Fantasy football has warped our brains. Yes, it is fun to watch the acrobatic catch and the juke in the open field that springs a huge run. However, at its core, whether it be the NFL, Pop Warner, or high school football, the game is decided in the trenches. It is a more physical, and violent side of the game, but it is where games are won and lost.
Central Catholic is on a mission to prove that as they go on a quest for their third straight WPIAL title, this year behind the backs of a duo of senior linemen.
Left tackle Matt Aulicino and left guard Donovan Hinish make up the left side of the Central Catholic offensive line. The duo has been there for both WPIAL runs, and are now on a mission to literally plow anyone over who gets in their way.
What is so impressive is the variety of ways in which these two got things done. The duo combined to ride defensive lineman into the ground. A double team from these two meant defenders were sitting in the dirt. They worked combination blocks, and Hinish got into the second level clean to spring runs. PCC relied on their line to dominate the game, and they did just that.
“It’s exhilarating,” Hinish exclaimed when describing the feeling he gets of finishing a block. “It gets us so excited, and gets the juice flowing, and once the juices are flowing nothing can stop you.”
Nothing could stop the Central Catholic Vikings as they defeated Penn Hills 48-7 to let the rest of the WPIAL know that they are on a mission to bring home the three-peat. If they are able to rely on the run game and get out in front of teams the way that they did against Penn Hills it will be hard to find ways to slow down the road graders once they are working downhill.
Defensive Line Duo
However, for as physically imposing as the offensive line was in this game, It was won on the defensive side of the ball. PCC seemingly created a sack or a turnover on every drive, if not every other play as they continually harassed the Penn Hills quarterback.
In fact, PCC put up a defensive touchdown and scored two more times off of turnovers. Only two scoring drives did not come off of a turnover, and one was the first drive of the second half.
“We wanted to get back to playing Pittsburgh Central Catholic defense, and solidifying what we do,” noted defensive coordinator Dave Fleming after the team dropped a close opener to cross-state Imhotep Charter.
It was once again Hinish and Aulicino leading the way on defense. Hinish added two sacks and recovered a fumble that led to the team’s first TD. Aulicino has a pocket mover who consistently had the right tackle on skates, putting the left-handed quarteback in awkward positions.
What is fun to watch from Hinish and Aulicino is how they do it in differing manners. Hinish is quick and stout. He gets off of the football with a fast first step that often beats offensive lineman out of their stance.
“It’s a signature of my game,” Hinish noted of his quick get-off. “I am not one of the biggest players, but I am the fastest.”
On the other end, Aulicino is listed at 6’7″. His game is predicated on his length and his ability to get his hands on his man before they can reach him. From there, he can dictate movement.
The speedy Hinish comes up the middle and pushes pockets outside where the long-armed Aulicino is there to drive quarterbacks even further back into a spinning rush, which happened often in this game.
What makes the Central Catholic 2021 prospects scary is that the two seniors lead the way, but the depth of the defensive line is deep enough that these two can get a blow after a long series on the offensive side, and come back in fresh.
Maceo Marshall, Connor Anderson, Robert Fulton, Elias Karanikos, and Ty Yuhas are just a few of the players who join them on the defensive line to rotate in and consistently harass the quarterback.
“We still have some younger guys that we want to filter in there that are coming along at practice,” boasted Fleming of the team’s depth. “When teams have guys going two ways it is going to be hard for them when we have fresh bodies coming in.”
Aside from the line is a back end that is Senior laden. Seniors Keith Cushenberry and Malachi Missouri added interceptions in the win over Penn Hills, and senior linebacker Devon Barren sets the tone with a physical presence. However, for as physical as Barren is, he is a new-age hybrid linebacker who can play over the slot, and even drop into the deep middle. Missouri can fly around in coverage as can JD Younger, who is a safety that moves from the box, to the slot, and into centerfield.
Mike linebacker Anthony Speca joins Barren, Younger, Cushenberry, Missouri, and more to highlight a secondary that is deep, fast, and experienced. When you combine this with a front that is so relentless, you can see why the Vikings have their sights sets so high.