East Xtra: McKeesport QB changes his style
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Quarterback Eddie Stockett has added a whole new dimension to the McKeesport offense this season, but it wasn't necessarily by choice.
Stockett threw for 1,772 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and was so impressive, he landed a scholarship to play at NCAA Division I-A Akron next season. But behind an inexperienced line and injuries and youth at the skill positions, Stockett has been forced to scramble for safety this season, racking up the yardage and using his legs to carry the Tigers into postseason contention.
"We are starting five underclassmen on the offensive line," McKeesport coach Jim Ward said. "A lot of our receivers are brand new. Even one of our backs is new."
The Tigers started the season 1-4 and were in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Leading, 12-9, at the half in the third week against Woodland Hills, Stockett injured a calf muscle and missed the second half. McKeesport lost the game, 29-12. Two weeks later the injury forced the senior quarterback to sit out against Penn-Trafford and the Tigers lost, 28-14.
Behind a healthy Stockett, however, the Tigers have posted three consecutive victories and stand alone in third place at 4-2 in the Class AAAA Foothills Conference, 4-3 overall.
"We got some kids back who were injured early in the year," Ward explained of the turnaround. "We play a lot of really young kids. Even some of the juniors we have starting didn't play football last year.
"We're getting better. The kids are practicing hard. I think our progress was slower early in the year because we had a lot of injuries and those kids weren't able to practice and get comfortable. Now we're starting to get to that point and we're starting to see a lot of progress in the kids."
Stockett has been the catalyst. A 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, Stockett has rushed 106 times for 553 yards in only 5 1/2 games this season. In a 34-2 win Oct. 5 against Greater Latrobe, he rushed for a career-high 138 yards. In last week's 40-27 victory against Connellsville, he surpassed that with 185 yards on 22 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Stockett rushed for 136 yards on 60 carries all of last season.
"He's been playing great," Ward said. "He's going to get a chance to throw the ball a lot at Akron. I think this might be the last time he gets to run the ball and enjoy himself. I think he's had 37 carries the last two weeks and he's been real productive with each carry.
"He was an athletic pro-style quarterback last year. Now I think he's turned into a dual-threat quarterback. In what our ability level is and where I think we're best at is him shouldering a lot of the running responsibility."
Stockett has completed 27 passes on 63 attempts for 457 yards this season and will need the dual threat Friday night when the Tigers travel to Davis Field in Vandergrift to take on Kiski Area. The Cavaliers are 3-3 in the conference and are tied with Hempfield Area for fourth place.
"It's a huge game for us for a lot of reasons," Ward said. "For one, we're not treating it like we've clinched anything in terms of a playoff spot. We know if we can get this win, we have a chance at third place and have a chance at a home playoff game.
"That's what the focus of the kids has been, to get a home playoff game and whatever we have to do to get that we know that starts this week with Kiski."
Tied with Peters Township in fifth place in the Class AAAA Southeastern Conference, Penn Hills is in jeopardy of ending its 14-year playoff run.
The Indians (3-4, 3-3) welcome Mt. Lebanon (6-1, 6-0), the Post-Gazette's third-ranked Class AAAA team Friday night while Peters Township (4-3, 3-3) plays host to Woodland Hills (5-2, 4-2). The top five teams in Class AAAA conferences plus a "wild card" qualify for the postseason.
It doesn't get any easier for the Indians in the season finale next week. Penn Hills, which ended a three-game losing streak with a 35-7 victory against Plum last week, closes out the regular season at the Wolvarena in Turtle Creek against Woodland Hills.
First Published October 18, 2012 12:00 am