Central Catholic's offense has been at its best this season when the kid with a hyphenated name dashes around the field with the ball in his belly.
So when Central Catholic plays Upper St. Clair tonight, it's easy to name one of the key players in the game.
Luigi Lista-Brinza is Central Catholic's leading rusher this season with 892 yards on 141 attempts. He missed almost three games this season because of an ankle sprain and Central Catholic lost one of those contests to Seneca Valley, 34-7.
In a first-round game last Friday against Penn-Trafford, Lista-Brinza rushed for a season-high 168 yards in a 30-27 victory.
Central Catholic (8-2) takes on Upper St. Clair (9-1) tonight at Baldwin in a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal.
"You know us. We try to be a running team and a play-action [pass] team," said Central Catholic coach Terry Totten. "Not only is [Lista-Brinza] a good one, but he sort of sets the mentality for our team by the way he runs."
Lista-Brinza is a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior who has some speed, but also can be successful running inside the tackles.
"I would say he's pretty close to full strength," Totten said. "I think he could stand maybe being in more game shape, but I thought that was one of his top games last week."
Central Catholic doesn't pass all that often (averaging about 10 times a game). The Vikings' leading receiver is Shafer Swann (19 catches), the son of legendary former Steeler receiver Lynn Swann.
So, how well Lista-Brinza and the Vikings run will be a big key against coach Jim Render's Upper St. Clair team. But Central Catholic is going against an Upper St. Clair team that has the second-best scoring defense in Class AAAA (7.8 points a game).
Upper St. Clair also relies heavily on its running game, but the Panthers certainly have a different offensive style than Central Catholic. Upper St. Clair quarterback Pete Coughlin is the team's leading rusher with 483 yards on 95 attempts. The Panthers don't have a breakaway threat at running back, but Steve Mackowiak has 461 yards on 70 attempts and Mac Pope 305 on 60 attempts.
Coughlin will be Central Catholic's chief concern. He also has completed 68 of 93 passes for 1,078 yards. Central Catholic is all too familiar with how Coughlin can destroy a defense with running plays and scrambles.
A year ago, Central Catholic met Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL semifinals and Upper St. Clair played without injured starting quarterback Dakota Conwell. Coughlin made the first start of his career, ran for 209 yards on 21 carries and completed 4 of 8 passes for 61 yards as the Panthers upset then undefeated Central Catholic, 28-14.
"He puts a lot of stress on a defense," Totten said.
But this game isn't a matter of revenge for Central Catholic.
"A lot of our kids may have been in uniform last year for that game, or they may have been in the locker room," Totten said. "But I've got 17 new guys out there playing this year."
• Game: Upper St. Clair vs. Central Catholic, 7:30 p.m.
• Where: Baldwin High School
• Check this out: This is the fifth time Upper St. Clair and Central Catholic have met in the WPIAL playoffs and two of the meetings were in title games. The championship games were in 1988 and 2003. They met in the semifinals in 2004 and last year.
First Published November 9, 2012 5:00 AM