District notebook: California duo has defense thriving

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Apart from a two-game lull as the calendar turned from September to October that saw it lose back-to-back games, California has won games with its defense this season.

The Vulcans are near the top of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division standings, aided largely by a defense that has allowed 14.4 points per game and 298 yards per game, both of which put them among the top 10 teams in Division II.

Though many have contributed to the defense's early success, two local products have had an especially large role -- senior linebacker BJ Stevens, a Gateway graduate, and senior defensive lineman Noah Taylor, a Woodland Hills graduate.

Stevens is second on the team in tackles with 50, already 10 tackles away from matching his 2012 season total, and also leads in tackles for losses (6.5) and sacks (5.5).

Taylor is the Vulcans' fourth-leading tackler with 34, but he has shown vast statistical improvement, both from a year ago and earlier this season. After finishing 2012 with 21 tackles, Taylor had only nine through California's first four games. Since then, however, he has had no less than four tackles in the team's past four games, a run which most recently saw him record nine tackles in a victory last week against Gannon last week.

With Stevens and Taylor -- along with leading tackler Dewey McDonald -- excelling, the Vulcans have allowed just seven points in each of their past three games.

Rock is rolling

Slippery Rock's offense has overwhelmed opponents in a variety of ways this season -- be it with quarterback Nigel Barksdale, running back Shamar Greene or wide receiver John Schademan -- on its way to averaging 46.5 points per game.

But in The Rock's 44-20 victory against Edinboro, it added a new wrinkle to an already talented offense -- Teddy Blakeman. This redshirt junior running back and Penn Hills graduate rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns in the win, marking the first time this season he has had more than 55 yards on the ground in a game.

For his efforts, he was honored as the PSAC Western Division offensive player of the week.

Gannon women top-notch

With the start of its season about two weeks away, the Gannon women's basketball team has earned some recognition before even taking to the court.

The Lady Knights were ranked No. 2 in the USA Today Division II preseason coaches poll. The ranking is the program's highest since it finished second in the final coaches poll of the 2009-10 season.

Gannon returns 12 members and all five starters from a team that went 31-5 in 2012-13, one in which it advanced to the Division II elite eight for the second time in the past four seasons. The Lady Knights have been nationally ranked in 28 consecutive polls dating to the 2011-12 season.

Titans inductees

Westminster will induct five new members into the school's sports hall of fame Saturday, a group which includes Andy Barry (football), Tammy Newell Manzo (women's soccer), Rob Nogay (men's basketball, baseball), Aaron Stamp (football) and Erica Tallo (women's basketball).

Barry, a North Allegheny graduate, was a defensive back for the Titans from 1993-96 and was an NAIA honorable mention all-American his senior year. He is currently an assistant football coach at West Allegheny. A Rochester graduate, Tallo is fourth on the program's all-time scoring list with 1,227 career points.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.


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