West Xtra: West Allegheny pursues third consecutive WPIAL title

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Coming into the 2014 campaign, there is little debate on who the preseason favorite to hoist the WPIAL Class AAA championship trophy at Heinz Field in November would be.

West Allegheny will march onto the field at New Castle High School on Aug. 29 to begin its quest of a WPIAL "three-peat."

"I'm sure there is a target on our back," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said. "We aren't naive. We embrace it on a daily basis. We are not looking nine weeks down the road. We are just looking for today and trying to become better than the day before. We started [intrasquad] scrimmages and since we started we think about it on a daily basis.

"We are just looking to qualify for the playoffs and then the rest will follow."

Not a whole lot has changed for the Indians from last year. Palko will continue to patrol the sidelines in his 20th season as head coach and the Indians will still be competing in the Class AAA Parkway Conference, a conference they won or tied for first each of the past two seasons.

West Allegheny won last year's WPIAL championship, 16-6, against Parkway Conference rival Central Valley, its second WPIAL crown in a row. The win also served as a first-round win in the PIAA playoffs, a concept Palko has learned to love.

"I do like it," Palko said. "Growing up here and now coaching here you understand how big the WPIAL is. I also won a state championship, so that is really cool, too. The people say [playing in the state playoffs at a high school venue] is a letdown [after playing at Heinz] but it isn't. It is just how things are done.

"The Steelers are grateful enough to let us use their facilities. Winning the state championship is tremendous, but it is another level winning the WPIAL championship."

Once in the state playoffs, the Indians have run into a roadblock the previous two years, losing to Erie Cathedral Prep in the quarterfinals both times.

"We always like another opportunity," Palko said. "You tip your hat to them with the tradition they have there. You always hope for another chance but if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. It is cool to prepare on a daily basis with these guys. We embrace it as a team not as individuals."

According to Palko, the most lasting aspect of winning the district championship the past two years is how close his team has become.

"The most impressive thing was we were not the most talented team on paper but we were the best team," Palko said. "They believed in each other and they refused to let each other down. It is special to see how much they care about each other."

With that said, the Indians do have some playmakers returning from last year, ready to make another push at history.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Andrew Koester. Koester (6 feet 4, 190) was one of the top signal-callers in Class AAA last year, passing for 1,651 yards with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also had a completion percentage of 64 percent.

"Andrew had a really great offseason," Palko said. "He spent a lot more time in the film room and weight room and doing all the little things you need to do to be a great quarterback. He is continuing to grow and get better as a leader.

"He is doing a better job at understanding the entire concept of the play not just his part. We are really excited about that for him. I love watching these kids growing up and maturing."

West Allegheny usually has a healthy supply of talent in the backfield, and things don't appear to any different this year.

Senior Chayse Dillon, a three-year starter, will be leading the way at running back. Dillon (6-0, 200) finished last year sixth in Class AAA with 1,203 yards and accounted for 13 touchdowns.

"He is a talented guy who works his butt off," Palko said. "We expect huge things from Chayse this year. I would like to get him involved in the passing game more. He won't be the only one though. We have a philosophy to spread the wealth a little bit.

"He is an extremely talented running back but he is also a talented outside linebacker as well."

The Indians will also expect to receive contributions from Armand Dellovade (6-0, 220), a senior running back and inside linebacker, senior tight end and inside linebacker Sean Orsini (6-3, 225) and senior lineman Connor Browning (6-0, 240).

Koester will have inviting targets to throw to with seniors Tyler Amedure (5-7, 150), Tyler Scanlon (6-0, 165) and Christian Stout (6-0, 175) all returning at receiver.

With the success Palko and the Indians have experienced in his career, getting the right formula to begin a season should be routine for them.

"We want to get better everyday," Palko said. "As cliche as it is, we want to try and win every day. That is what we are trying to accomplish.

"I can only control today and that's what I try to get the kids to understand."

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