Bfiursvilfe Deny Homsr-Csnter : SsJtsbura United Blairsville aims for perfect Only Laurel Valley stands in Bobcats' way of completing unbeaten regular season By BILL BALINT Gazette Sports Writer The Blairsville Bobcats own the Heritage Conference title, and they have already locked up a coveted District 5-6 Class A playoff berth. But the first undefeated season in conference history remains for the taking, and the Bobcats stand just one win away from adding that honor Game of the week as a third leg in an impressive triple crown. Blairsville hasn't had an unbeaten regular season since 1995. But a bit of risky business remains with Laurel Valley coming to town Friday night. Even though the Rams have lost to three teams Blairsville defeated and struggled to win over some others the Bobcats handled easily, no one is putting this one in the win column for the hosts just yet. "They are a real threat," said Blairsville coach Ah Dettorre, whose team is tied with Bishop Carroll atop the district standings. "They have skill people that can hurt you, and we have great respect for them." For one of the few times in his long coaching tenure, Laurel Valley coach Jerry Page will enter a regular-season game as the clear underdog. He is pleased at the notion. "We're definitely the underdog, and we like that role," said Page. "It kind of reminds me of 1989 when we were 9-2 and had to play a 12-0 Williamsburg team. We were the underdog then, and we pulled out an overtime win for the district championship." There will be no championship headed for New Florence in 2002. The Rams are already eliminated from playoff consideration. "We hope our seniors aren't satisfied with a winning season," said Page. "We had our chances in the three games we lost, so we can't really complain." Page just hopes his team will have a chance to win again on Friday against the conference's top team. Blairsville leads the conference in total offense (329.6 yards per game), total defense (174.0), rushing offense (231.1), rushing defense (99.1), scoring defense (9.0 points per game) and margin of victory (19.4). "I didn't expect any team in our conference to be 8-0," said Page. "I felt Blairsville, Marion Center, Homer-Center, Northern Cambria and ourselves could be very competitive, and you couldn't discount Purchase Line as the defending champion. Then once I saw how strong Ligonier Valley and Penns Manor had become, and you knew Saltsburg was better and that United had that experience up front, you just figured everyone would stumblp at some point. But Blairsville has been above all of that." Blairsville has been above it all thanks to its dominating presence up front. Like the rest of the conference coaches, Page has no FORSHA quick remedies for the challenges those linemen present. "For all the good skill people, the biggest reason for Blairsville's success is their people up front," said Page. "(Tackle) Clint Forsha is the catalyst, and the biggest improvement has been in (Craig) Bukosky. He's turned into an outstanding football player." Like Penns Manor last week, Page Ggures to put the ball in the air often against the Bobcats. Quarterback Jeff Sisitki is coming off a fine showing in last week's 27-20 victory over Northern Cambria. Sisitki has been the conference's most efficient passer to date, completing 45 of 86 (.523 percent) passes for 875 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dettorre will need to be concerned with me presence of Jon A•' •-, tson, who victimized Northern Cambria for 208 yards receiving on eight catches. Matson has 19 catches for the season, but he was limited much of the year with a fractured hand. Now healthy, Matson could be a factor. "That quarterback and receiver make plays consistently, and that's a real concern," said Dettorre. "This is their last game, and you're going to want to play well. We had better be ready." Another factor in the passing game is Ray Shetler, who has 18 receptions coming out of the backfield and as a split end. Shetler also averages about eight carries per game andhas scored 10 touchdowns. "If you are going to live and die with the pass, you better have tremendous execution," said Page, whose offense is the only one in the conference to outscore Blairsville (240-227). "We've been run-oriented, and I think we will always mix in the pass." Although Laurel Valley's defense appears to be getting healthy, it will face its toughest test on Friday. Blairsville's diverse offense has rattled off 80 points the past two weeks. Page is holding out hope that Greg Hughes (inside linebacker) will be cleared to play after having suffered an ankle injury several weeks ago. "We feel we have to get out of the blocks early with the waythey can score," said Dettorre. "We've got to keep our production like it's been lately." Quarterback Casey Austin leads the attack with 1,214 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns. Fullback Mike Gaston and tailback Jay Boone have combined for 1,062 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Wideouts Matt Strope and Steve Wilk have paired for 34 catches. Kevin Garland leads the area with 33 points, including two field goals. "Casey Austin is a tremendous offensive leader," said Page. "But Mike Gaston and Casey are really that first pair on the triple option that make that offense go. I guess you could say they are a triple-option team, but they do so much else. Just preparing for everything is tough, and then containing their skill people while using the technique needed to compete up front is something else." BUKOSKY Blairsville's Mike Gaston scored two touchdowns in the Bobcats' win over Penns Manor last week. (Gazette photo by Thomas Slusser) Laurel Valley (5-3) at Blairsville (8-0) Kickoff: Friday, 7 p.m. Matchup: Laurel Valley, which cannot clinch a playoff berth, can only act as the spoiler in keeping Blairsville from an undefeated regular season in a Heritage Conference game. Blairsville has clinched a District 5-6 Class A playoff berth and can wrap up a first-round home game with a win. Last week: Laurel Valley defeated Northern Cambria 27-20, and Blairsville defeated Penns Manor 45-32. Last meeting: Laurel Valley won 28-20 last year. Key stats: Laurel Valley ranks first in the area in scoring offense (30.0 points per game) and third in total offense (296.0 points per game). Jeff Sisitki is the area's top-rated passer, completing 45 of 86 passes for 875 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Jon Matson has 19 receptions for 433 yards, and Ray Shetler has 66 carries for 328 yards and 18 catches for 328 yards. Shetler leads the area in scoring with 82 points. The defense allows 204.9 yards and 15.6 points per game. Blairsville ranks first in the area in total offense (329.6 yards per game), rushing defense (99.1), total defense (174.0), scoring defense (9.0 points per game) and scoring margin (19.4). The Bobcats rank second in rushing offense (231.1) and scoring offense (28.4). Quarterback Casey Austin is 49-for-B6 for 788 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Austin also has 426 yards on 107 carries and an area-high 12 touchdowns. Jay Boone is the area's third- leading rusher with 654 yards on 87 carries. He has scored eight touchdowns. Matt Strope has 19 receptions for 297 yards, and Steve Wilk had 15 catches for 235 yards. Next week: Blairsville will open District 56 A playoffs.
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