East Xtra: Defense is Central issue in playoffs
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When Central Catholic brings its "A" game to the field, there's not a team in WPIAL Class AAAA the Vikings are incapable of beating. It's going to take that top-level of play Friday night when the Vikings take on Upper St. Clair in a quarterfinal matchup.
In a first-round game last week against Penn-Trafford, the Vikings (8-2) had to rally to secure a 30-27 victory. In its seven regular-season victories, however, Central Catholic outscored its opponents, 217-11, allowing an average of 1.6 points per game, and closed out the season with consecutive shutouts.
Upper St. Clair (9-1), the Post-Gazette's third-ranked team in Class AAAA, rolled to a 49-0 victory against Kiski Area in its playoff opener and presents a balanced attack on offense and defense.
The Panthers rallied from 17 points down to beat Mt. Lebanon, 21-19, in the final week of the regular season to earn a share of the Southeastern Conference championship and gain the top seed out of the conference. Upper St. Clair, seeded third in the playoffs, held Kiski Area to 63 yards total offense last week in the easy victory.
On offense, senior Pete Coughlin has quarterbacked a unit that has scored 349 points this season, an average of 34.9 points a game. He has completed 68 of 93 passes for 1,078 yards. Defensively, the Panthers have allowed just 78 points, second fewest in Class AAAA.
Central Catholic jumped out to a 17-12 halftime lead last week against Penn-Trafford, then traded scores with the Warriors in the second half before hanging on for a three-point victory.
Luigi Lista-Brinza led the No. 11-seeded Vikings to the upset [well, an upset according to seeding numbers], scoring on runs of 15 and 8 yards while gaining 168 yards on 27 carries. A junior running back, Lista-Brinza has carried the ball 141 times this season for 892 yards.
Central Catholic will take on Upper St. Clair Friday night at Baldwin. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. The winner will meet the winner of the Gateway-Woodland Hills game in the semifinals.
Several East Xtra region teams made disappointing exits from the playoffs last week, none more so than Burrell.
The Buccaneers (8-2) battled Freeport for the Class AA Allegheny Conference championship before sharing the title with the Yellowjackets with identical 7-1 league marks. Freeport was awarded the top seed in the conference by virtue of its victory against the Bucs, but was shown little respect by the WPIAL with its No. 7 seeding in the playoffs. Burrell was seeded eighth.
Despite all-conference running back Cole Bush and a solid passing attack from quarterback James Liput, Burrell was eliminated from the postseason with a 48-28 loss to Mount Pleasant.
Bush, Burrell's do-everything senior, was held to 84 yards rushing on 23 carries. He entered the game averaging 190 yards per game, second highest in the WPIAL. Twice this season Bush was held to 130 yards rushing in a game, his previous low output. He finished the season with 1,794 yards on 230 carries, an average of 7.8 yards per attempt.
Liput also was instrumental on offense, throwing for 1,068 yards on 72 of 126 passes.
Penn-Trafford, whose only loss a year ago was in the WPIAL quarterfinals against Gateway, also had a short stay in the playoffs.
The Warriors (7-3) finished second in the Class AAAA Foothills Conference and were seeded sixth for the postseason, but came up short against No. 11 seed Central Catholic last week, 30-27.
The Warriors held a 6-3 lead after the first quarter and pulled to within three in the fourth quarter on a 57-yard pass from quarterback Dorian Stevens to Dom Cima and subsequent two-point conversion, but could get no closer. Stevens, a senior, completed 57 of 105 passes this season for 930 yards.
Two teams that bowed out in the first round last week were nowhere near the postseason a year ago.
Valley had an impressive season, posting a 6-4 record, 5-3 in the Class AA Allegheny Conference under first-year coach Chad Walsh. The Vikings, who entered this season on a 22-game losing streak, lost last week to Beaver Area, 28-14.
Hempfield also turned things around in Class AAAA under a new coach in Rich Bowen. The Spartans were 1-8 last season but lost to Seneca Valley, 50-20, last week to cap a 4-6 rebound.