Vandergrift residents love their high school football, but they demand the game be played with a certain style and grit, a reflection of their hard-working community.
This year’s Kiski Area team recognizes that and aims to please.
“People who live here want to follow someone who works hard,” Kiski Area coach Troy Wilson said. “They love that. They appreciate that.”
A blue-collar approach has propelled the Cavaliers, and first-year coach Wilson, to a 3-2 start and an early-season tie for first place in the Quad East Conference with perennial powers Woodland Hills and Penn Hills.
All three teams are 1-0 in conference. If all goes well for Kiski Area, the tie will be broken in its favor tonight with an upset of the Wolverines (4-1) in Turtle Creek.
“This game will determine how we look the rest of the season,” Kiski Area senior running back/linebacker J.T. Taylor said. “It will show how hard we’ve worked and how determined we are.”
Wilson said the community has noticed the team’s three-game win streak and has filled the seats at Davis Field.
“The kids are fighting, and the games are exciting,” Wilson said. “Students in school are excited; before, they wouldn’t even go to games. We see people in K-Mart or Giant Eagle and they say, ‘Nice game.’ The kids feel good about themselves.”
Kiski Area comes into tonight’s game off an important 18-7 victory over Fox Chapel.
“It’s a progression to improve and get better,” Wilson said. “It’s not a quick fix. We’re taking the right steps to turn things around.”
Kiski Area didn’t win its conference opener the past three years. Who knows, the Fox Chapel win could be what pushes the Cavaliers into the playoffs. But the team doesn’t want to get too far ahead of itself.
The Cavaliers simply want to continue to build on each win.
“Kiski Area always has their kids ready to play,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “Every time we play them, they are ready to hit you.”
Kiski Area went 1-9 last season, losing nine straight to fall out of the race early. Those close to the program believe the 2008 season somewhat tarnished the Cavaliers’ tradition.
“Last year was pretty much a joke in school,” Kiski Area senior fullback/linebacker Jeremy Salm said. “There were fights within the team, and people weren’t getting along.
“Our team finally started clicking (this year). When we finally got that (first) win, it brought us together.”
Salm thinks Woodland Hills will take Kiski Area lightly.
“Sure they will,” he said. “That’s what Fox Chapel did. They were laughing at us.”
The Cavaliers have adopted a variation of the Wing-T offense this season, with some spread formations to complement it. Wilson, and offensive coordinator Jason Clouser, wanted to better take advantage of the team’s speed in one-on-one situations.
The offense has produced 701 rushing yards, roughly 70 percent of the team’s offense.
Wilson believes Kiski Area’s record this year could be better with fewer errors.
“You eliminate the mistakes and we’re 4-1, maybe 5-0,” Wilson said. “We had five interceptions in the first five games. We had a punt blocked for a touchdown. We had fumbles that killed us. We’ve been our worst enemies. We’ve helped teams out.
“The good thing, though, is that its halftime and we’re still in all of the games.”
Wilson hopes that is the case tonight. Like most years, Woodland Hills has big-play potential and can score quickly.
Kiski Area knows it can’t afford to get behind early.
“If we go in there and play like we can,” Wilson said. “It’s not something where we’re going to blow smoke up the kids’ rear ends. If we avoid the mistakes I think we can play with anybody.”