Derry provides tough final hurdle for Burrell’s playoff quest

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | 5:34 PM

Since their matchup with Deer Lakes on Sept. 27, the Burrell Bucs have been in playoff mode. They knew to secure their first playoff berth since 2012, they would have to get over some big humps, and it started during that matchup against the Lancers.

They came away with a win on their home field, and other than a hiccup loss against Mt. Pleasant the week after, the Bucs have been on a roll. They’ve won five of their past six games and recently defeated Freeport for the first time since 2011.

The loss to Mt. Pleasant came back to bite the Bucs, and now Burrell needs to get over one last obstacle to earn a WPIAL Class 3A playoff berth: Derry.

“They jump out at you with all the good things that they do, and they are very well-coached,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “We know what we are going to get, but as we’ve said in the past, I believe in our kids and we are going to come out and give a maximum effort.”

Derry (7-2, 6-1) enters the Class 3A Big East Conference game fresh off a 42-0 victory over Deer Lakes and already has secured a spot in the playoffs. The Trojans are led by a stout offensive and defensive line, and running back Justin Huss has carried 150 times for 1,401 yards.

Other than a loss to Latrobe to begin the season and a 13-3 loss to North Catholic midway through the year, Derry has been dominant. They’ve outscored opponents 256-97, and Derry coach Tim Sweeney believes they continue to get stronger.

“I think we’ve become a better practice team as the year has gone on, and I think it’s translating to better performances on Friday nights,” Sweeney said.

Come Friday, both teams will employ two different styles of offense. With linemen such as Gavin Adams (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) and Max Malis (6-2, 270), it’s no secret the Trojans like to run. Huss’ stats show that, as he has found the end zone 23 times this season.

It will be one of the toughest challenges the Burrell line has faced all season, and senior Ricky Feroce, a two-way linemen, knows what he and his teammates will be up against.

“It’s going to take a lot of heart on Friday,” Feroce said. “We have to show our toughness more than them. That’s the idea of the game.”

Although his team might have the size advantage, Sweeney knows a matchup with Burrell will be difficult because of the Bucs’ versatile offense.

Junior quarterback Alex Arledge has the third-most passing yards in the WPIAL with 2,103 and is tied for the second-most touchdowns with 23. They also have several athletes in Seth Fischbach (43 receptions, 912 yards, 12 TDs), Logan Phillips (28 receptions, 440 yards, four TDs) and Mikey Scherer (986 rushing yards, seven TDs).

Add in the offensive mind of Liotta, and Sweeney has a lot to think about this week.

“It’s so hard to prepare for them,” Sweeney said. “They just give you so much to prepare for, and there’s only so much time in a week.”

The Bucs have produced the first winning record since 2012, and they want to cap it with a trip to the playoffs.

“I know our kids are going to play hard. I know they are going to give us every ounce of effort they have,” Liotta said. “We have to be relentless on Friday, and we have to play with maximum effort. We have to play Burrell Buc football, which is fast and physical, and if we do those things, we’ll be in very good shape.”

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

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