Alle-Kiski Valley football notebook: New life for Highlands

By: HSSN Staff
Thursday, September 13, 2018 | 10:39 PM

Highlands coach Dom Girardi believes he has a good-luck charm for Friday’s Northwest Eight Conference game against Knoch.

Girardi and wife Tamara welcomed their fourth child, an 8-pound, 9-ounce boy also named Dom, on Tuesday evening.

“We brought in reinforcements for the rivalry game,” said Girardi, adding the Golden Rams were undefeated since little Dom’s birth.

Highlands (0-3, 0-1) hopes to keep that the case as it seeks its first victory of the 2018 season against a similarly motivated Knoch (0-3, 0-2). Both teams are going through growing pains after suffering graduation losses and/or injuries this season.

“It’s important because we need to get that first win,” Girardi said. “Every year’s a new team, and once this team can get a taste of winning, get the first win, then once you’ve done it, then it happens more readily.

“We’re 0-3, and that doesn’t bother me. The 0-1 (in conference), that’s what matters. That bothers me. We have a chance to go 1-1, which is really what counts. It helps give us a little bit of a back-against-the wall feeling … and I think the kids needed to feel that because we can turn around and basically control our own destiny.”

With four playoff qualifiers in the Northwest Eight, a win would put either team back into the conference race. Only Blackhawk and South Fayette are unbeaten in conference play.

“They’re conference games, so they’re all important,” Knoch coach Frank Whalen said. “It’s up in the air for who’s going to get those third and fourth spots, assuming South Fayette and Blackhawk continue to roll like they have been early on.”

After nonconference losses to Plum and Keystone Oaks, Highlands fell to Blackhawk, 33-14, in its conference opener last week. Knoch, which lost three projected starters to offseason injuries, dropped its first two conference games to Blackhawk and Beaver. The Knights led at halftime against Beaver, but another injury, to RB/DB Jim Johnston, affected them in the second half of their 35-21 loss.

“We’ve had to play a lot of kids that we weren’t necessarily thinking we were going to rely on as much as we have,” Whalen said. “But on the positive side, those same kids are getting better and better. So it’s sad in one way for sure, but in another way these younger kids getting an opportunity, they’re learning what this game is all about and giving us all they’ve got. That’s really all we can ask of them.”

Friday’s game could be a contrast in offensive styles between the local rivals: Highlands with a spread attack featuring quarterback Seth Cohen and wide receiver Johnny Crise, and Knoch with its ball-control triple option.

Highlands beat Knoch, 24-16, last season, a loss that ultimately kept the Knights out of the WPIAL playoffs. Knoch had won the previous six games in the series and holds an 18-15 edge overall.

“We play teams on the western and southern sides of Pittsburgh. We’re the only two teams in the conference remotely close to each other,” Girardi said. “I told our kids this week, if you go to Wal-Mart, there’s a chance you will see a kid from Knoch. You’re never going to see a kid from New Castle or Ambridge or Montour. It is a rivalry, it’s been a rivalry, but if anything, I think (that) amplifies it.”

Deer Lakes vs. Dustin

Coming off its first victory of the season, Deer Lakes welcomes one of the WPIAL’s top playmakers for a Big East Conference game Friday.

Yough running back Dustin Shoaf comes into Friday’s matchup ranked third in the WPIAL with 646 yards rushing, averaging 10.6 yards per carry, with seven touchdowns. He ran for 299 yards on 15 carries in a 42-30 win over Uniontown in Week 1.

Deer Lakes is coming off its own offensive explosion against Uniontown in Week 2, with quarterback Aris Hasley passing for five touchdowns and rushing for another in the Lancers’ 47-14 win.

“Stopping (Shoaf), that’s a problem,” Deer Lakes coach Tim Burk said. “Every game he’s in, his rushing numbers are through the roof. He’s a fabulous runner. He runs hard and he gets after it. It’s going to be a challenge for us to stop him, to say the least. But our weapons, we have them. They’ve got to execute. If they don’t execute, it’s going to be tough. As long as they execute and do their job, they should be able to do what we want to do. Sometimes getting that execution is tough, but they’re doing well.”

Game change

Valley will be going to Turtle Creek instead of Wilkinsburg on Saturday.

Because of field conditions at Graham Field in Wilkinsburg, Imani Christian changed the time and location for Saturday’s nonconference football game against Valley. The Saints (2-1) and Vikings (1-2) will play at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wolvarena, Woodland Hills’ home field.

The game was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. at Graham Field before heavy precipitation over the weekend and early this week made the field unplayable.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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