New Castle wants to stop South Fayette’s 3-year undefeated run in Northwest 8

Thursday, September 5, 2019 | 11:38 PM

The name changed from the Northwest Nine to the Northwest Eight, but whatever the Class 4A conference was called, South Fayette has owned it.

The Lions are 24-0 in conference game since WPIAL football expanded to six classifications three years ago.

“They’ve had a strangle hold on the conference,” New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. “These guys have won it every year that we’ve been in it.”

South Fayette has faced challenges but each year the Lions have turned back those conference title contenders. New Castle came within nine points in 2018, and Blackhawk finished within a touchdown a year earlier.

This week, New Castle is ready to take another run at ending South Fayette’s undefeated run.

“If your goal board says you want to win the section, you’ve got to beat these guys,” Cowart said. “They own everything on our goal board. We would like to be section champs. We would like to be competitive in the district. And those guys own those trophies right now.

“If there is a measuring stick out there, it’s them. We know that and we’ll be excited to get rolling on Friday.”

Fourth-ranked New Castle (2-0, 1-0) visits third-ranked South Fayette (1-1, 1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We tell the kids we’re always going to get everyone’s best,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “We’ve got the target on our back. I am proud of the kids (for the sustained success). It’s a bunch of different faces each year.”

South Fayette returned only a handful of starters from its WPIAL championship lineup that defeated New Castle, 36-0, in Week 2 last year. But the Lions sure looked like Northwest Eight favorites again when they defeated Beaver, 55-6, in last week’s conference opener.

South Fayette showed balance last week when running back Drew Franklin scored three times. But the Lions still like to throw. First-year starter Naman Alemada has passed for 542 yards in two games, and returning wideout Charley Rossi has 12 catches for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’re still trying to find our identity,” Rossi said. “We return one offensive linemen, so they’re still taking shape.”

New Castle celebrated a last-minute 28-21 victory over Montour in Week 1. It was the second time in two weeks that the Red Hurricanes won in dramatic fashion. They defeated Shaler, 34-27, in Week Zero.

Key for New Castle was Cowart’s decision to move quarterback Demetris McKnight to running back, a move that’s worked out well. McKnight rushed for 124 yards last week after gaining 156 in Week Zero.

Combined, McKnight has five touchdowns.

“He’s one of the top athletes in the WPIAL as far as speed,” Rossi said. “I don’t think I’ve seen a faster kid when he breaks free. He’s special, just a great New Castle athlete. … He falls in the line with (Geno) Stone and (Malik and Marcus) Hooker and all the good athletes they’ve had.”

McKnight’s move allowed New Castle to start Michael Wells at quarterback. The sophomore has thrown for a touchdown and rushed for four more in his first two starts.

“Demetris is just such a good athlete that he really shined as a quarterback a year ago,” Cowart said. “But probably his more natural position is that running back position. It’s actually a pretty good fit for us, and Mike has done a really good job.”

South Fayette has defeated New Castle three years in a row in the regular season, including 42-33 in 2017 and 37-13 in 2016. But New Castle does own a playoff victory over South Fayette, 51-43, in 2016.

“Any time you play a team the caliber of South Fayette you’re excited,” Cowart said. “You know you’re playing a class organization. You get a chance to really see where you are against the best in 4A.”

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

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