Central Valley’s clear focus heading into WPIAL Class 3A semifinal: Stop Derry’s Justin Huss

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019 | 5:46 PM


Central Valley football coach Mark Lyons and his staff have devised gameplans to stuff the run before.

The Warriors (10-1) are the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs and the top-ranked team in the state. They are responsible for handing vaunted Aliquippa its only loss — a convincing one at that in Week 9. The scoreboard read 45-6.

Aliquippa was the favorite to put super glue on the No. 1 ranking. But Central Valley, a strong team in its own right, pulled a stunner.

It was the win heard around the WPIAL, and it sent Central Valley’s stock skyrocketing.

Fourth-seeded Derry (9-2) will be the one aiming for an upset Friday night when the teams meet in a semifinal at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium.

The winner will play the winner of No. 2 Aliquippa (10-1) and No. 6 South Park (5-5) — those teams play Friday at North Hills — for the WPIAL championship at 2 p.m. Nov. 16 at Heinz Field.

Derry, Lyons said, is a different type of team, one the Warriors must strategize for in a unique way.

Well, sort of.

The coach knows Derry is not a one-man team, but he still points swiftly at their frontman.

“Justin Huss,” Lyons said. “We can’t let him take over the game.”

Could stopping the Trojans and preventing them from returning to Heinz Field be that simple? Maybe so.

No matter how many times he is wrapped up, the gone-in-a-flash Huss always seems to break one — or a few.

Huss draws that much respect from opposing teams. He has rushed for 2,003 yards and 27 touchdowns (31 total TDs).

In his last four games, he has 1,099 yards and 16 touchdowns. That remarkable stretch includes 304 yards (in one half) against Deer Lakes, 405 against Burrell and 200 last week in a 28-27 home quarterfinal win over Beaver Falls in overtime.

Turning Huss into Hush is no easy task. Forcing Derry to throw the ball will be part of Central Valley’s scheme.

“We cannot allow (Huss) space and time,” Lyons said. “Our plan every week is to try and make teams one-dimensional.”

This will be the third playoff meeting in four years between Derry and Central Valley.

Derry has won the previous two, both quarterfinals — 33-20 in 2016, and 46-0 last year.

Derry used a miraculous interception-return touchdown from Justin Flack to knock off North Catholic, 36-29, in the semifinals last season and reach the title game at Heinz Field for the first time. It lost to Aliquippa, 42-19, in the final.

“Central Valley has the advantage,” Derry coach Tim Sweeney said. “They have been playing really well, and they’re the No. 1 team. We just have to do what we do. We’re not going to change that.”

Huss has been sensational, but a senior-laiden front line is what makes Derry tick.

“Their ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides is something that concerns us,”Lyons said.

Sweeney said the success of any winning football team can be attributed to strong line play. He might be slightly partial to his unit.

“With the way we play, I’d like to think what we’ve done up front has a lot to do with it,” he said.

Central Valley junior quarterback Ameer Dudley has thrown for over 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns. He threw scoring passes to Michael Barbuto and Myles Walker in last week’s 42-6 quarterfinal win over Mt. Pleasant.

Jaylen Guy and Stephon Hall each ran for two touchdowns in the victory.

When the Warriors mercy-ruled Aliquippa — at Aliquippa’s “Pit,” nonetheless — they limited the Quips to 147 yards rushing.

“They are good, but we don’t look at it like they’re unbeatable,” Sweeney said. “We’re preparing like we do every week.”

Senior middle linebacker Ryan Fitzsimmons leads the defense with more than 100 tackles, and sophomore defensive end Sean Fitzsimmons has 90. The team has more than 90 tackles for loss.

Lyons doesn’t want the spike in attention of late to hinder his team’s focus.

“We’re not going to make any excuses. We didn’t have a clean start,” Lyons said. “But I give our guys credit. They recovered. Our leaders got us through it. We got things going when we needed to.”

Central Valley’s only loss was to Class 4A No. 1 Thomas Jefferson, 28-3. The Warriors took care of Beaver Falls, another sound and strong running team, 21-6, and also beat North Catholic — a fellow Big East Conference foe of Derry — 35-14.

Derry’s only defeat came against North Catholic, 13-3.

Derry has made the playoffs four straight years — a program record. It has won 40 of its last 47 games.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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