids to be prepared to give max effort and play the best game that we can play. We want to play the best football game we can play regardless of who we’re playing and their ranking.”