DORMONT, Pa. — The Central Valley Warriors appear to be cruising to an undefeated season and a game at Heinz Field later this fall. Their offense has been electric, scoring 40 points or more in five of their seven wins so far this season. However, it is their defense that not only could get them back into the WPIAL championship, but also in contention for another state title.
While the team allowed 35 points in a 58-35 win against Blackhawk, they have allowed 29 points combined in their other six games this season. That is a measly 4.8 points per game, and with the 35 point game, currently sits at 10.6 points per game allowed this season. That included a 42-0 shutout against Keystone Oaks, their second shutout of the season, and a game in which the defense did not play a snap on their side of midfield until the mercy rule clock was running.
The Warriors are led by a defensive line that is star-laden, and deep. Sean Fitzsimmons leads the group and that was apparent from the first snap of the game. He did not get in the stat sheet on this play, but he exploded off of the line and was in the face of the running back as he was receiving a hand-off. FitzSimmons forced the run outside, and the Warriors swarmed for a loss. That was a statement for the rest of the game.
“You love to get it going early,” FitzSimmons said of the fast start. “It makes it even harder for them to stop us.”
From there it appeared Keystone Oaks knew that they were going to struggle in the trenches. Screens and draws were the go-to, but even those were blown up at times by the speed and tenacity of this defensive front.
FitzSimmons has a knack for blowing things up in the backfield and finished the game with three tackles for loss and a sack in the first half. He won with his hands, and was competent in shedding blocks, and showed power to hold blockers up against the run. Still, he stood out immediately on plays where he was able to slant inside and shoot a gap.
“Sometimes we have called slants, but sometimes I can see a key and take it,” said FitzSimmons on his success at bursting inside to cause havoc in the backfield. It was clear that both FitzSimmons and his coaches knew when to make the call because every time he slanted inside, he was in the backfield. Often he made the tackle, but just as often he was forcing tackles for loss into the arms of his teammates.
Beyond that, the coaches utilized his variety of skills by moving him around the defensive line. On run downs, you could see him inside shooting a gap and blowing up runs. However, on passing downs, FitzSimmons moved out to get into hand fights with offensive tackles. This occurred on a third-down sack where FitzSimmons beat the tackle and chased down the quarterback from behind as he rolled out. He also had a few impressive reps where he drove his opposing tackle back a step or two to create pressure.
FitzSimmons clearly impacts games, and it is a hassle to identify him pre-snap. A lot of that comes down to the depth of the Warriors as the line helps highlight the versatility of FitzSimmons. Jordan Karczewski, Jackson Tonya, Jack Bible, and Matt Merritt make up some of the depth on this deep line. What makes it so valuable is that based on looks, down, distance, and other factors these players can line up on either side and over any gap. This allows FitzSimmons to move around so freely and get work against all five offensive linemen.
“Line me up anywhere,” exclaimed FitzSimmons of his ability to move around. “I love playing everywhere, the coaches let us move around to get good looks for all of us defensive linemen.”
He noted that the versatility of the group allows them to practice moving around based on what they see coming out of the huddle from their opposition. It makes things tough when they can win both physically, but also schematically.
“We can all play any position,” FitzSimmons said of his teammates. “We practice that so we can all do a rotation during the game, and it really works out.”
FitzSimmons is certainly the impact player that linemen focus on, but the movement and depth of names around him make life harder and cause offensive lines to give up the pressure, from FitzSimmons, or whoever has the best matchup on that particular snap.
Wins of 38-3, 56-7, 69-7, and 42-0 have filled the last month for the Warriors and this defense. This impressive streak may be showing a group hitting their stride, and it could cause them to peak at the perfect time considering they are now three games away from playoffs.
Central Valley knows that these wins are impressive, but they do not have their eyes on the trophy for the most impressive blowout, but rather for the WPIAL and PIAA championships.
“Week after week we want to keep winning and get back to states,” exclaimed FitzSimmons of the team’s mentality off of another big win.
Central Valley will look to continue to improve and keep this streak of dominant defense going as they host Ambridge next Friday.