Friday night will mark 364 days since they previously met on the football field, but any players who were around for the 2012 edition of the Blackhawk-West Allegheny rivalry need no reminder of what happened.
Blackhawk watched a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporate into the humid August air in a matter of 94 seconds.
Blackhawk led, 27-17, with 1:34 remaining in the game. With fans on both sides of West Allegheny's field leaving, the Indians stunned Blackhawk with two touchdown passes from quarterback Andrew Koester, the second of which came with 1.4 seconds remaining and sent the home team off as improbable winners.
"I'll be honest, it is a game we shouldn't have won," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "The kids just didn't give up, things kind of happened and it worked out right and all of a sudden we had a chance. We executed and made it happen. But now this is a different year. Blackhawk has got a little extra motivation I am sure."
Veteran Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton has coached in 503 career games. Rarely has he had to deal with a situation like he did in Week 1 last season. With a depleted roster and very few substitutes, Hamilton was forced to put freshmen into the game during the critical final two series and onside kick attempt. After the game, which was played in 90-plus degree heat in extremely humid conditions, four of his players had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for dehydration.
"That was one of the most disappointing losses I think I ever had," Hamilton said. "We had them beat. We just didn't have any substitutes, kids were exhausted. All we had to do was recover an onside kick and we had it in the sack. Our kids played their hearts out and they left it all on the field. You have to give West Allegheny credit for hanging in. It was a heck of a game.
It was the first week of the season, but looking back, the game appeared to be a turning point in the season. West Allegheny went on to win seven of eight regular-season games, including a few more in dramatic fashion, and go on to win the WPIAL Class AAA title.
The loss by Blackhawk marked the first of many tough-luck situations for the team. The Cougars would lose a total of four one-score games including two one-point games in a 3-7 campaign.
With senior quarterback Chandler Kincade, a University of Akron recruit, Blackhawk has one of the most potent passing attacks in the Parkway Conference. Kincade threw for 2,220 yards last season and has accumulated 3,484 passing yards over the past three seasons. He is the first four-year starting quarterback Hamilton has had in his career that has spanned 336 wins. Kincade tossed four touchdown passes last season in the loss against West Allegheny.
Kincade is one of five returning starters back for a Blackhawk team that also returns tight end Andy Podbielski, a Bowling Green recruit. Last season Podbielski caught 14 passes for 199 yards. The Cougars will have to replace leading-rusher Cole Chiappialle and leading-receiver Alex Caratelli. Chiappialle rushed for 1,494 yards last season while Caratelli caught 70 passes for 1,220 yards.
West Allegheny is ranked No. 2 in the Post-Gazette WPIAL Class AAA rankings and No. 5 in the state. The Indians return a majority of their offensive skill players who were integral in the Week 1 come-from-behind win and in their run to a WPIAL title.
Koester is back at quarterback and the team's top three rushers are back, senior Chayse Dillon, junior Armand Dellovade and senior Tory Delmonico. Koester connected with Delmonico on a 15-yard touchdown with 1.4 seconds remaining to win the game.
"We know what we are up against," Palko said of Blackhawk. "Their quarterback really seemed to come into his own last year. He is very, very impressive. We got our work cut out with him. He knows where he is going with the ball. You know he is going to throw for a ton of yards and we just can't get frustrated by that."
Last season marked the first time Blackhawk and West Allegheny opened the season against each other. While there are no off nights in the Parkway Conference, the teams would much rather be seeing each other with a few games under their belts.
"Nobody likes to open up with a game like this, particularly in our conference," Hamilton said. "It is a challenge."
First Published August 29, 2013 4:00 AM