West Xtra: Loss in state playoffs disappoints West Allegheny

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Losing was not something the West Allegheny football team was familiar with this season.

Entering the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs with a perfect record, the Indians finally met their match last Friday night against District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep.

With a 28-0 loss to the Ramblers, West Allegheny (13-1) saw its campaign come to an end following a quick exit from the state playoffs for the second consecutive year.

"You keep playing as long as you're winning, but we certainly ran into a buzzsaw last week," longtime West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "We played a great football team and we didn't do enough to beat them.

"I'm proud of the kids and the season we had. It really was tremendous the way we got through the [regular] season finishing undefeated and winning the WPIAL [title]. It was quite the season for these kids."

West Allegheny captured its second consecutive WPIAL championship two weeks ago with a 16-6 victory against Parkway Conference rival Central Valley. The Indians, who lost to Cathedral Prep in the state quarterfinals for the second season in a row, entered last week's game against the Ramblers winning 21 of their past 22 games.

"Everything we did really came down to the leadership, team chemistry and the camaraderie between these kids," said Palko, who became the first coach in WPIAL history to win seven outright district championships. "This group really liked each other and enjoyed playing together. Every day the kids would come up to me and tell me how much they loved it [playing this season].

"Every day was fun. And that was a big part of why we did so well."

After going 12-2 overall last season, West Allegheny entered this year ranked as the Post-Gazette's No. 2 Class AAA team. The Indians, though, were perfect during the regular season and captured the Parkway Conference crown before entering the WPIAL playoffs with the top seed.

"This group was very businesslike every week and never got rattled," Palko said. "They had that relaxed look and played with a quiet confidence. This wasn't a loud bunch of cocky players; this was a very quiet group that played with a certain quiet confidence."

Running backs senior Tory Delmonico and junior Chayse Dillon played a big part in the team's offensive success.

Delmonico led the Indians with 19 touchdowns. He also led the team in receiving with 24 catches for 348 yards as well as gained 807 rushing yards. Dillon, who missed last week's state playoff game with an ankle injury, followed with 13 touchdowns and ran for 1,203 yards as well as compiling 19 receptions for 201 yards.

Junior quarterback Andrew Koester also had a big season, completing 103 of 162 passes for 1,633 yards and 19 touchdowns. He added four rushing touchdowns on 64 yards.

"Defensively, this team got better every week," said Palko, whose team outscored opponents by an average of 34.6-11 this season. "The kids stepped up and had that rally-to-the-football mentality. We rarely had one guy make a solo tackle; we had five or six guys flying around the ball.

"Offensively, the way our offensive line came together and developed was great. Then you had the progress and maturity shown by Andrew Koester. We had Tory and Chayse running the ball. They are talented young men who could have run the way they did without a line, but the line certainly helped those guys."

West Allegheny also had a variety of players chip in offensively, including freshman kicker D.J. Opsatnik (nine field goals, 56 extra points), senior receiver Robert Threet (11 catches, 233 yards, five touchdowns), sophomore Whitney White (126 rushing yards, five touchdowns).

"Having a lot of guys step up has been our calling card," Palko said. "We wouldn't want it any other way. We have good football players and good individuals. It's also something we try to develop.

"When you're fortunate to play long seasons, you're able to get more kids playing time and save on the wear and tear."

As far as next season, Palko believes he has a strong foundation in place to compete once again.

"Next year is a new year and we're going to miss our seniors," Palko said. "We're going to look for that leadership to step up during the offseason. It comes down to how bad they want to work and how bad they want to succeed.

"It's going to take time and effort to put the work in. We have to see if this group is willing to want it."

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