Last Saturday night's WPIAL Class AAA championship game against Central Valley was nothing out of the ordinary for the West Allegheny football team.
Facing a Parkway Conference rival for the second time this season, the Indians were well aware of the Warriors' high-scoring offense and anticipated this meeting at Heinz Field would be another defensive grudge match.
"That was definitely a Parkway Conference game with some solid defense," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "There was a lot of hitting, but it's something we're used to."
Thanks to a stellar defensive effort, the Indians capitalized off a pair of Central Valley turnovers as well as held the Warriors to a season-low six points en route to capturing a 16-6 victory. The win also gave the program its second consecutive WPIAL championship and put its coach on a new level. Palko is now 7-0 in WPIAL title games and he is the first coach to win seven outright titles.
"[Saturday night] was a physical game, and that's something we've become used to week-in and week-out this season," Palko said. "Every team in the Parkway is so physical. Teams in our conference don't do a whole lot of cutesy stuff.
"The Parkway Conference is almost a different way of life. Not to take away from teams in other conferences, but there's no other way to describe it. We see a lot of different offenses that do their own unique things. We've done a very good job covering those offenses we've faced."
West Allegheny (13-0) advances to PIAA quarterfinals and will play District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep (12-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny High School's Newman Stadium. Cathedral Prep is the defending state champion in Class AAA and eliminated West Allegheny in last year's quarterfinals, 27-13.
Against Central Valley, a team the Indians beat, 13-7, during the regular season on Sept. 29, West Allegheny limited the Warriors to 177 yards total offense and 10 first downs. Central Valley entered the title game averaging 35.7 points against opponents.
"Obviously, we take a lot of pride in our defense," Palko said. "It has almost become a game within a game for us, defensively. It all starts with our coaches getting the kids prepared and our kids have bought into it.
"It's actually cool to see how we have progressed to where we are now."
West Allegheny uses a variety of rotating players on its defensive line, including Averi Rose, Connor Browning, Dustin Peluso, Matt Holmes, Tom Burke and Jordan Yuhas.
"I'm really proud of our defensive linemen," Palko said. "Our linebackers, however, have been a core of our defense and I think it's pretty hard to find a group that has played exceptionally and that has executed as well as they have."
Armand Dellovade and Sean Orsini are usually set as inside linebackers with Tory Delmonico and Chayse Dillon on the outside. With Tyler Scanton and Jake Johnson at the cornerback positions, Nic Daigle and Jed Buck usually follow as safeties. Robert Threet and Tyler Amedure also play a role in the secondary.
During the regular season, West Allegheny held opponents to seven points or fewer five times. The most points they Indians surrendered this year was during a 37-31 decision against New Castle on Oct. 11.
West Allegheny enters the state playoffs outscoring opponents by an average of 37.2-9.7.
"What we have done that really stands out is the consistency," Palko said. "Our defense has accepted every challenge every week. Our coaches challenge our kids and have set a standard. These kids have embraced every challenge and don't want to let our coaches down.
"These kids are so close personally that they don't want to let down each other, either. They have put in the time to make sure they do the little things right, and we have benefitted from that."