South Xtra: Pass-catch combo sparks Baldwin bid for playoffs

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

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With two regular-season games left, Baldwin is still hanging in the WPIAL playoff picture in Class AAAA thanks in large part to an offense that has proven it can hang with just about anyone.

The Highlanders high-powered offense, fueled by the passing combo of junior quarterback Doug Altavilla and senior wide receiver Luke Smorey had its finest performance of the season on Friday in a 63-48 shootout victory against Fox Chapel Area.

The win against Fox Chapel was a non-conference win but the way the way the Highlanders won it -- by rallying from a 14-point deficit -- should give Baldwin (3-4, 2-4) plenty of momentum as it heads into its final two games, this Friday against Canon-McMillan (1-6, 1-5) and Oct. 25 at Bethel Park (5-2, 5-2).

Baldwin is currently tied for sixth place in the Southeastern Conference with Mt. Lebanon (2-5, 2-4) and behind Peters Township (4-3, 3-3). The top five teams in the conference make the playoffs. Baldwin is very much alive for a fifth-place finish in the conference or a possible Class AAAA wild card spot if it finishes sixth.

One sixth-place team among the three Class AAAA conferences will qualify for the postseason based on the WPIAL wild-card system that takes into account all games played, including non-conference contests.

"[Having a chance to play in the postseason] allows for our focus to be that much greater," Baldwin coach Pete Wagner said. "Coming to practice you can see it with our preparation, the kids are hungry, this is something they strongly desire."

It is a much better situation than last season when Baldwin entered the eighth week of the regular season with a 1-5 conference record and no real shot at the postseason.

One of the big differences this season has been the play of Altavilla and Smorey.

"Last season [Altavilla] was more of a game manager," Wagner said "This year he has stepped up and made a lot of big-time plays, it is a testament to his overall work ethic and the way he prepares and approaches each game. For us to be successful in the conference he has to throw the ball and move the chains."

Wagner called Altavilla's performance against Fox Chapel on Friday, his "breakout game of the season."

Altavilla threw for 275 yards and five touchdowns in the 63-48 win.

It was no surprise who his favorite target was. Smorey caught 10 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Smorey is the leading receiver in Class AAAA with 44 catches on the year for 819 yards.

"Their chemistry is fantastic," Wagner said. "Doug has the confidence that Luke will go up and get the ball, he knows that ball is his. It is a testament to his work ethic, Luke is the ultimate competitor."

Not only is Smorey one of the most competitive players on the team, he is certainly the most versatile and maybe the most versatile player in the WPIAL. Smorey kicks, punts, returns kicks and punts, obviously catches passes and takes direct snaps and runs from scrimmage.

"He is all over the field," Wagner said. "He is a threat in the backfield when he comes back for our wildcat formations. He is punting the ball for us -- he is just a kid who is all over the field and we use his natural ability."

In addition to his versatility on the football field, Smorey is also the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion in the javelin throw.

Altavilla and Smorey have enjoyed some of their best games against some of the top competition in the Southeastern Conference.

In a 42-21 loss to Woodland Hills, Altavilla and Smorey hooked up on passing touchdowns of 24 and 34 yards. Smorey accounted for all three Highlanders touchdowns, also scoring on a 5-yard run.

Baldwin will need plenty of that in their final two regular-season games, starting Friday night at home against Canon-McMillan.

"Canon-Mac is always a physical group up front," Wagner said. "They have a first-year head coach, they are trying to change the culture there. They bring a lot of things to the table."

hsfootball

First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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