South Xtra: Keystone Oaks faces a major challenge
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Two weeks ago, after a 53-7 loss at the hands of Steel Valley, spirits around the Keystone Oaks football team were pretty low. At that point, it seemed as if the Golden Eagles' playoff chances were all but gone.
But Golden Eagles coach Nick Kamberis' squad bounced back with a 35-19 victory against Burgettstown Friday, and Steel Valley's surprising loss to Quaker Valley put Keystone Oaks right back in the thick of things.
"The kids kind of have a little bit of new life. They were kind of dejected there for a while," Kamberis said. "We played Burgettstown well then got the news after the game that Steel Valley had lost, so it gives us a fighting chance for the playoffs. So they're pretty upbeat around here."
The problem, though, is that the Golden Eagles face a virtual must-win game in the final week of the season against Century Conference leader Seton-LaSalle (8-0, 6-0), the Post-Gazette's No. 2-ranked WPIAL Class AA team.
Keystone Oaks will make the playoffs if they take down the Rebels, or if Steel Valley loses to winless South Allegheny.
As if the game wasn't already big enough for the two schools, which sit across McNeilly Road from one another, the Golden Eagles are fighting for a playoff berth and the Rebels have a shot at their first undefeated regular season since 2004.
"They're an awesome team," Kamberis said. "They don't have any holes, any weaknesses. We're going to have to play a mistake-free, clean game and get lucky to be in the game."
On defense, Kamberis said the gameplan starts with defending Seton-LaSalle running back Kevin Hart, who has rushed for 1,019 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season.
"I remember seeing him last year in our game and thinking, 'Wow, he's a lot faster than I thought he was on film,'" Kamberis said. "He looks fast on film, but he's even faster in person."
The Golden Eagles will be leaning on senior quarterback Matt Buckley to lead them to the upset. Buckley passed for three touchdowns in his team's win over Burgettstown Friday. Running back Dale Klobichur has also had an impressive season, rushing for 999 yards and 12 scores.
"When we're having success, it may not be huge chunks, but we're getting three, four, five yards [per carry]," Kamberis said. "That takes the heat off Buck."
Creating offense could be difficult for Keystone Oaks against a Rebels defense that has allowed just 5.8 points per game this season. The Golden Eagles have topped 30 points four times this season, but have been outscored by a combined 104 points in their four losses.
"My message this week is we're not playing Seton-LaSalle. It's kind of a faceless opponent and we need to worry about ourselves," Kamberis said.
"We've had success this year and we've stunk the joint up this year. I don't know why that is, but our motivation this week is just to be as perfect and as good as we can be and just see what happens on Friday night."
Most WPIAL playoff spots are already set heading into the final week of the season, but the Big Eight Conference still has plenty of sorting out to do.
Thomas Jefferson (6-2, 6-0) and West Mifflin Area (7-1, 5-1) will face off Friday at Titans Stadium with the Big Eight Conference title on the line. The Jaguars have won the conference title every year since 2005, when West Mifflin beat them in the last game of the season to claim first place.
The Titans of coach Ray Braszo can gain a share of first place and grab the conference's top playoff seed by upsetting coach Bill Cherpak's Jaguars.
The Titans made the playoffs last year for the first time since that 2005 season, and enter Friday's game outscoring opponents by an average of 25.2 points per game. Running back Shamar Greene has rushed for 927 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year.
Clairton moved into second place in the WPIAL record books with its 39th consecutive victory Friday, a 35-6 rout of Fort Cherry.
The district record for consecutive victories is 46, held by Braddock from 1955-60 (the Tigers actually compiled a 56-game unbeaten streak that included a tie). The Bears have a chance to break the record this season. If they advance to the PIAA Class A championship game and win it, that would give them 47 in a row, as well as their third consecutive state title.
The WPIAL will conduct its annual football pairings meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at the Radisson Hotel in Green Tree. Those who don't attend the meeting can learn about the matchups by listening to the WPIAL Football Pairings Show on the MSA Sports Network. The show is 7-8 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) or listen on the Internet at msasports.net. The Internet show is 7-9 p.m.
First Published October 27, 2011 12:00 am