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Emerging Central Valley stands in way of unbeaten Montour

Before the season began, most high school football observers were anticipating a pair of Parkway Conference teams to reach the WPIAL Class AAA title game. Probably not these two, though.

Instead of a West Allegheny-Hopewell rematch of last year’s championship classic, it’s No. 1 seed Montour and upstart Central Valley — a 14th-seeded Cinderella — facing off at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field.

“Any time you come out of the Parkway Conference, you feel like you’re battle-tested,” said Central Valley’s Mark Lyons, coach of the first-year program born from the merger of the Monaca and Center school districts.

A Central Valley victory would produce one of the more unlikely WPIAL titles in recent history. Successfully bringing together two programs, the Warriors (9-3) made the postseason in their inaugural season as the fourth-place team from the Parkway and upset three higher seeds on the way to the title game — including No. 2 Thomas Jefferson, a yearly power.

“This thing has got to a point where it’s almost like a storybook,” Lyons said, “like a script made for motion pictures.”

Montour (12-0) wants to ruin Central Valley’s happy ending. And, like their opponents, the Spartans are looking for what would be a landmark victory in program history.

In 2005, Spartans coach Lou Cerro’s first season, the team was the subject an ESPN reality show — “Bound for Glory: The Montour Spartans” — but finished 1-8.

But that title has proven prophetic now that the program is one victory away from its first WPIAL title since 1964.

“It means everything to the community,” said Cerro, whose team last played at Heinz Field in 2007, when it was dismantled, 34-0, by Thomas Jefferson. “We took the program over six years ago, and now, it’s a quality program from top to bottom.”

Winning won’t come easy — for either team.

The last time these squads met, Oct. 8, Montour’s potent offense was held to a season low in points but still escaped with a 12-7 victory to spoil Central Valley’s first homecoming. With the Spartans’ big-play passing game stifled, running back Julian Durden rushed for two second-half touchdowns, including the 2-yard, game-winner with 1:03 left.

“We looked at our game film from that game, and they took away the long passes and bottled up the middle,” Cerro said. “I don’t think we’ll change anything we’ve done. … You’re playing for a WPIAL title, and whoever plays the best game and has the least turnovers is going to win.”

Central Valley’s offense also was held to its lowest output of the season in the first game against Montour. But last week’s semifinal victory showed just how explosive it can be. Sophomore Robert Foster had three receiving touchdowns and one long rushing score in the 42-24 victory, and quarterback Matt Bradford — whose first start came against Montour — threw for an efficient 101 yards in winning his fifth in a row.

“We always talk about (the playoffs) being a new season,” Lyons said. “You’ve got to get hot at the right time.”

The finalists

Montour (12-0)

Playoff history — The Spartans are looking for their first WPIAL championship since winning the Class AA in 1964. Their last appearance in the title game came in 2007, but it ended badly as Thomas Jefferson pummeled them, 34-0. They also can become the first team to win WPIAL titles in three classifications (AA in ’64 and A in ’57 and ’58).

Coach — Lou Cerro, in his sixth season leading the Spartans, won a pair of WPIAL titles at Seton-La Salle.

Best 2010 victory — There have been plenty of memorable moments for the Spartans, but a last-minute comeback victory in Week 2 over Hopewell served notice to the WPIAL that Montour was ready to be counted among the Class AAA favorites. Devin Wilson caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from Dillon Buechel with 51 seconds left to clinch the 36-29 triumph.

Starting offense

QB 5 Dillon Buechel 6-4 175 jr.

FB 45 Anthony Rippole 6-0 215 jr.

RB 35 Julian Durden 5-9 175 jr.

WR 3 Devin Wilson 6-3 170 so.

WR 4 Darren Massey 5-11 175 jr.

TE 6 Aaron McGee 6-1 185 sr.

T 71 Dom Martinelli 6-4 275 jr.

T 67 Austin Heter 6-5 255 sr.

RG 74 Eddie Martin 6-3 275 sr.

LG 54 Matt Barone 6-4 235 so.

C 51 Matt Christiansen 6-0 225 jr.

K 15 Lucas Tournay 6-0 170 sr.

Starting defense

DE 51 Matt Christiansen 6-0 225 jr.

DE 67 Austin Heter 6-5 255 sr.

DT 71 Dom Martinelli 6-4 275 jr.

DT 74 Eddie Martin 6-3 275 sr.

LB 6 Aaron McGee 6-1 185 sr.

LB 45 Anthony Rippole 6-0 215 jr.

LB 9 Evan Pass 5-10 180 sr.

DB 3 Devin Wilson 6-3 170 so.

DB 23 Aaron Reed 6-0 180 jr.

DB 4 Darren Massey 5-11 175 jr.

DB 2 Sherrod Naylor 5-9 165 jr.

P 3 Devin Wilson 6-3 170 so.

Central Valley (9-3)

Playoff history — The Warriors are in their first year after the Monaca and Center school districts merged last summer.

Coach — Mark Lyons spent last year as Freedom’s coach but has done a fine job in bringing together two football programs under one new banner. Lyons was the head coach at Monaca from 1996 to 2000 and appeared in the WPIAL finals in ’98, ’99 and ’00. Monaca lost all three games.

Best 2010 victory — The Warriors’ offense poured it on perennial power and No. 2 seed Thomas Jefferson in last week’s 42-24 semifinal triumph. The point total tied for the highest output by Central Valley this season.

Starting offense

QB 7 Matt Bradford 5-11 185 jr.

FB 17 Lukas Turley 6-2 210 sr.

TB 8 Tre Crumpton 5-6 165 sr.

TB 23 Aaron Law 6-0 190 jr.

WR 40 Dominic Belcastro 5-9 155 sr.

WR 4 Robert Foster 6-2 170 so.

TE 80 Chad Phillis 6-1 190 jr.

LT 79 Jordan Farrow 6-4 270 jr.

LG 67 Alex Daugherty 5-10 215 sr.

G 52 Mike King 6-0 255 jr.

RG 74 Jake Turley 6-0 285 jr.

RT 66 Tom Phillips 6-1 265 sr.

C 56 Travis Tislaretz 5-11 220 jr.

K 34 Greg Nicastro 5-9 145 sr.

Starting defense

NG 59 Austin David 6-0 250 jr.

DE 77 Zach Fossett 6-0 210 jr.

DE 82 Joe Marcello 6-1 200 sr.

OLB 5 Jim Pratchenko 5-9 175 sr.

OLB 80 Chad Phillis 6-1 190 jr.

ILB 17 Lukas Turley 6-2 190 jr.

ILB 50 Corey Neill 5-11 205 sr.

SS 1 Michael Kupper 5-10 190 sr.

FS 12 Brad Waskaski 6-1 180 sr.

CB 40 Dominic Belcastro 5-9 155 sr.

CB 20 Austin Turkovich 5-8 145 sr.

CB 33 Desmon Clements 5-8 145 sr.

P 4 Robert Foster 6-2 170 so.


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