Two teams that share an identical record and dreams for a WPIAL Class AAAA championship meet in a crucial Northern Eight Conference showdown at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Highmark Stadium adjacent to Station Square on the South Side.
For both Central Catholic, the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked Class AAAA team, and No. 5 Seneca Valley, a victory would mean a leg up on winning the conference title and in hosting a first-round game in the WPIAL playoffs that get under way the first Friday in November.
But the focus for both teams is Friday night's game. And both teams appear more than ready to showcase talented offenses and stingy defenses.
In most circles, the Raiders' 8.5 points per game allowed would be considered rock-solid. But that's almost pedestrian compared to the 3.3 points per game Central Catholic has yielded, an effort that includes shutout victories against North Hills, 24-0, and Canon-McMillan, 49-0, and a 65-3 victory against Shaler Area in the season opener.
Paramount to the team's success has been the effort of senior running back Luigi Lista-Brinza, a 5-foot-9, 187-pound senior running back who already has rushed for 741 yards on 79 carries, an average of 9.4 yards per rush, and scored nine touchdowns.
"He's been playing since he was a freshman," Seneca Valley coach Don Holl said. "We didn't see him last year because he was injured, but he's a focal point of their offense. He's a hard, instinctive runner who can run away from people. We want to try to limit him, but he's had success running the ball, and he's a key part to what they do."
Lista-Brinza has done most of the work in the Vikings' backfield, but six other players have carried the ball at least once this season. Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said that's by design.
"We're trying to make tailback a competitive thing," he said. "Luigi runs hard, but our other tailback, Riley Redman, is a bruiser. And our fullback, Devin Faloon, has done an excellent job blocking."
And both have carried the ball well.
Redman has just 12 carries, but he's averaging 18.7 yards per rush and has scored four touchdowns. And Faloon has carried the ball 18 times and is averaging 5.5 yards per rush and scored three touchdowns.
The strong running game has been the Vikings' strength, but he's also pleased with the leadership displayed by quarterback and Florida State recruit J.J. Cosentino, a 6-5, 220-pound senior.
"J.J. is a big part of what we do," Totten said, "Things are going well for us if he's only passing the ball about 12 times a game, and we're running the ball."
Thus far, Cosentino has completed 14 of 36 passes for 146 yards, which means he's averaging just nine passes per game.
Holl's team has a potent offense, too, and it's anchored by the coach's son, T.J. Holl.
Holl is the fifth-leading passer among Class AAAA quarterbacks and 25th in all four WPIAL classifications and the City League. A 6-1, 205-pound junior, Holl has completed 38 of 65 passes for 624 yards and four touchdowns. He's been intercepted five times.
Holl's primary targets are Dom DiTommasso, Brad Hensler, Erik Mrkonja and Mason Dehart.
DiTommasso, a 5-7, 160-pound senior, has caught nine passes out of the backfield for 126 yards, Hensler eight for 164 yards, Mrkonja, a 5-11, 180-pouind junior wide receiver, has caught eight passes for 169 yards. Dehart, a 6-0, 210-pound junior running back, also has six receptions for 39 yards.
Five other Raiders have caught at least one pass. That's to go along with a solid running game that features Dehart and Holl combining to rush for 300 yards. It's an approach that pleases Holl.
"We like to go with a shotgun, spread offense like [the University of] Oregon," coach Holl said. "They're a little more like Penn State or Stanford with two running backs and the quarterback under center.
"The key is trying to stop their offense with their running and then us having some success against their defense. We don't want to have missed assignments or blocks and then find a way to slow them down and get them off the field."
Both Totten and Holl believe the game will be a great one, and the game's site is a worthy location for such a big game.
"I've driven by there a few times, and it's an outstanding facility," Holl said. "Once the game starts, we'll be playing on a football field, but it's a neat opportunity, and we'll enjoy it."
Totten took note of the generations of Central Catholic football players who have never played a true home game when they were Vikings.
"We're excited, and we hope our players cherish the opportunities that generations of Central players never had," he said. "But we're hoping that our relationship with Highmark Stadium will be a long-term one. I think, though, that our kids will be pleased with the opportunity to have a place we can call our own."
• Game: Seneca Valley (4-0, 3-0) vs. Central Catholic (4-0, 3-0).
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Highmark Stadium, Station Square.
• Skinny: The only remaining unbeaten teams in the Northern Eight Conference square off.hsfootball