Friday, November 4, 2016 | 2:01 PM
When Ron Sciarro became Riverside’s coach this year, he changed the playing style of the Panthers. They went from a pass-happy team to one that throws only 13 times a game.
But there has been one other drastic change for Riverside. It deals with the number in the wins column.
After going 3-6 last year, Riverside is 7-2 this season and headed to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. They don’t throw nearly as often, but the Panthers win much more often.
The change in style is evident in the statistics. Riverside is more of a running team that has played fairly tough defense most of the season. The past two seasons, Riverside had Jason Dambach at quarterback under coach Tom Liberty. Dambach set a WPIAL single-game passing record a year ago with 551 yards passing. He finished the season with 259 attempts and 2,145 yards passing.
In 2014, Dambach threw 248 times and had 2,058 yards. Riverside did finish 6-5 that season and won a playoff game with a 21-20 victory against Beth-Center.
But this season, Ben Hughes has attempted only 123 passes and completed 64 for 837 yards. Riverside runs more of a “traditional” offense, but the Panthers’ defense has improved greatly. Defense was a major problem in recent years. In the previous four seasons, Riverside gave up averages of 37.3, 34.2, 41.0 and 47.5 points a game.
This year, Riverside is giving up only 15 points a game, and that includes giving up 41 to Steel Valley in the season opener. In the next eight games, Riverside allowed only 11 a game.
“The kids have been great and they’ve grabbed onto what we’re trying to do,” said Sciarro. “We’re not blowing people out. We’ve had way more close games than not. But we’ve put a big emphasis on defense, and the kids want to play defense.”
In a sense, Sciarro has returned Riverside to glory. He helped create some of that glory.
He coached Riverside from 1986-94 and the Panthers made the WPIAL AA title game three years in a row from 1991-93. He then spent four seasons at Chartiers Valley. When Liberty left after last season (he is now Freedom’s coach), Sciarro came out of retirement.
“I didn’t know what to expect, really,” said Sciarro. “So, we’ve probably been better than I thought.”
Riverside plays Avonworth in the Class 2A playoffs Friday.
Wade Visiting PSU
Clairton star Lamont Wade will not play in the Bears’ first-round playoff game Friday against Avella after having knee surgery this past Monday. Wade had surgery on his right knee for a torn meniscus, but reports have Wade possibly coming back to the Bears in a few weeks.
While Wade won’t play Friday, he will go to Penn State Saturday for an official visit. The Nittany Lions are one of Wade’s college finalists. Pitt, West Virginia, Tennessee and UCLA are the others.
His final decision could come down to a Pitt-Penn State battle.
Zane Dudek has grabbed headlines with his rushing yardage this season as the Armstrong senior running back already has set a WPIAL single-season rushing record with 2,949 yards. Dudek also set a single-season scoring record already with 254 points.
But what has been somewhat lost in Dudek’s memorable season is his number of career touchdowns. He has 102, including 42 this season. The WPIAL record for career TDs is 117 by Clairton’s Tyler Boyd. Armstrong plays Gateway in the WPIAL playoffs Friday night.
Not many WPIAL players have scored 100 touchdowns, but that list could grow Friday as Steel Valley’s DeWayne Murray needs only three TDs to reach 100. Steel Valley plays Beth-Center Friday night in the WPIAL playoffs.
* No matter who wins Friday in the Class A playoff game between Imani Christian and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, it will be a first-time experience. Both teams are playing in their first playoff games.
* Has there ever been a playoff game involving teams with such differing traditions than Friday’s Avella-Clairton game? Clairton has won seven of the past eight WPIAL titles. Avella has won one playoff game in school history and that was 55 years ago when the Eagles won a WPIAL title in 1961.
* A win by Thomas Jefferson tonight ties coach Bill Cherpak for the 12th-most wins in WPIAL history with Kiski Area’s Dick Dilts.
First for Four
The PIAA cross country championships are Saturday and Vincentian’s Marianne Abdalah has a chance to reach a one-of-a-kind feat.
Abdalah, a senior, is trying to become the first runner in state history to win four championships. Abdalah will compete in the Class A race. Her story this year is a comeback story. She missed much of the season with an injury.
A Talbot First
There are so many old faces in the four WPIAL girls volleyball championships Saturday, but Hampton is a face we’ve never seen before at this time of year. The Talbots are playing in their first WPIAL championship match and face West Allegheny.
Tags: Armstrong Boys Football, Clairton Boys Football, Hampton Girls Volleyball, Imani Christian Boys Football, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Boys Football, Riverside Boys Football, Steel Valley Boys Football, Thomas Jefferson Boys Football, Vincentian Academy Girls Cross Country