Braden Fochtman always seems to be in a rush on the football field.
How else do you explain his area-best 1,042 rushing yards through five weeks of the scholastic season?
But the Berlin Brothersvalley sophomore back actually has been a much more patient runner this season, and that’s made a significant difference to the undefeated Mountaineers’ success.
“Instead of trying to outrun everybody, he’s letting his blocks take effect,” Berlin coach Doug Paul said. “Braden has such great acceleration, he hits the hole with speed. Until this point in his career he was able to get by with natural speed.
“He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s got great vision and balance. He’s got all the intangibles to go with being a great running back.”
Fochtman has carried 91 times and averages 11.5 yards per run.
In case you’re thinking he’s done so against the lower-tier teams in the WestPAC, think again.
Fochtman rushed for 309 yards on 32 carries against a very solid North Star squad, and he gained 352 yards on 29 attempts against Portage, the coaches’ preseason pick to win the conference.
“He only played the first half against Conemaugh Township because he was cramping up. The next week against Portage was his coming out party,” Paul said. “Big-time players show up for big-time games. He’s doing it against teams that traditionally have very good defenses.”
Paul believes Fochtman has the potential to evolve even more as a runner.
“The nice thing with Braden is he has a very good offseason work ethic as far as hitting the weight room,” the coach said. “The one downfall you hear from college coaches is 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. But the thing is, he’s a very good defensive player for us. He can play multiple positions on offense. He’s as close to the complete package at running back since I’ve been at Berlin and I’ve seen quite a few.”
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Aerial attack: Richland senior quarterback Matt Shaffer has completed 64 of 100 passes for 1,096 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions for the undefeated and state third-ranked Rams.
Richland receiver Kyle Flick has 22 catches for 489 yards and seven touchdowns. He ranks second in receiving yardage behind Windber’s Matt Barkley, who has 501 yards on 27 receptions.
The area has a strong group of talented receivers this season.
In addition to Flick, a Tribune-Democrat first-team pick with just shy of 1,000 receiving yards a year ago, and Barkley, a T-D second-team selection at wide receiver, Westmont’s Colin Barron and Ligonier Valley’s Alec Bloom each have more than 20 catches.
Barron is a legit playmaker with 25 catches for 367 yards. Bloom is a 6-7 Division I UConn recruit with 21 receptions for 343 yards. Bloom has size, strength and speed not often seen in the area.
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It’s official: It might fall under the “no big surprise” category, but the WestPAC voted Wednesday at its regularly-scheduled meeting to exclude Rockwood from the football schedule the next two seasons. The Rockets abruptly dropped their program five days before the season opener, forcing conference teams to scramble for opponents.
“We as a league decided to not include Rockwood in the 2014 and 2015 cycle in scheduling football at this point,” said WestPAC Secretary Craig Gindlesperger of Meyersdale. “They’re still part of our conference and still involved in all the other sports. With their low enrollment in football and not having the numbers we felt it was in the best interest in the other teams.”
Gindlesperger said Ferndale’s situation might be more optimistic. With only 11 healthy players, the winless Yellow Jackets halted play at halftime at Shade two weeks ago and forfeited last week to Meyersdale. Ferndale originally was scheduled to play Rockwood this week.
“Ferndale voiced to us that at this point they’re getting several of their injured kids back and hope to continue to play,” Gindlesperger said.
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Is it a date?: Berlin’s Paul said the Mountaineers might have a Week 9 opponent to replace Rockwood.
Attempts to schedule a home game against defending Class A state champion Clairton fell through, but Paul said a preliminary proposal to play WPIAL Jefferson-Morgan at the Snyder of Berlin Complex are on the table.
“Jefferson-Morgan, a Single-A District 7 school out of the Tri-County South Conference, is taking it to their school board,” Paul said. “They’re scheduled to play Geibel that week.”
Paul said there reportedly was uncertainty involving the Geibel game, which possibly would open the date for Jefferson-Morgan.
“Our football boosters have agreed to pay their transportation and feed them,” Paul said. “It’s not 100 percent. There’s still a chance it may fall through. They wanted to put a package together to take to their school board for approval. That would be a nice game for us heading into the playoffs.”
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Electric atmosphere: An estimated 1,300 fans attended the first night game in Thomas Yewcic Stadium history Friday as host Conemaugh Valley fell to Shade.
The Blue Jays might have lost on the scoreboard but won in the long run. That is, if the temporary portable lights opened some eyes to the possible benefits of playing on Friday nights.
“Everybody up here thought it was a resounding success,” Blue Jays coach Tom Marshall said. “We had the biggest crowd that ever saw a game up here at our field. Everybody couldn’t believe the atmosphere. Everything was great except that we lost.”
Marshall said talk already has surfaced about renting the portable lights again.
“They want to do it again because of the turnout and the comments that people made about how great the field looked and what a festive environment it was,” Marshall said. “People want to get it done again, but whether that’s this year or the beginning of next year is up in the air.”
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Horsing around: Conemaugh Township brought back a popular tradition during last week’s home win over Blacklick Valley.
Two horseback riders dressed in old West Native American attire rode the length of the field, with one of the riders planting a lance near midfield just prior to kickoff.
“They had stopped doing it a couple years ago because of financial issues,” Township coach Sam Zambanini said. “The first year they cut it, someone anonymously stepped up and paid the fee. Then we lost it. We didn’t have it at all last year.
“There was some talk around town last year, ‘Where’s the horse?’ (First-year Township assistant coach) Rick Flyte talked about how intimidating it was when he was a coach with North Star years ago,” Zambanini added.
As people saw the horses and word spread throughout the stadium, the excitement increased.
“It’s an old spin-off of a Florida State tradition that Jerry Davitch started when he was here,” Zambanini said of the former Indians coach during the 1990s. “Obviously we’re focused on the game. We didn’t know until right before the game. There was a buzz in our locker room. It gets the crowd involved right off the bat. It was definitely a boost. It was a lift.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.