South Fayette, Karns City set for rematch in PIAA quarterfinals
Not much has changed since WPIAL champ South Fayette and District 9 champ Karns City had their first playoff meeting a year ago.
Both teams repeated as their district’s champ, which means for the second year in a row, the Lions and Gremlins will square off in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium.
South Fayette (13-0), the reigning state champion, is trying for its 30th consecutive win against a Karns City (11-1) team that it topped 57-21 in last year’s quarterfinals.
The Lions are still a pass-first team led by record-setting quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, who needs 304 yards to break the PIAA’s career passing yardage record of 10,948 held by Port Allegany’s Matt Bodamer. Many of the other faces are different, however, as running back Hunter Hayes and receiver Nick Ponikvar have stepped in to become 1,000-yard players for South Fayette.
“We still have some kids (back), like Brett, but we lost a lot of kids from last year, especially on defense,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “They look like the exact same team at Karns City, with a lot of the same players and a really good coaching staff with a good system.”
Karns City also had some roster turnover from its team last year, but running back Tristan Rhoades, fullback/linebacker Christian Turner and wide receiver Logan Moroney all are seniors and back in key positions from last year’s quarterfinal.
While last year’s final score was lopsided, the Gremlins had the upper hand in the early going with a 21-15 lead in the second quarter. South Fayette responded with a 28-point flurry in the final seven minutes of the first half to take over the game, and it’s a stretch of that sort that Karns City knows it must avoid to have any chance.
“In a playoff game, you have to stay within striking distance. If you go down two or three scores quickly, sometimes it’s a bit of a shock and you have one or two kids give up a little,” Karns City coach Ed Conto said. “The key is that we need to stay focused and stay in the game, because if one or two kids aren’t up to par, you’re going to lose against a good team like South Fayette.”
The Gremlins offense leans heavily on its running attack, and junior Collin Dunmyre pulled into the team lead with 873 yards while Rhoades (726 yards) missed time due to injuries. Turner and fellow fullback Maverick Kelsea are bruisers up the middle, but Conto knows his team will need to do more than just pound the ball.
“Our passing game needs to come alive a little. We haven’t done a good job of it the past two weeks,” Conto said. “You can’t be one-dimensional and let a team like South Fayette load up the box against you.”
But South Fayette isn’t taking the Gremlins ground game lightly, especially with the number of first-year starters they have on defense.
“We have to make sure we play disciplined football and not get caught up in the misdirection they run,” Rossi said. “They hand the ball off to a ton of different players, and their quarterback (Caleb King) does a good job managing their offense.”
Prediction: South Fayette, 41-21.