South Fayette not afraid to lay it on the line
The game of football is often won in the trenches and a size advantage on the offensive line is usually an integral part of a team’s success.
South Fayette, led by an offense that has averaged a staggering 46.7 points per game, does not possess that characteristic. The team’s five offensive linemen average a mere 211 pounds, making the Lions’ group the smallest in the WPIAL. South Fayette’s biggest lineman, senior left tackle Ben Berkovitz, stands 6-2 and weighs just 225 pounds.
Despite having to regularly face defensive fronts that outweigh them, including Aliquippa’s massive linemen in the WPIAL title game, South Fayette’s starting five has only allowed junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh to be sacked four times this season.
Berkovitz, left guard Zach Radinick, center Spencer Girman, right guard Zach Walker and right tackle Anthony Davidson have paved the way this season to lift South Fayette to the top of the Class AA state rankings. The group will be pivotal for the undefeated Lions (14-0) when they face Hickory (13-1) today at 1 p.m. in the PIAA semifinals.
“I think the unsung heroes of that team is the offensive line,” Hickory head coach Bill Brest said. “When you look at all of the statistics, these guys have given up just four sacks the entire season. They all seem to be mirror images of each other. They are strong, athletic kids (who) do the right things.”
South Fayette’s opponent last week, Karns City, echoed that sentiment. The Gremlins are familiar with WPIAL opponents after facing Aliquippa and Jeannette in previous seasons during the PIAA quarterfinals. Jeannette was led in 2007 by future Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor and current Ohio State tailback Jordan Hall. The Jayhawks’ offense that season broke numerous state and WPIAL records on their way to the PIAA Class AA championship.
The Gremlins lost to Jeannette, 35-6, in the 2007 quarterfinals.
“Looking at their line, I thought their line played better than Jeannette’s line played a few years ago when we played them,” Karns City head coach Ed Conto said following South Fayette’ 57-21 victory last week. “That line, across the board, didn’t give us anything. We couldn’t get pressure; we just couldn’t get anything in there. I was really, really impressed with those guys.”
The key to South Fayette’s offensive line overcoming its smaller stature is chemistry. Girman, Walker and Berkovitz are lifelong friends, while Davidson and Radinick began to gel with the group early in their high school careers. The group watches film together every week and has relied on their trusting relationship during South Fayette’s undefeated season.
“This entire year, we have been the smallest line in the WPIAL,” Girman said. “We just do our job and go out there. That’s why we won the game and took care of business (against Aliquippa). We know Brett is a great quarterback and that it’s our job to give him time to do what he does best. We work so well together that we trust what each one is going to do.”
The line has paved the way for Brumbaugh to throw for 3,435 yards and 38 touchdowns, while the Lions senior running back Grant Fetchet has rushed for 1,176 yards and 19 touchdowns. JJ Walker, who sees the bulk of the goal-line carries for South Fayette, has added 18 rushing touchdowns.
Despite the linemen’s height and weight listed on South Fayette’s roster, Brest is anxious to see how the Lions’ front-five looks in person when the two teams face off with a trip to the state championship game on the line.
“I just wonder how big these South Fayette kids are,” Brest said. “On film, they look a little bit bigger than they are listed. They have a little more height up front than we do. We see an outstanding football team that we have a great deal of respect for. You can understand why they are ranked the No. 1 team in the state.”