Competitive fire burns for Southmoreland in battle of unbeatens with McGuffey

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 | 4:16 PM

Will the coke ovens light up the sky over Alverton on Friday night?

That answer is no. They ceased operation in 1983.

But when former Southmoreland English teacher and public announcer Aldo Clara would call in the results of games to the late Ralph Conde at WHJB in Greensburg, he’d open with the phrase, “The coke ovens were burning brightly over Alverton,” if the Scotties were victorious.

There were eight coke ovens near the stadium run by the Alverton Coke Works until 1983.

Since they are no longer in use, the hottest thing now in Alverton is the Scotties football team.

Southmoreland (5-0, 4-0) is the highest-scoring team in the WPIAL Class 2A Century Conference, totaling 255 points in five games, and has clinched a berth in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in 40 years.

Now the Scotties start the second half of the season against No. 4 McGuffey (5-0, 3-0), which has scored 232 points this season.

The buzz throughout the community is about the team’s start to the season and ending a 40-year drought. The last time the Scotties reached the playoffs was in 1979 after winning the Keystone Conference. They lost to Penn Hills, 31-0, in the opening round.

“There is a lot excitement in town,” Southmoreland senior running back Colt Harper said. “We’re excited about the playoffs, and we want to set the bar for future teams.”

McGuffey defeated Southmoreland, 56-28, in 2018. Highlanders coach Ed Dalton said he felt the Scotties were the next-best team behind Washington returning in the conference.

“I’m not surprised with their success,” Dalton said. “They had all their skill returning. I think they’d even admit their line is better than expected.”

The two offenses are contrasting. Southmoreland slings the ball around behind Zach Cernuto, and McGuffey runs the flex-bone with three-year starter Marshall Whipkey under center.

“Southmoreland scored a lot of points last year. It just gave too many,” Dalton said. “They seem to be playing a lot better, and Comforti is tough to defend. He was a tough matchup for us last year. We have to be physical.

“It should be a good game and a great atmosphere. It’s going to be like a playoff game. I’m sure it’s going to be an enjoyable experience.”

Both defenses will be tested. Cernuto has completed 57 of 88 passes for 1,006 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 152 yards.

Riley Comforti has 33 catches for 607 yards and eight touchdowns, and Brandon Peterson has seven catches for 236 yards. Harper has rushed for 471 yards and scored 17 touchdowns for the Scotties.

Whipkey doesn’t throw much, but when he does, he’s very accurate, completing 24 of 35 passes for 589 yards and 11 touchdowns. C.J. Cole is his main receiver with 12 catches for 286 yards.

The Highlanders like to run the ball. McKinley Whipkey has rushed for 242 yards, Jordon Wallace 218, Nate Yagla 208 and Jared Johnson 199.

“This is unchartered territory for the Southmoreland Scotties,” coach Dave Keefer said. “This is the first time since 1964 that we’ve started this well. We’re enjoying the ride, but we have to realize there is a lot more at stake than just getting a playoff spot.

“We’re 5-0 going against 5-0 McGuffey. That’s going to be the toughest test so far this year. We’re not just working on getting in the playoffs but a better seed.”

After McGuffey, the Scotties host Charleroi on Oct. 4 and Washington on Oct. 18 to close conference action. They also have two nonconference road games.

The difference at Southmoreland is confidence, Keefer said.

“These kids know they can win now,” Keefer said. “They got a taste of it last year. A lot of these kids were O-fers for many years. They expect to win now, and they are not going to take anything for granted.

“That drives them, and we have good leadership on the team. I don’t have to say much. The team leaders are stepping up and making sure everyone follows in line.”

Keefer knows his team faces a tough test because McGuffey is well coached.

Dalton said even though his team consistently wins six or seven games a year, they also need to take the next step.

“We have to get over the hump,” Dalton said.

For Southmoreland, it has cleared one hump, and it is looking to clear many more.

Maybe, just maybe, those coke ovens will mysteriously fire up in Alverton again on Friday.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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