Just when Derry Area’s football team may have been turning the corner, along comes an opponent the Trojans can’t defeat.
With five school district staff members having tested positive for the virus, all extracurricular activities have been shut down for the week. That includes what was to be Friday’s WPIAL Class 3A Allegheny Seven Conference home game against East Allegheny (2-1, 4-1).
And what that means for Derry Area (2-2, 2-3) and its playoff hopes going forward remains to be seen. The regular season had already been pushed back two weeks because of the pandemic, and now the Trojans — like a number of teams throughout the WPIAL — may have one less conference game to decide their fate.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this unfolds,” is how Derry Area head coach Vince Skillings put it.
The plan was for the first- and second-place finishers in each of the three Class 3A conferences plus two wild-card teams, based on the Gardner Point System, qualify for the playoffs. But with some teams having to either find a way to make up those missed games or not play them at all — not to mention COVID-19 cases on the rise again — things appear to be up in the air at this point.
“But,” Skillings noted, “if some teams played more games, they would obviously have more (Gardner) points.
“I just don’t know how those other teams are going to be able to get those games in.”
Now, Derry Area is in that category. And Skillings isn’t sure if that’s a good thing or not.
Let him explain. There are two sides to the story.
“The team was just starting to come into its own,” Skillings expressed. “The guys were starting to buy into what we wanted to do.”
The Trojans just finished beating Valley, 19-6, to move into a tie with Burrell for fourth place in the conference. And their final two regular season games were to come against East Allegheny this week and then at Burrell, giving them a chance to move up in the standing and possibly vie for a playoff spot.
However, that’s on hold...at least for now. So, in one regard, Skillings isn’t a fan of pressing pause.
“This is, like, a bad time to break the momentum,” he offered. “We’ve seen the team sort of start to peak,”
Derry Area more or less had its way with Valley last week. And that goes for both sides of the ball.
“The kids went out and played football and didn’t lose focus,” Skillings stated. “We didn’t have that one bad stretch. We were more consistent in our execution.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do. We felt if we kept after them (Vikings), that we would eventually win out.
“We thought we had the better line, even as big as they were. We still felt that we matched up with them skill-wise and had the better line because of our athleticism.
“We challenged the line with that, and they came through, as was evidenced by our running game. We were a little disappointed that we didn’t throw the ball better, but overall, we were pretty pleased with our performance.”
Why pass if you don’t have to?
The Trojans and senior quarterback Nick Detore attempted only 12 passes and completed just two for 11 yards, but did score both of the team’s touchdowns. Still, Detore has passed for 499 yards (34 of 75) and six touchdowns in five games.
Then there was the running game. Behind center Cain Latta, guards Noah Cymmerman and Dylan Rhodes, and tackles Elijah Penich and Elijah Ward, converted senior tailback Matt McDowell rushed for 183 of Derry Area’s 221 yards (28 carries) on the ground, giving him 413 this season in 61 attempts (6.7 average) along with three touchdowns.
“We went in feeling we could run the football on the edge a little bit,” Skillings remarked. “We felt it might be a little more difficult to run inside because of their size.
“As the game progressed, I think we just wore them down. We were pretty much able to do what we wanted to in the running game.
“We did want to throw the ball more to open up the run. But we just didn’t throw the ball as well as we had hoped to.
“But then again, our line took control of the game, so we stayed mostly with the running game. Then we just decided to throw the ball to keep them honest, and run the clock out.”
The defense also did its part. Derry Area held Valley to 141 total yards, only 43 rushing — and on 24 attempts — and 98 passing.
“We were real happy with the defense,” Skillings said. “We were getting penetration with our defensive line, and the linebackers were playing downhill much more than they were the previous few games.
“And the secondary played very well. We worked a lot in practice on defending the pass and route-recognition. We noticed on video that our secondary was looking into the backfield too long, so we addressed that, and down-and-distance.”
And the Trojans may have hit on the right personnel in that secondary, which has Hunter Wack and McDowell at cornerback, and Sam Jones at free safety. Detore will be the strong safety going forward with Amari Graham spelling McDowell.
“That combination started working for us in the second half, so we decided that that’s what we were going to go with,” Skillings indicated. “We’re going to see how that goes whenever we do play again.”
As of now, that’ll be next week on the road against Burrell (2-2, 2-3). What happens after that, COVID-19 might have a say-so in, as well.