Under new leadership, Derry looks to maintain run of success

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020 | 10:27 PM


A change in leadership does not signal a change in style.

At Derry, the concept of grinding the opponent down with basic blocking and running the football will continue, albeit with several potential ball carriers who possess varying styles.

But a new 4-3 stack defensive scheme initiated by first-year coach Vince Skillings could charge up the Trojans on the other side of the ball.

Derry (9-3) won six straight games last year and posted a pair of shutouts. But Skillings wants more because he believes more can happen.

“We want to dominate defensively,” said Skillings, a former Derry star who played defensive back at Ohio State and was an NFL draft pick in 1981.

Former coach Tim Sweeney, another Derry alum, made a surprise move last year when he resigned and became coach at Baldwin. That opened the door for Skillings, who admittedly didn’t think he would get the Derry job but has cherished every second of it, even with the inconsistencies and revolving doors associated with the covid-19 pandemic.

“We have had very good numbers at the varsity and middle school levels,” Skillings said. “We’re in the low to mid-20s at the varsity level. I just want to build on what coach Sweeney so greatly established here.”

Justin Huss was the offense last year for Derry, which has experienced quite a turnaround in the last five seasons, reaching the WPIAL playoffs four straight years, including three semifinal appearances.

Huss ran for 2,020 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.

“He was outstanding,” Skillings said.

But with Huss gone, the senior-heavy Trojans may turn to more of a committee in the backfield.

Seniors Amari Graham and Pryce Donovan and junior Eric Catone are positioned to replace Huss’ production.

The shifty Graham, who showed flashes in the playoffs last year, looks like the favorite to start.

Senior Paul Koontz returns at quarterback, but he has been hampered by an injury, which could open the door for seniors Matt McDowell or Nick Detore.

There is a chance, Skillings said, that he could use all three signal callers.

“We’re considering it,” he said. “Unless one really rises up and takes control.”

McDowell was a key receiver last year as he lead the Trojans with 15 catches for 204 yards. He likes what Skillings has done with the program so far.

“Coach Skillings has quickly formed a strong connection with the team,” he said. “He is a great leader and provides an immense amount of football knowledge and experience, especially to the defensive backs. My teammates and I are excited to have Coach Skillings be a part of the Derry football family.”

All-conference center Cain Latta will anchor the offensive line that Skillings calls the strength of the team.

Other linemen to watch include senior Elijah Penich and juniors Dylan Rhoades and Noah Cymmerman.

Skillings also likes his defensive secondary led by Donovan, Graham, McDowell and Detore.

Standout kicker Chance White also is back.

Schedule

Coach: Vince Skillings

2019 record: 9-3, 7-1 in Class 3A Big East

All-time record: 264-345-14

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, North Catholic*, 7

9.18, at Deer Lakes*, 7

9.25, Freeport*, 7

10.2, Southmoreland, 7

10.9, at Valley*, 7

10.16, East Allegheny*, 7

10.23, at Burrell*, 7

*Class 3A Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Paul Koontz

53-104, 658 yards, 8 TDs

Receiving: Matt McDowell

15-204 yards, TD

Rushing: Justin Huss*

203-2,020 yards, 27 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Derry made the WPIAL Class 3A title game in 2018 and has made the district semifinals three times in four years.

• Skillings was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft.

• The Trojans have five playoff wins in school history. Four of them have happened in the last three seasons.

• Derry has lost one home game since 2016.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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