Since being shutout in the opening week against South Fayette, the Central Valley Warriors have looked like the team fans have come to expect under head coach Mark Lyons.
The Warriors are currently riding a three-game winning streak, including a 52-28 victory over North Catholic last week, but Friday might be the toughest test yet when undefeated Quaker Valley visits.
The Quakers feature one of the area’s top offensive threats in senior quarterback Ricky Gus, and if the Warriors are to beat Quaker Valley, they will have to do it without their starting quarterback. Senior Nico Battisti suffered a season-ending knee injury against North Catholic.
Backup quarterback Curtis Latshaw’s recent departure from the team for personal reasons means Lyons will turn to sophomore Jawon Hall.
“We got to get after it,” Lyons said. “We’ve got to stay with our game plan. Obviously, he’s [Nico Battisti] a weapon, but we have other weapons. Bottom line, we’ve have to rely on your up front guys.”
Hall has seen limited action this season behind center, recording just two pass attempts. His only rush of the season was a 75-yard touchdown run against North Catholic in the fourth quarter.
With Battisti lost for the season, anticipate Lyons to lean more heavily on senior tailbacks Jay Anzio and Danny Santia. Both backs ran for 100-plus yards last week and are averaging more than five yards per carry on the year. They run behind a veteran offensive line led by four-year starter Preston Cron at center.
“Those guys have played a lot of snaps, and I think they are taking upon themselves to put it upon their shoulders to take this team over,” Lyons said. “That’s what has to be done.”
The Warriors ability to effectively run the ball will be critical in slowing down Guss and the Quaker offense. Quaker Valley is averaging nearly 49 points a game, and Guss has rushed for 11 touchdowns on the season and thrown for nine more.
“He’s calm, he understands where everybody is supposed to be offensively, and he reads really well,” Quaker Valley head coach Jerry Veshio said.
Last week against Beaver, trailing 21-15 entering the final quarter, the Quakers scored 30 unanswered points to win, 45-21. The defense blocked a pair of punts and forced three second half turnovers.
“We started throwing a few wrinkles in there in the second half that we didn’t in the first,” Veshio said. “And then our defense stepped up, forced some turnovers, and we punched it in. That made a big difference.”
Senior Jake Pesicka stripped Beaver quarterback Brodie List late in the fourth quarter with Quaker Valley leading by eight, and Oliver Funk recovered the fumble. Guss scored on the next play, and the Quakers never looked back.
Under Veshio, Quaker Valley is making a habit of big finishes. Against Neshannock in Week 2, the Quakers led 13-6 before scoring 30 fourth quarter points, turning a close game into a rout.
Veshio took over as coach after John Tortorea resigned just weeks before the season started, and while he’s pleased with the 4-0 start, he’s not overly surprised.
“We kind of expected to be where we are,” Veshio said. “I don’t think that’s arrogance. We knew going in we had a pretty decent squad, and our coaches were pretty confident about winning the first four.”
Nonetheless, Veshio knows Friday brings a whole new test with Central Valley.
“They’re good,” Veshio said. “They’ve got one of the best running backs around, they’re tough up front, they have great tradition, great coaching…we’re expecting a helluva ball game.”
The winner of Friday’s contest will keep pace with league leader Aliquippa, who is 2-0 in conference play already and the top-ranked team in Class 3A.
“This has some implications for how early it is in the year,” Lyons said. “That’s just the way our conference is.”