Hickory High School’s football program is no stranger to the state playoffs.
The Hornets (13-1) have made the PIAA playoffs for three-straight years under head coach Bill Brest, but Hickory finally found success playing in the quarterfinals this season. Hickory recorded its first state playoff win in when the Hornets defeated Central Martinsburg last Saturday, 37-27, at Dubois Area High School.
Hickory, the District 10 champion, will try to build off the strong offensive performance Saturday at Slippery Rock University against South Fayette (14-0), but the task will not be an easy one. The Lions have allowed less than eight points per game during their undefeated season.
While South Fayette was able to defeat Karns City’s wing-T option attack last week at Clarion University, Hickory’s offense is a different challenge. The Hornets run a no-huddle, spread attack which is similar to the one South Fayette runs, but the quarterback leading Hickory is different style of player than Lions junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh.
Hornets senior Matt Voytik, the cousin of Pitt freshman quarterback Chad Voytik, is a dual-threat for Hickory – throwing for 25 touchdowns on 1,914 passing yards – but it’s the signal caller’s rushing totals that make him an X-factor in Brest’s offense. Voytik, a standout performer on Hickory’s track team and an all-district selection as a sprinter, has rushed for almost 700 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Matt is a student of the game,” Brest said. “Matt, like all great or decent high school quarterbacks, is serious about the game. He studies, he prepares well, he has good footwork and he has some nice speed. He’s the total package.”
Hickory’s ground game has scored 44 touchdowns while rushing for 3,181 yards. The makeup of the Hornets’ team is much different than last year’s, which lost to Richland, 38-12, in the PIAA quarterfinals. While the centerpiece of Hickory’s offense last season was senior running back Deshawn Coleman, the Hornets have used a stable of offensive threats this season.
“The one thing that has really changed over the years is that we have more and more guys who can touch the football,” Brest said. “We have had 12 different guys score this year. We are able to spread the ball around a lot more. We have a lot of supporting cast for our quarterback.”
For South Fayette head coach Joe Rossi’s defense, the key will be to prevent Voytik from leaving the pocket and finding open space to run the football. The no-huddle attack also features an outstanding young talent at wide receiver. Sophomore Andrew Pryts has caught 35 passes for 787 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They are a spread offense that runs the quarterback and the tailback a lot,” Rossi said. “They are in a very similar mold to the style of kids that we have with great athleticism and discipline. They utilize the running back’s legs a bit more than we do. Stopping the quarterback and not letting him get his feet going will be important. We just need to make sure we are able to control him.”
South Fayette’s defense faced a Karns City team last week that ran for more than 50 touchdowns this season. The Lions allowed only 123 yards on 38 carries while forcing the Gremlins into six turnovers.
“We’re just going to have to look for mismatches, look for the open receiver and not make turnovers,” Voytik said. “We’ll have to take care of the ball and run what we’ve been doing. We’ll just have to chip away and wait for guys to get open. “
Hickory’s defense has 29 sacks and 16 interceptions, and is led by senior middle linebacker Dalton Linton, who has a team-high 124 tackles including 16 tackles for losses. Hickory allows 10 points per game.
South Fayette is the latest WPIAL champion to grab the headlines on its way to becoming to state’s top-ranked team. With the WPIAL being the largest in the state, the league often grabs the most attention while smaller districts such as the one Hickory plays in are overlooked. Despite the honors, accolades and hype South Fayette has received, Voytik believes Hickory is ready.
“Typically, what you hear from the community or what you hear from outside is that you don’t beat the WPIAL champs,” Voytik said. “That’s just not what happens. That’s not the case. We have a great group of guys and I feel so confident in every one of them. It’s going to be a game.”