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BETHEL PARK, Pa. — Peters Township’s 30-7 win over Bethel Park was one of the more complete victories you will see this season.
The box score isn’t spectacular, but all three phases scored and the Indians easily defeated a team it was tied with at the top of the 5A Allegheny Eight Conference.
Coach T.J. Plack laughed off the fact the halftime total yardage figures were close, and maybe even favored the home Black Hawks, but pointed to the scoreboard and said “as long as that says 30-7, I’m happy.”
The Indians won the ‘hidden-yardage’ battle all night, which led to some areas looking better than others.
All three of Peters Township’s touchdown drives started in opponent territory and lasted two, three and seven plays.
A blocked punt set up the Indians first touchdown while a 40-yard punt return by Josh Casilli set up another short field.
The senior found the end zone later in the second quarter on a 90-yard kick return following Bethel Park’s only touchdown on the night.
The Black Hawks tried a directional kick, but Casilli was able to skirt the sideline for the score.
“He’s an explosive player, maybe we went to the well one too many times,” said Bethel Park coach Brian DeLallo. “We kicked it deep and tackled him the first time, some of our coaches (the second time) said maybe we should have gone another way, but that was my decision, I’ll take the heat.
“He’s a really good player, it’s hard to keep it out of his hands all the time. Especially with all the other weapons they have. They have a lot of game-breakers, and he’s probably the most explosive of those game-breakers.”
The theme of the night seemed to be ‘get the ball in Casilli’s hands’, and the Indians did that in a different way than what we’ve become accustomed to.
Quarterback Logan Pfeuffer didn’t have the most amazing game – just 5-9 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown – which led to Peters Township running a lot of wildcat plays with Casilli in the backfield.
Plack said the game plan coming into the week was to run the wildcat formation, and give the defense something else to prepare for.
“He’s a physical guy, but (Casilli) can hit the hole, and maybe pop something, he did a couple times, it’s just get the ball in his hands,” said Plack. “We knew they’d be all over him in the pass, we had the run going there in the second and third quarter, it’s just something we had in the back of our pocket.”
“We can hurt you either way, if one (style) isn’t working, the other one can step up,” said Casilli. “We knew what we wanted to do up front and we took advantage of it.”
Casilli’s rushing yards were a nice compliment to Ryan Magiskie’s 114 yards on 18 carries as the Indians out-rushed Bethel Park 158-49.
Magiske scored two touchdowns on the night and should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark next week.
While the offense and special teams were able to make some splash plays and capitalize on short fields, the defense was again the story for one of the best teams in 5A.
Peters Township leads 5A allowing just 9.7 points per game – a figure that is also in the top-10 in the entire WPIAL.
The Indians recorded an interception, allowed just 143 total yards and scored on a safety on the first drive of the third quarter.
Bethel Park had a long kick return nullified by a block-in-the-back, which set them up at the 10-yard line. A false start led to first-and-15 from the five, and on the next play a holding call in the end zone resulted in a safety.
“Penalties have killed us the last few weeks,” said DeLallo. “We talked at halftime about eliminating penalties, then we commit four on the first three plays. You’re just not going to beat anybody who’s any good doing that.”
The result extended the Peters Township streak of not allowing more than 21 points in a game this season.
“100-percent (confident),” said Plack. “We have two defensive coordinators and the rest of the staff, those guys put together a game plan each and every week, they’re so detailed. They coach it so well, the film studies, the walkthroughs.
“They’re just so sound. We have the guys who can do different things. We have five defensive backs that can cover and tackle, that allows us to do some things. In a few years we may not be able to run this defense, but what we have going on right now is pretty special.”
NOTES FROM THE PRESS BOX
Bethel Park’s consistency
It can be argued that Bethel Park is one of the best regular-season team’s this past decade.
Before you double-take that, be sure to read the qualifiers.
The last time the Black Hawks had three or more conference losses in a season was 2010, and the team has qualified for the playoffs every year. The playoff streak extends well beyond 2010, but for readability purposes, we’ll stick with recent memory.
The run of conference success, despite the constant change in classes and alignment, is not unprecedented, but it is the mark of a good program.
By comparison, Peters had five losses in 2016, Moon had six conference losses last season and Upper St. Clair had three losses in 2015.
Penn Hills had four conference losses in 2016, and even Gateway had three conference losses in 2016, but both have also won WPIAL Championships in 2017 and 2018.
There have been three different Class 5A Champions since the WPIAL expanded to six conferences, so the opportunities have been there.
The playoffs – which is of course the difference maker – is where Bethel Park has fallen short.
Since winning AAAA WPIAL Championship and PIAA runner-up (team’s first football title) in 2008, the Black Hawks have won just five playoff games, advancing to the WPIAL semifinals only once.
The Black Hawks have lost opening-round playoff games the past three years and have not won more than one playoff game in a season since 2009.
“I think, one, is you want to be healthy and have some momentum going into the playoffs,” said coach Brian DeLallo. “When we have made our deep runs in the past we’ve had health and a little luck, and that momentum.
“Right now, we don’t have much momentum at all, but if you beat (Upper) St. Clair next week, all of a sudden the kids will think they can play against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s just funny how high school football works. Momentum is a big part of it.”
Black Hawks looking to rebound
Friday’s loss to Peters Township was the second in two weeks for Bethel Park who went from being in first place to jostling for position at the bottom of the playoff teams and a potentially disastrous opening round playoff matchup.
Bethel Park’s run-heavy offense was stymied by a strong defense and the Black Hawk defense was forced into a lot of short-field situations.
“I thought our defense played pretty well,” said DeLallo. “We were down there at the end because we were on the field a lot, but I was content with how the defense played compared to the other two phases.
“If you look at their drives, I don’t know if they just took it and drove 80 yards. Mistakes are correctable, but you keep saying it every week, at some point we need to make those corrections.”
Looking for another weapon
It’s tough to look at a first-place team averaging 31 points per game and think they need something more.
The Peters Township offense is, arguably, the most complete in the WPIAL with quarterback Logan Pfeuffer closing in on 1,400 passing yards, Ryan Magiske on the verge of 1,000 rushing yards and receiver Josh Casilli with 11 touchdowns, but one player is looking to wedge himself into the offensive game plan.
Senior Aidan McCall caught three passes and was credited with two rushing attempts in Friday’s win.
A touchdown pass in the first quarter just went off his fingers on a seam route that would have really made the stats look good, but McCall is finding ways to be effective.
It’s almost a case of there only being one football on the field, but Plack said McCall does a lot of things well in the offense.
“He had a great game, a great stat game, a few weeks ago,” said Plack. “He’s a great guy, he’s a former quarterback in middle school. He’s a guy we like with the ball in his hands. He’s quick as heck, he’s deadly with the ball. We’re not going to have these guys next year, so we’re going to use and abuse them as much as possible.”