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Tonight Class 3A Finals between top seeded Central Valley and #3 seed Elizabeth Forward is very interesting.
For Elizabeth Forward, it’s their first time ever playing in a WPIAL football championship game but that’s certainly not the case with Central Valley. The Warriors are looking to win back-to-back titles and their four WPIAL championship overall, having previously done it in 2019, 2014 and 2010.
Mark Lyons has been the head coach at Central Valley from their inception after the merger between Monaca and Center High and has compiled an overall record of 107-29. Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up this morning with Lyons, who admits to be thankful for getting this season in considering what the threat of COVID-19.
“I’m not sure that anyone was sure that we’d be able to get to this point as far as teams playing in the finals because of the pandemic,” said Lyons. “Our concern was, we knew that we had a lot of guys coming back and knew there was a possibility that if we got hot at the right time that we could go on a run and where we are.”
To say that Central Valley has gone on a run this year is an understatement as they’ve won all of their games by at least 28 points, with most of their games having a running clock in the 2nd half because of the mercy role. Lyon’s team is doing it on both sides of the ball, with their offensive averaging over 50 points per game while the Warriors defense is only allowing 8.6 points.
Considering the talent on this team with players like Stephon Hall, Ameer Dudley, Myles Walker, Landon Alexander, Sean FitzSimmons and others, no one is surprised they’ve reached the 3A finals. This is a program that was expected to get to this point and they’ve been able to deal with the lofty expectations.
“You’re asking high school kids to handle those expectations and that definitely adds a little more responsibility to the plate but our guys have handled it well and kept everything in perspective. I think what’s helped them to balance that is that they’ve been very unselfish. It was all about the team and was never about themselves.”
While most people expect Central Valley to continue their dominance tonight, Lyons isn’t taking anything for granted and knows that Elizabeth Forward is a talented team that is fully capable of winning this game, evidence of that is last weekends 17-0 win over #2 seed North Catholic,
The strength of this Elizabeth Forward team is their defense as they’ve only allowed an average of 9 points per game. Defensive end Chase Whatton (6’5″, 240) is the player to watch on defense for EF, as he’s collected 20 sacks over the last two seasons. After losing their starting quarterback Evan Lewis to injury midway through the season, they’re relied on running the ball for success with DaVontay Brownfield (621 yards) and Nico Mrvos (559 yards).
“They kind of wear on teams with their running game and you can’t allow that,” said Lyons. “They start clipping 4,5,6 yards a pop and then you find yourself on the field for a long time defensively. When they’re able to do that, it enables them to get their play action involved. We’ve got to do a great job on first and second down and get them into obvious passing downs on 3rd down.”
Tonight at 7 PM from Newman Stadium (North Allegheny High School), Central Valley will look to add more hardware to their trophy case but regardless of the outcome, Lyons is proud to have been able to coach these group of kids.
“We’ve had teams in the past that I’ve been very passionate about because they all bring something special in their own way and this group is no different,” said Lyons. “Again I’ll say, their ability to put aside their personal goals, where in today’s society most kids are driven by that. They realize that most of them could be in the Top 10 in passing, rushing and receiving but that’s not important to them. I’m going to miss that part of this team and how unselfish they are and the commitment they’ve shown to this football team.”