West/South Xtra: South Fayette focused on goal -- a state title

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On Aug. 30, South Fayette embarked on a journey to do something no other Lions' team has done before -- capture a state championship.

Fourteen weeks later the Lions are one of four teams in the state still standing in Class AA.

"The goal at the beginning of the year was to win the conference, WPIAL and state championships," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. "They understand the challenge in front of us.

"These guys have been awesome with preparation but winning it all has been on their minds. [The state playoffs] is a three-game season and this is game number two. It brings back memories of 2010. It is a good feeling."

In 2010 the Lions made their only appearance in the PIAA championship game, coming up short against Philadelphia West Catholic, 50-14.

For a team with an offense that boasts of 31 points as its lowest single-game output this season, scoring 14 points in either of its final two games would be an enigma, especially since they are coming off one of their best games of the season.

After beating Class AA powerhouse Aliquippa, 34-28, in the WPIAL championship game, the Lions rolled over District 9 champion Karns City, 57-21, on Saturday at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium.

"We got off to a rough start the other day but did well once we settled in," Rossi said. "Just a few plays here and there and we were able to come out with a bunch of unanswered points."

For the second game in a row, the Lions had to come from behind to advance. Karns City held a 21-15 edge early in the second quarter before South Fayette broke the game open with 28 unanswered points before halftime.

"It is always a sign of a good team," Rossi said. "We were able to fight back. For the first quarter and a half it was back and forth. It is a group that we tell all the time that you have to ride it. Can't get too high or too low."

Junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh completed three of his five touchdown passes in the second quarter, including two of three on the day to 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior receiver Justin Watson.

"[Brumbaugh] has just been awesome," Rossi said. "He had to battle the elements. He just found a way to adjust. He is tough to defend when he can make his reads and has time to deliver the ball."

The other touchdown in the quarter went to 6-3, 205-pound junior tight end Logan Sharp. Sharp has continued to be successful while staying under the radar of opposing defenses, catching 22 passes for 368 yards and five touchdowns this season.

"In high school football the tight end can be a definite weapon," Rossi said. "He is a tremendous athlete for us. He gets lost in the shuffle."

Another athlete "getting lost in the offensive shuffle" is 5-9, 180-pound running back J.J. Walker. Walker is known for his defensive skills at linebacker -- he leads the team with 134 tackles -- but has been the one gutting out the tough yards for the Lions, which resulted in three short touchdown runs in their quarterfinal win.

"J.J. is our short-yardage guy," Rossi said. "He is short and stout. Last couple of games he has done a great job. He doesn't get a lot of carries but he leads the team in tackles. He gets the short grind yards that we need and he does a good job."

Walker, Sharp, Watson, Brumbaugh and company have done the best they could this year handling the pressure of being one of the top teams in the area with a 14-0 record.

"You start to feel the pressure in the middle of the season," Rossi said. "You are the top seed and everyone is gunning for you."

The next team gunning for the Lions will be District 10 champion Hickory (13-1), located in Hermitage, Mercer County, on Saturday at Slippery Rock University's Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.

"Hickory is going to be a tremendous challenge," Rossi said. "They have [their version of] 'Johnny Football' back there. Matt Voytik is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the state. His feet are tremendous. They have great skill all around him. We know this is going to be a great football game."

With the possibility of making school history less than two weeks away, the Lions will try to finish the job the 2010 team came up just short of doing.

"It is hard as a coach because you have zero time to enjoy it until after the season," Rossi said.

"They are a fun group, a good group of seniors. They are excited to leave their mark on the program."

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