The District 5 Class A championship – played tonight at Bedford Area High School – pits a perennial power and an upstart.
That upstart – Tussey Mountain – may be short on championship pedigree, but the Titans (10-2) have done more than enough to impress Berlin Brothersvalley coach Doug Paul.
It also helps that the Titans carry a bit of swagger when taking the field.
“The thing that jumps out at me the most whether, it’s their offense or defense is their high energy,” Paul said.
“You can see that they’re very confident on the football field and they’re very enthusiastic. If the momentum starts to swing in their favor, that’s something we’ve got to watch.”
The third-seeded Titans carved their path to the title game by dropping North Star and Shade in successive weeks during the 5-A tournament. Both of those wins over WestPAC squads followed a similar pattern.
“Looking at (Tussey Mountain) against Shade and North Star,” Paul said. “The beginnings of those games were pretty close and Tussey was able to take control of both of those games in the second half.”
Darren Sipes (1,516 yards and 19 touchdowns) along with Dan Taylor (1,272 yards and 18 touchdowns) ignite a powerful Titans rushing offense, which averages 316.4 yards per game with 344 coming in last week’s 41-8 win over Shade. Quarterback Quinn Barnett has snuck his way into the conversation about the Tussey Mountain offense, passing for 1,350 yards and 13 scores.
“They’re not only running the football, but they’re doing a nice job of throwing the football,” Paul said. “You definitely have to stop the running game with (Sipes) and (Taylor). There’s two running backs there and they both can hurt you. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
The Titans, who average 37.8 points per game, were only bested by Northern Bedford and Mount Union – both squads that were seeded second in their respective playoff brackets.
This is the first 10-win season in Tussey Mountain history.
“(Coach Josh Smith) is doing a great job down there,” Paul said. “We kind of saw that last year when they lost to Windber last year. A junior-heavy team last year, now it’s senior-heavy. He’s done a great job getting these guys to this point and they’re going to be hungry for this.”
The Mountaineers have been here before. They hold the 5-A crown after dropping North Star last season and also have a 2005 title to boast about. But that’s not this year’s team.
“It’s a new year, new players,” Paul said. “A few players who played a big part in that game against North Star last year, but a lot of players who will be on the field (tonight) who were on the sidelines last year.”
Berlin Brothersvalley (10-1) punched its ticket to tonight’s game with a thrilling 14-7 win over rival Meyersdale, overcoming a spirited effort from the Red Raiders while avenging a triple-overtime loss from earlier this season.
Getting the squad refocused on the task at hand after an emotional win wasn’t the hardest thing for Paul, given the program’s championship experience.
“I think with the district championship game coming up, that helped to get the kids focused real quick,” Paul said. “They can enjoy that one for the weekend, but Monday it was back at it and getting ready to play Tussey Mountain. I think that helped, knowing what’s at stake this week.
“Now it’s win and go on or lose and start your winter sports season.”
As Braden Fochtman goes, so do the Mountaineers. The shifty sophomore has posted 1,921 yards and 22 touchdowns to spur the Berlin Brothersvalley offense. When the Mountaineers go to the air, E.J. Custer has proven to be a capable pilot. Custer has thrown for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns for an offense that has only attempted 96 passes in 11 games.
Conversely, Berlin Brothersvalley has rushed the ball 493 times.
Holding onto the ball against the Mountaineers has confounded a number of opponents this season with Berlin Brothersvalley creating 33 turnovers. Protecting the quarterback can also be an issue with 32 sacks produced by the defense. Dante Paul has tallied 7 ½ sacks to lead that charge along with a team-high four fumble recoveries.
Nick Stockwell’s 71 tackles and five interceptions top the Mountaineers in both categories.
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430