After watching his offense turn the ball over three times and his defense give up two long touchdown runs, South Fayette coach Joe Rossi had a clear message for his team at halftime of the Lions' PIAA Class AA semifinal against Hickory Saturday.
"I just told them at halftime, we couldn't have played any worse in the first half," Rossi said.
But with a few second-half adjustments, South Fayette played much better over the final 24 minutes to rally from a halftime deficit to win, 23-20, and make the state final for the second time in school history.
Offensively, the adjustment was to run the ball more. The Lions (15-0) threw the ball nine more times than they ran it in the first half, despite the fact that Hickory was dropping nine and sometimes 10 players back into coverage.
"Coach said we needed to attack both ways and we started to lean more toward the run game," Fetchet said. "They said we have to execute against the run game, so we put our five [interior linemen] up against their five in the box and ran the football."
The Lions ran it 21 times in the second half and threw it just eight times. Running back Grant Fetchet, who finished with 160 yards rushing, ran for 118 yards in the second half and scored on a 37-yard run to give the Lions a 23-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
"When we are dropping eight, nine into coverage -- sometimes 10 into coverage -- we were rolling the dice with that," Hickory coach Bill Brest said.
"One of my biggest fears coming into today was them being able to run the football and they did. We stole their signals. We knew they were running the ball and they did a nice job of executing."
Defensively, the Lions made an adjustment as well to stop Hickory quarterback Matt Voytik and the Hornets' zone-read offense.
In the first half, South Fayette was able to get two sacks on Voytik, the second one occurring when Ben Berkovitz stripped Voytik as he tried to avoid pressure at the 10-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone and Voytik fell on it for a safety.
"I didn't know it happened at first, but after I saw it happened, I was pretty excited," Berkovitz said. "He got by me, but luckily I got a hand on the ball."
Voytik more than made up for his mistake, however, scoring on touchdown runs of 57 and 26 yards to give the Hornets a 14-9 halftime lead. He also went 5 of 5 passing, finding the middle of the field open against a Lions' secondary missing Roman Denson, who sustained an ankle injury on the opening kickoff and didn't return.
In the second half, though, Voytik missed on four of his first five pass attempts and gained just 21 yards rushing on eight carries.
"We were able to get some numbers to where they wanted to run and they stopped going to that in the third quarter," Rossi said.
After not forcing a punt or turnover in the first half, the Lions forced four punts, a fumble and a turnover on downs on Hickory's first six second-half possessions.
It was par for the course for a South Fayette defense that's allowed just 8.2 points per game this season.
Now the Lions will look to win their first PIAA football title in school history Saturday at noon against District 12 champion Imhotep Charter from the Philadelphia Public School League.
"I'm thankful for everything -- these coaches, our school, our staff -- anything that's helped us get here," Fetchet said. "To play one more week of football as a senior, not knowing if I'll play in college or not, one more week of high school football and Friday night lights, is unbelievable."