East Xtra: Woodland Hills continues to improve

Brad Everett's high school football notebook

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The regular season is hitting its stretch run, with WPIAL teams trying to lock up playoff spots and jockey for postseason seeding.

As was the case last season, Woodland Hills is coming on strong.

Woodland Hills has rebounded from an 0-2 start to win five games in a row. The Wolverines are 5-1 in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference. They appear to have only a slim chance to share the conference title with Upper St. Clair (6-0), but the Wolverines are in decent position to finish second. They are the only one-loss team in the conference, and finish the regular season with games against Peters Township (3-3) and at Penn Hills (4-2).

The Wolverines -- ranked No. 5 in Class AAAA by the Post-Gazette -- have won all of their games by at least 15 points since consecutive losses to No. 1 Upper St. Clair and No. 4 McKeesport, but of which are unbeaten.

"The good thing is we've been improving," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "The young guys who were backups last year are improving. The seniors have been showing some good leadership. It's starting to come together. We played two tough teams right off the bat. Neither of them has lost yet. We still have two tough ones left."

Novak hopes this season's script is similar to last season's. After starting 3-2, Woodland Hills won its next seven games to make it to the WPIAL title game.

Woodland Hills has seen improvement both offensively and defensively since early in the season. During their winning streak, the Wolverines are averaging 40.8 points per game and giving up 10.8. They've scored at least 34 points in each game, while posting two shutouts and holding another opponent to 10 points.

The defense has given up just three first-half touchdowns in the past five games.

"It's kind of like a no-name defense," Novak said. "Not one guy sticks out. All 11 guys perform as a unit. We're not big. Our key is speed."

The big name offensively has been sophomore running back Miles Sanders, who leads the Wolverines in rushing (980 yards) and touchdowns (12).

Woodland Hills might be without Sanders, however, for Friday's game against Peters Township. Sanders sustained a bruised foot in last week's 34-0 win at Canon-McMillan. He left the game in the third quarter and did not return. Novak said Monday that Sanders is doubtful to play against the Indians.

More injury news

Valley sustained a big blow when senior quarterback Ty Matthews, a four-year starter, separated his left shoulder on the Vikings' first offensive play in a 26-6 non-conference loss Saturday at Summit Academy.

Valley coach Chad Walsh said Monday Matthews is questionable for Friday's game against Class AA Allegheny Conference co-leader Kittanning. The Vikings (5-2, 4-2) never recovered after Matthews left the game. To make matters worse, Matthews' replacement, D'Aundre Johnson, was injured and forced to exit the game early in the fourth quarter. Matthews has thrown for 639 yards and six touchdowns, while also rushing for seven TDs.

Jeannette quarterback Julian Batts said he will likely miss at least Friday's game against Waynesburg Central after spraining his ankle in last week's 28-21 non-conference loss to Shady Side Academy. Batts, a junior, has passed for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns. The injury comes at a bad time for the Jayhawks (4-3, 4-2 Class AA Interstate Conference), who have lost three in a row. Batts said that freshman Gio Vonne Sanders will start in his absence.

Gateway wins a nail-biter

Of the 16 undefeated teams in the WPIAL, none have had to work harder to stay perfect than Gateway.

Gateway's flair for the dramatic continued in last week's 13-6 win at Norwin. The game was scoreless at halftime, a shocker considering the Gators had outscored Norwin, 299-35, in defeating the Knights the previous five years. Two years ago, Gateway beat Norwin, 85-0.

Gateway (7-0, 6-0 Class AAAA Foothills Conference) has also trailed at halftime three times this season.

"I don't overly panic and I don't want the kids to do that, either," Gateway coach Donnie Militzer said. "To me, it's much ado about nothing. A win is a win."

Delvon Randall played a big part in the latest win. Militzer uses Randall, a wide receiver, as the quarterback when the Gators go into their wildcat offense. But when Randall typically lines up behind center, he rarely throws the ball. That changed against Norwin, as Randall completed 5 of 8 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns.

hsfootball

First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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