In order to become top dog in the WPIAL again, West Allegheny turned loose a three-headed wildcat.
Not one, not two, but three running backs took turns taking snaps in West Allegheny's wildcat formation, and they helped turn the Class AAA championship into a blowout. All three enjoyed success, the Indians' defense turned in another terrific effort, and West Allegheny ran past West Mifflin, 34-8, at Heinz Field.
It was a win of historical significance for West Allegheny coach Bob Palko, who has developed a sixth sense for these championships. Palko became only the sixth coach in WPIAL history to win six titles.
"It's six titles for us, not me," Palko said. "It's the staff, the community, the players."
Palko has won titles in many different ways. He won three in a row with his son, Tyler, starring at quarterback. He won one a few years ago with running back Mike Caputo carrying the team to great heights. This time, he won with the three-headed 'cat.
It was rare when West Allegheny quarterback Andrew Koester came into the game and took a snap, especially in the first half. Running backs Chayse Dillon, Armand Dellovade and Nick Halbedel lined up in the wildcat the majority of the time and clawed West Mifflin's defense for 358 yards rushing between them.
This West Allegheny offensive philosophy has been extremely successful. The Indians averaged 30 points in four playoff games. Against West Mifflin (11-2), West Allegheny attempted only six passes. But Halbedl, a senior, rushed for 148 yards on 16 carries, sophomore Dillon 121 on 15 attempts and sophomore Dellovade 88 on 11 carries.
This offense is really a four-headed cat, but Tory Delmonico, the team's leading rusher much of the season, has missed the past few games with an injured knee.
"We started this [wildcat offense] when we had Dorin Dickerson, and then with Mike Caputo," Palko said. "It's just something we like and it works right now. Pretty soon it may not work, and you have to do something else. But, as long as it works and as long as your defense is playing like this ..."
While the offense racked up big yards on the ground, West Allegheny (12-1) did another stonewall imitation on defense, holding West Mifflin to 136 yards rushing. Jimmy Wheeler, one of the top running backs in the WPIAL who came in with 2,144 yards, was held to a season-low 82 yards on 13 carries. It was the eighth consecutive game West Allegheny held an opponent to eight points or less.
"We don't have any stars," Palko said. "We have some really good players. But we told the kids, the best teams win and not always the best talent."
West Allegheny's offense was effective from the start as the Indians scored on their first two possessions. They drove 62 yards in 10 plays on their first possession. Dillon had a 26-yard run in the march and capped it with a 5-yard touchdown run.
West Allegheny went on a 10-play, 88-yard scoring drive on its second possession. Twice the Indians converted on third-down plays, and Dillon took off on a 39-yard run for the touchdown.
Wheeler had 52 yards on nine attempts in the first half while West Allegheny had 175 yards rushing.
"You can't give that kid lanes to run," Palko said. "We shut down the lanes for him, and so it forced him to hesitate or maybe make a move laterally instead of going north and south."
It was more of the same in the second half, although West Allegheny's first touchdown in the third quarter came on a rare pass. The Indians took the second-half kickoff, used nine plays to reach the 10 before Koester threw a short pass to Dellovade for a touchdown. It was the first of three touchdowns for West Allegheny in the third quarter. Dellovade scored on a 34-yard run with 4:53 left and Halbedl on a 35-yard run with 3:20 left.
West Mifflin got its only touchdown when Wheeler scored on a 12-yard run with 4:12 remaining.
West Allegheny will play in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals next Friday or Saturday against District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0), the Post-Gazette's No. 2 Class AAA team in the state.
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published November 24, 2012 5:30 AM