Led by high-scoring offense, stingy defense, South Side, Fort Cherry followed similar path to WPIAL Class A final

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023 | 4:59 PM


South Side football coach Luke Travelpiece can see the Rams’ battle for the WPIAL Class A championship against Fort Cherry going many ways.

Both teams have explosive offenses. Those offenses are complimented by tremendous defenses.

“Both teams average more than 40 points a game,” Travelpiece said. “I think you’re going to see each team present challenges for each other on both sides of the ball. It could be 14-10 or 42-35.”

Finding separation between Fort Cherry and South Side won’t be easy in many aspects. The two high schools are 24 miles apart. Their respective athletic programs also routinely cross each other’s paths.

The most high-profile meeting between the two will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Acrisure Stadium when the football teams meet.

“Fort Cherry is close for us,” Travelpiece said. “Our basketball teams have played each other. They are supposed to scrimmage each other next Tuesday. We put on the tape for this game and man, they are a good football team. It’s going to be a challenge. We are looking forward to a great game and hope the feeling is mutual.”

South Side (13-0) is playing in its first WPIAL championship game since 2018. The Rams previously won the district in 1969 and 1999. Fort Cherry (13-0) lost in its previous two appearances in the WPIAL championship game and hasn’t made the final since 2001.

Rangers coach Tanner Garry said the response from the community has energized the team.

“You can’t drive anywhere in the district without seeing signs,” Garry said. “Everyone has bed sheets spray painted outside of the house. It’s been awesome to see the community come together.”

Travelpiece had an inkling the two programs would run into each other at some point.

When the Rams and Rangers met in a 7-on-7 before the season, Travelpiece said his defensive coordinator Mike Commesso didn’t want to give away too much.

“He said we may see them in the playoffs,” Travelpiece said. “I don’t think with that comment the expectation was we would see them at Acrisure, but we knew they had a good team and thought we may see them in the playoffs.”

The Rangers average 45.6 points per game and are led by do-everything quarterback Matt Sieg. Sieg, a sophomore, has thrown for 1,338 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also has 1,785 rushing yards and has scored 33 touchdowns.

“We’ve done a good job of balancing the run and pass,” Garry said. “We have been a strong run team. Matt has an outstanding ability to run the ball. We have a strong group of receivers that keep us balanced. We can spread out the ball.”

Ethan Faletto has also rushed for 1,015 yards this season for Fort Cherry. Shane Cornali is the top receiver by catching 24 passes for 488 yards.

South Side cornerback/quarterback Brody Almashy said the Rams will have to figure out a way to slow down Sieg.

“We will have to see what we can do about their quarterback,” Almashy said. “We can’t let him get outside and can’t let him get in open space.”

The Rams also have a dynamic offense, featuring a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Ryan Navarra led the team with 1,301 rushing yards, while A.C. Corfield finished with 1,073.

Almashy has thrown for 958 yards, while rushing for 620. South Side has only allowed its opponents to score 8.7 points per game this season

Almashy said South Side was eager to get back to the title game.

“We remained focused and we knew that this was our last shot,” Almashy said. “We put our heart on the line for that.”

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