Greensburg Central Catholic back in WPIAL football playoffs after 3-year absence

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Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 4:29 PM


Greensburg Central Catholic was still evolving, still finding its identity, as the WPIAL football regular season wound into its final week.

At times, first-year coach Bret Colbert and his staff tweaked the playbook, rerouted the defense and changed the rotation as they looked for the right mix to best utilize a team rich with athleticism and depth.

A young but seasoned staff is having fun pulling the levers and watching the moving parts go.

“We’ve seen things that can continue to evolve,” Colbert said. “We’re still developing our own identity. We have the weapons. It’s just about getting the right guys in the right spots and situations.”

What the Centurions (7-3) have done so far has worked. They are headed to the WPIAL playoffs after a three-year absence and will look to get a win in the postseason for the first time since 2011.

“We haven’t made it since I was in eighth grade,” senior running back Zach Kuvinka said. “I was a ball boy.”

GCC will open the playoffs as a third-place wild card out of the Class A Eastern Conference.

The Centurions took down Class 2A playoff team Southmoreland, 34-14, on Friday night in Carbon as quarterback David Altimore threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns. GCC trailed at the half, 7-3, before scoring 31 points in the second half.

“It’s a relief getting there because it was a long-term goal of ours,” Colbert said. “In the back of our heads, we’ve always thought about getting to the playoffs. But I’m not surprised we made it.”

Colbert has taken chances when other coaches might have gone conservative, especially in his first season while playing against the likes of Clairton and Jeannette.

He’s tried fake punts, onside kicks and jump-passes. There even was a halfback pass.

“Our guys have great instincts,” he said.

A balanced lineup has seen 16 players touch the football and 12 score touchdowns.

“It doesn’t matter if I get more touches than the next guy,” Kuvinka said. “It’s about winning games.”

Still, Colbert feels his team’s best chance to win starts and ends on the other side of the ball, with a hard-wired defense.

“Before the season, we knew our defense would carry us,” Colbert said. “Our guys are so fast.”

A ball-hawking secondary is the centerpiece of a 3-4 scheme that has produced 22 interceptions, 93 tackles-for-loss and 21 sacks.

Colbert uses the hashtag, “#DBHigh.”

GCC has five defensive touchdowns: four on interception returns and another on a fumble recovery.

Senior Ben LaCarte leads the team with eight interceptions, and seniors Brandon Brown and Luke Mazowiecki have six apiece.

Sophomore Danny Dlugos has a team-high 83 tackles.

“And they’ve learned a college (defense),” said defensive coordinator Mike Brown, who was an assistant at Robert Morris and installed the Colonials’ system at GCC. “They picked it up quickly.”

Colbert said the defense often has bailed out the offense, giving the latter more opportunities after stalled, three-and-out drives.

“I would say everything we have done offensively, our defense and return game has allowed us to do it,” Colbert said.

Kuvinka also credits the defense for the team’s playoff push. Although, a bevvy of two-way players are contributing.

“We rely on each other,” he said. “The defensive line, linebackers and DBs have to work together. We’ve done that.”

The Centurions nearly upset perennial power Clairton, rallying from 21-0 down to make it a 21-14 finish.

“We started slow, but once we got going, we started to come together as a team,” Kuvinka said. “We should have beaten Clairton, but we ran out of time.”

They also beat athletic Monessen, 21-18, hung on after a wild comeback by Leechburg for a 42-41 win and handled Springdale, 33-7.

Jeannette, the top-ranked Class A team in the state, topped GCC, 48-14, but had just one big-play touchdown.

GCC’s only other loss came against another Class A playoffs team in Cornell. A defensive struggle ended as an 8-0 loss in overtime.

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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