Central Valley laser-focused heading into PIAA semifinal matchup with Bedford

Wednesday, November 18, 2020 | 8:14 PM

The Central Valley Warriors are coming off their second straight WPIAL title and are preparing for their PIAA semifinal matchup with District 5 champion Bedford on Friday. For the Warriors, it’s just like any other day.

Since losing to Wyoming Area, 21-14, in the PIAA Class 3A state title game last season, the Warriors have been intent on returning to Hershey, but that’s a big-picture goal. In the moment, even though they are just one win away, they are laser-focused on the matchup right in front of them.

“That’s been the approach all season long, and I’ve said this before, but (getting back to Hershey) has never been a rallying cry for our guys,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “They haven’t said it much. We might’ve heard them talk about it one time, but I know deep down inside, I knew what their ultimate goal was and you don’t have to remind them of that. They know what they want to get done.”

Although that goal is just on the horizon, don’t expect the Warriors (10-0) to look past Bedford (10-0).

The Bisons are coming into Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Mansion Park in Altoona with an undefeated record and are fresh off a 34-17 win over District 10 champion Hickory. They’ve scored 28 or more points in every game this season and scored a season-high 64 points against Greater Johnstown on Oct. 23.

“They do a great job offensively of distributing the ball, and they’ve turned the clocks back a little bit, and they’ve gone under center,” Lyons said. “They have some option, some veer, some midline option, and their quarterback is really good. He drives the engine.”

Junior quarterback Mercury Swaim is a dual threat who has thrown for 1,326 yards and 16 touchdowns and has also run for 1,139 yards and 17 touchdowns on 110 carries. So, when it comes to stopping the Bisons, it starts with their 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback.

“There are a lot of moving parts in the backfield with their offense for them,” junior lineman Sean FitzSimmons said. “We’ve just been putting in a defense to counter that, and I think we’re going to play a great game on Friday. We just have to do our jobs.”

Over the past few years, the Warriors have had the opportunity to face another talented dual-threat quarterback in Keystone Oaks’ Logan Shrubb. FitzSimmons said he could see the similarities between the two quarterbacks, and Lyons added that Swaim reminded him of a younger Shrubb.

“This is no knock against Logan, but (Swaim) reminds me of the sophomore Logan because he was a little healthier, and I think Logan was a little hungrier at that time to make a name for himself,” Lyons said. “This kid looks hungry to make a name for himself.”

All year long, the Central Valley offense has been getting a lot of attention by scoring 51.7 points per game and mercy ruling every team along the way. But on Friday, Lyons believes it’s going to come down to the defensive side of the ball for the Warriors.

“It’s going to take a defensive effort from a team standpoint,” Lyons said. “Again, we have to be sound and we have to make sure that we don’t round around and not take care of our gaps. It’s a fine line between over-coaching all of those moving parts and just being who you are, playing on your toes and playing downhill.”

Central Valley is one game away from playing for a PIAA title for the second straight year, and they are ready to take another bus trip back to Hershey.

“We’re very motivated to get the job done,” FitzSimmons said. “It sucks that we lost last year, and this whole season has been about how we want to get back there and win it.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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