It took two plays for West Allegheny's defense to make an impact in its WPIAL Class AAA semifinal showdown against Thomas Jefferson last Friday.
Its offense was even faster to respond when Thomas Jefferson tied the game 7-7 and retook momentum.
The old sports axiom is defense wins championships -- in West Allegheny's case it was offense and defense that is sending the Indians back to Heinz Field for the first time since 2009.
West Allegheny will play West Mifflin 8 p.m. Friday at Heinz Field.
Two plays into the semifinal game, senior linebacker Zach Medved pressured Thomas Jefferson quarterback Joe Carroll and sacked him while forcing a fumble recovered by senior lineman Jordan Diven at the Thomas Jefferson 10-yard line.
That led to a West Allegheny touchdown, a 1-yard run by Nick Halbedl, and a 7-0 lead fewer than two minutes into the game.
Once Thomas Jefferson tied the game in the second quarter, the Indians offense sprung to life.
On the first offensive play after the Thomas Jefferson touchdown, West Allegheny quarterback Andrew Koester got the Thomas Jefferson defense to bite on a play fake and found Medved in stride for a 56-yard touchdown.
"The thing that stood out to me, was the way we created pressure for them," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "Their passing game was their forte and for whatever reason it was ineffective -- either they had an off night or we played pretty well."
West Allegheny's offense applied plenty of pressure as well. Koester did not throw much, but when the Indians needed yards, he delivered. He was 4 of 8 for 124 yards, including the touchdown pass to Medved.
Running back Armand Dellovade rushed 20 times for 60 yards but more importantly he was able to convert critical third downs late in the game and help the Indians control time of possession and run out the clock.
West Allegheny also had to overcome eight penalties for 93 yards while Thomas Jefferson was not penalized once.
It wasn't just offense and defense that helped the Indians get back to Heinz Field -- special teams played a major role, too.
West Allegheny was forced to punt eight times. It only averaged 26 yards a punt but most importantly it did not allow a big return from the Jaguars and the Indians recovered one muffed punt.
Also, Even Pelcher booted three extra points and put an exclamation point on the game with his 40-yard field goal to put West Allegheny up, 24-7.
West Allegheny's path to Heinz Field was as familiar as it was difficult.
"Every time we have had the opportunity to get there, it has never been easy," Palko said of reaching the WPIAL finale. "How the tournament is set up, that is out of our control, I don't worry about that."
West Allegheny opened the postseason by blasting Ringgold, 48-7. In the WPIAL quarterfinals it faced Parkway Conference rival Montour, a team it had defeated three weeks prior by the score of 5-3. In the playoffs it was another dominating defensive performance with West Allegheny prevailing, 14-2.
In the semifinals the Indians faced Thomas Jefferson. It was the fifth semifinal meeting between the two programs.
"You need a different mentality once you get to playoff time," Palko said. "The kids have done a real nice job of staying focused and keeping their eye on the target that we had set. The kids have been very methodical with how they have done things. It has been nice to see."
Through all the postseason success, Palko cannot help but look back at the one blemish on his team's record but more importantly its reaction to it. West Allegheny lost its only game, a 28-14 decision at Central Valley, back on Sept. 28, the fifth week of the season.
"If you are going to be a championship team, you have to navigate the highs and lows of the season," Palko said. "I think the kids have done that.
"There are times when you lose a game and it can make a bad difference. These kids took lemons and made lemonade. They learned from it."
First Published November 21, 2012 5:00 AM