West: Playing for keeps: Season opens with Parkway duel
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Like most high school teams around the WPIAL, Blackhawk and West Allegheny emphasized preparation for this week's game.
Without a non-conference game to open their respective schedules, the two Parkway Conference foes dive right into league action at 7 p.m. tomorrow at West Allegheny's Joe P. DiMichela Stadium.
"I'm really disappointed about [not having a non-conference game in the season's first week]," legendary Blackhawk coach Joe Hamilton said. "I'm disappointed that the WPIAL reduced our schedule and forced us to play conference games right off the bat. It's not enough time to get prepared.
"The toughest part of the sport is getting prepared and making sure you have worked everything out. I'm disappointed in the way the schedule worked out. It's made things pretty tough."
West Allegheny won last year's meeting, 19-7. The last time Blackhawk beat the Indians was in 2007 when the Cougars captured a 21-7 win.
"They have good team and a lot of players back, especially on the line," Hamilton said. "They played very well during their scrimmages against Mt. Lebanon and Belle Vernon.
"West Allegheny has an awful lot of talent. They might have lost some key players but they're not missing much.
"This conference is going to be difficult. We can't worry about one week. We want to win them all and we want to win this game. If we don't, we'll get back and regroup."
West Allegheny enters the game as the No. 5 team in the Post-Gazette's Class AAA rankings.
"This is a work in progress and we're getting better every day," veteran Indians coach Bob Palko said. "We usually get an exhibition game in before we jump into the conference, so this makes it a little more difficult to get everything together.
"You also lose that comfort zone of knowing you have non-conference games to work things out."
Blackhawk went 3-4 in the Parkway last season, finishing the season with a 5-4 overall record. The Cougars enter the game following scrimmages against Aliquippa and Butler.
"In both scrimmages, we played well," Hamilton said. "Our issue this season is going to be a lack of depth. We don't have kids to put in behind starters right now.
"Staying healthy is also going to be important for us. We need to keep everyone healthy and keep trying to improve as the season goes on."
The Cougars will rely on third-year starting quarterback Chandler Kincade and senior tailback Cole Chiappialle.
Kincade, a junior Pitt recruit, missed the second half of last season because of a shoulder injury but still completed 40 of 68 passes for 547 yards and three touchdowns.
West Allegheny went 4-3 against Parkway Conference opponents last season, qualified for the WPIAL playoffs and finished with a 5-5 overall record.
"They have a tremendous quarterback and he can hurt you with his arm," Palko said. "They do a better job protecting him, so getting at him might help us out.
"Ultimately, it's going to come down to us not turning the ball over on offense. We can't go three and out. We have to eliminate our mistakes and try to hurry [Kincade] up. We can't let him get comfortable."
West Allegheny will have a new quarterback in junior Tory Delmonico, who transferred from Blackhawk following his freshman year. The Indians also have a veteran tailback in senior Nick Halbedl, who rushed for 323 yards before suffering a torn ACL during the sixth week of last season.
"We're going to have to stop their multiple offenses," Hamilton said. "They do a great job running the wildcat [offense] and will spread you out.
"We pretty much have to prepare for every team in the league. Playing West Allegheny the first week will help because of the variety of things they can do on offense."
Nevertheless, Palko expects nothing but a tough test from the Cougars.
"They're obviously a well-coached football team," Palko said. "We'll have our work cut out for us. Coach Hamilton has been at this for years and he doesn't slow down. They're going to be well prepared and well coached.
"We're going to have to take advantage of what they might not be sound on just yet.
"It's still going to be a tremendous challenge for us."