Defense, running game set to lead Kiski Area

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Monday, September 7, 2020 | 12:01 AM


Teams are always in search of their identity, and it took the Kiski Area Cavaliers a little longer than expected to find theirs in 2019.

But as the Cavaliers get ready for the 2020 season, they have a better idea of what that identity is going to be, and they are excited to be able to take advantage of it this season.

“We felt that after our third year here, the kids were starting to buy into the program so we are hoping that continues to grow,” Kiski Area coach Sam Albert said.

At the beginning of last year, Kenny Blake was lining up at wide receiver but, after three games, Albert moved Blake into the backfield. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound running back went on to carry the ball 168 times for 980 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games.

Throughout the second half of the season, Blake was the cog that made the Cavaliers’ offense go. He helped them capture back-to-back wins over Mars and Armstrong at the end of the season to secure a spot in the WPIAL playoffs. In those two games, he carried the ball 70 times for 407 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, the talented two-way senior who has Division I offers from Albany and Army is ready to capitalize on a full season in the backfield.

“It’s cool, because if I would’ve started back there from the beginning, we probably would’ve started 3-0 or 2-1,” Blake said. “So, it will be good to start with a set offense this year, and I think it will help us out a lot throughout the season.”

The Cavaliers also will feature a strong defense that returns two of its top three tacklers and a solid secondary. Senior defensive end Jack Dilts, who has several Division I offers, is one of those returning along the line after tallying two sacks and 43 tackles last season. He believes the defense is going to be a backbone for the team.

“Our whole defense is solid,” Dilts said. “Our defensive line, our linebackers, our secondary, I think we’re really strong there.”

Last season, Kiski Area showed promise with a team that included only a few seniors in key positions across the field.

The Cavaliers started a freshman at quarterback and had five underclassmen in the receiving corps. They also had several underclassmen on the defensive side.

With that young roster, the Cavaliers went on to lose to defending PIAA Class 5A champion Penn Hills by three points and also defeated a strong Mars team in order to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Blake said gaining that experience last year will be a big piece of this season’s success.

“Last year, we were young, so there wasn’t that experience really, so we were kind of experimenting,” Blake said. “But now, since we have that experience, we’ll know what to do when the lights come on, so we’ll be good.”

The Cavaliers will have a new opponent this year. Through PIAA realignment, Pine-Richland dropped down a class and into the Class 5A Northeast Conference. The Cavaliers are looking forward to the challenge of taking on the 2018 WPIAL Class 6A champions.

“Any time you get to play a team like Pine-Richland, it’s a win-win.” Albert said. “If they win, you say, ‘OK, we were supposed to lose.’ But if you win, that sets the tone for you.”

As the Cavaliers head into their fourth season under Albert, they are ready to take the turn. The longtime coach said his team is starting to look like a Class 5A football team, and he said he’s excited for what is to come this season.

Schedule

Coach: Sam Albert

2019 record: 5-6, 4-3 in Class 5A Northern Conference

All-time record: 302-280-7

Date, Opponent, Time

9.21, at Connellsville, 7

9.26, at Penn Hills*, 7

10.2, North Hills*, 7

10.9, at Fox Chapel*, 7

10.16, Shaler*, 7

10.23, Pine-Richland*, 7

*Class 5A Northeast Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Lebryn Smith

20-40, 230 yards, 0 TDs

Receiving: Kenny Blake

14-144 yards, 0 TDs

Rushing: Blake

168-980 yards, 11 TDs

Fast facts

• The Cavaliers have made the playoffs for the past two years.

• In Blake’s first start at running back against North Hills in Week 2, he ran for 104 yards and a touchdown. He went on to run for more than 150 yards four times and scored three touchdowns in three of those four games.

• Kiski Area will have a quarterback battle heading into this season between sophomore Lebryn Smith and Logan Johnson. Smith was Kiski Area’s leading passer last year with 230 yards but didn’t throw any touchdown passes.

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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