Stingy Elizabeth Forward defense stands in way of No. 1 Central Valley’s run to Class 3A title

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020 | 8:27 PM


When No. 1 Central Valley and No. 3 Elizabeth Forward take the field at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny’s Newman Stadium to decide the WPIAL Class 3A football championship, some may consider it a battle of David vs. Goliath, despite both teams being undefeated.

Central Valley (9-0) has been the talk of Class 3A since making a run to the PIAA title game in 2019 and missing out on a state title by a touchdown. The Warriors have won three WPIAL titles in their short history, and after putting up 70 points in their semifinal victory over Keystone Oaks, coach Mark Lyons wants his players to put their stamp on the program with back-to-back titles.

“We are still in our infant stages of this program, and they can put a mark on it,” Lyons said. “These guys can put a mark to separate themselves to try and get back-to-back titles. But at the end of the day, our guys know that it’s a football game, and it’s a chance to go out and compete.”

Elizabeth-Forward (8-0) has crept under the radar this season, featuring a strong defense that has only allowed 9.1 points per game and has recorded three shutouts, including a 17-0 win over No. 2 North Catholic in the WPIAL semifinals.

The Interstate Conference champions will be making their first WPIAL championship game appearance, and the Warriors to the south are completely OK with taking on the underdog role heading into their biggest game of the season.

“We’re just embracing it because not too many people are giving us a chance against the high-powered offense of Central Valley and all the Division I recruits they have,” Elizabeth Forward coach Mike Collodi said. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our team wouldn’t have it any other way. We are kind of just embracing that role.”

The matchup between Elizabeth Forward’s defense and Central Valley’s offense, two of the top units in the entirety of the WPIAL, could directly dictate the outcome of the game.

Central Valley has scored over 40 points in every one of its games this season, and senior quarterback Ameer Dudley, who has thrown for 936 yards and 15 touchdowns, has led to Warriors to 53.6 points per game. But throughout this season, Central Valley hasn’t played a defense like Elizabeth Forward’s, and Lyons knows they’ll have to match their physicality for 48 minutes.

“They are there for a reason,” Lyons said. “They play defense well, they run to the ball, they are physical, and our guys are going to have to be up to the task of the physicality. We are going to have to find those matchups that we can win. But when it comes down to it, we are going to have to make sure we put our hand in the ground and get after it.”

Chase Whatton, a Bowling Green recruit, is one of the cornerstones of the Elizabeth Forward defense. He’s a 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end who has racked up 44 tackles, 18 for a loss, and eight sacks, and he flies to the ball every play.

“Every team has that one guy that sticks out on film, and he definitely tracks the ball well,” Dudley said. “But I feel like if my line just does what they’ve been doing, we’ll be fine.”

While the Central Valley offense is ready to prove what it is made of, so is the Elizabeth Forward defense. They’ve had to prove themselves all season long, and Friday night will be no different.

“Central Valley is a very good team, and we need to come out how we did, or even better than we did, against North Catholic,” Whatton said. “We just need to put it to them and stop them early. They haven’t been hit yet. They haven’t seen a defense like ours yet.”

Elizabeth Forward’s offense and Central Valley’s defense could be just as important on Friday as well, though.

Elizabeth Forward has scored 30.5 points per game and has four rushers with over 290 yards. DaVontay Brownfield leads the pack with 621 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Nico Mrvos has been somewhat of a Swiss Army knife with 286 receiving yards, 559 rushing yards and six total touchdowns.

With the type of offense Central Valley has, Collodi knows his team will have to put points on the board. It won’t be easy against a Central Valley defense that has only allowed 8.6 points per game this season.

“It’s like pick your poison with them,” Collodi said. “We have to convert on third downs, we can’t turn the ball over, we have to keep the chains moving, and we have to make good decisions. Our guys have just got to make plays when they are called upon to make a play.”

Central Valley is searching for its fourth WPIAL title and Elizabeth Forward is seeking its first, but no matter who comes out on top, Friday’s game should be a hard-hitting, physical night of football between two teams that are looking to make a statement.

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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