South/East Xtra: Wolverines, Tigers renew hot rivalry

FOOTBALL/WOODLAND HILLS (0-1) AT McKEESPORT AREA (1-0)


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George Novak is not too worried about his Woodland Hills football team.

Despite entering the season as the Post-Gazette's top-ranked Class AAAA team, the Wolverines ended up dropping their season opener last week at home against Upper St. Clair, 16-10, in a Southeastern Conference game.

"It was two good football teams playing that game," said Novak, whose team fell back to No. 3 in the Class AAAA rankings this week. "Both teams made mistakes; we just made more than them. Upper St. Clair is a very good, senior-oriented team.

"There were two even teams playing hard that night, but they won that one."

What Novak was concerned about this week was preparing for an old nemesis.

The Wolverines travel to Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon to play former Quad East Conference rival McKeesport Area. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

This also will be George Smith's first home game since returning to McKeesport's sideline as head coach. Smith, who stepped away from coaching the past three seasons, guided the Tigers' football program for 28 years and won 197 games as well as two WPIAL championships and two state title before resigning after the 2009 season.

Although the two teams faced one another in non-conference play last season -- with Woodland Hills earning a 29-12 decision -- the last time Novak saw Smith across the opposing sideline was in 2005 at Heinz Field when McKeesport topped the Wolverines, 19-7, to capture a WPIAL Class AAAA championship.

"This definitely brings back an old rivalry between coach Smith and myself," Novak said. "Before he retired, we coached against one another since 1987, so there's always been that friendly rivalry.

"We also have a lot of kids who know each other because of the close proximity, so there's definitely a rivalry."

Although the Wolverines lost last week, they still outgained Upper St. Clair in total offensive yards, 203-194. Sophomore running back Miles Sanders led Woodland Hills with 101 rushing yards and one touchdown on 11 carries.

McKeesport enters this game following a 24-10 Foothills Conference win against Hempfield Area.

"This is a very typical McKeesport team," Novak said. "I'm a little surprised coach Smith got them rolling so early. They're playing like the old McKeesport teams.

"They have a very good defense with a lot of athletes at linebacker and in the secondary. There's a lot of speed there.

"Offensively, they have that flexbone offense back in place and are doing a good job with it."

McKeesport certainly spread the ball around against Hempfield.

Quarterback David Queen rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns, and running backs Mikell Moore and Seanlou Gilmore both turned in 100-plus yard rushing performances. Moore piled up 122 yards with a touchdown, while Gilmore gained 103 yards on the ground.

"It's harder to prepare them because we haven't played that type of offense in many years and we have a different style of defense," Novak said. "We haven't run into many teams that can run that option as well as they do.

"They are going to be a tough team to prepare for and present quite the challenge."

Novak, however, knows as long as his defense limits Smith's offensive opportunities, the Wolverines should have a chance to bounce back this week.

"One thing they do well is control the ball," Novak said. "The more they have the ball, the more times they're going to run that option and force us to stop them. We have to not let them have long drives and stop the ball.

"We're going to have to run the ball ourselves. We're going to need to win the turnover ratio and win the possession ratio.

"There are a lot of good Quad-A teams this year, and McKeesport is one of them."

hsfootball

First Published September 5, 2013 4:00 AM


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