When Charleroi hired former Gateway head coach Donnie Militzer this summer to lead its football program, McGuffey head coach Ed Dalton immediately watched game film of the 2013 Gators that reached the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals last season.
Dalton wanted a glimpse of what the new-look Cougars, the Highlanders’ newest conference rival, would run on offense and defense.
He saw a Gateway team that ran a spread offense relying on screen passes and speed. When Charleroi opened the season last Friday against Interstate Conference rival Southmoreland, the system was identical. McGuffey will get its first crack at Charleroi’s spread attack tonight on the road with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
Last week, senior quarterback Matt Carr completed 13 of 24 passes for 248 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior Rashaad Hairston, but dropped passes and an inability to tackle Southmoreland’s running backs translated into a 25-24 loss after surrendering a nine-point second-half lead.
“We were just one play away,” Militzer said. “I think we threw for 250 yards, and we probably left 150 on the field because of drops. We need to do some stuff like that. We have to focus on getting a little more balance too and be able to run the football.”
While the Cougars (0-1, 0-1) were effective in the passing game, they were one-dimensional. Charleroi rushed for minus-37 yards against the Scotties and missed tackles crippled its run defense. Last season, Southmoreland running back Tommy Pisula ran for more than 200 yards, but the Cougars limited him to under 100 last weekend.
It was the other running backs that defeated Charleroi, which allowed 354 rushing yards and let the Scotties control time of possession in the Cougars’ debut under Militzer. On the other hand, Charleroi’s athletic secondary allowed just 69 passing yards.
When Charleroi and McGuffey (0-1, 0-1) play tonight at Cougar Stadium, it will again face one of the top running backs in Class AA in James Duchi. The senior rushed for 125 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown in last week’s loss to Mt. Pleasant. Charleroi also must account for McGuffey quarterback Nathan Whipkey, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 101 yards on 14 carries.
“They are a pretty good team. They are very big up front,” Militzer said. “The quarterback makes plays with his arm and his feet. Obviously, Duchi the running back is a very good player. If we miss tackles again this week, they are going to hurt us with the run.”
As Dalton and McGuffey’s players watched film of the Cougars over the past few days, they saw a much improved team from last season. Charleroi has speed at the skill positions, and its offense is similar to Washington & Jefferson’s spread attack with a reliance on screen passes.
“The one advantage with passing camps all summer long is they prepare you a little bit more for defending the passing game than what used to be when you only played one or two teams a year that threw the ball every down,” Dalton said. “We played South Fayette and Seton the last couple of years, and they obviously prepare you to handle the passing game. It’s a handful.”
It will be a different look for the Highlanders, who faced a Mt. Pleasant team last week that runs a Wing-T offense with a heavy-reliance on the running game. The Vikings did not attempt a pass until late in the first quarter and only completed one pass on five attempts. This week, McGuffey’s secondary will be put to the test.
“We should be able to handle everything,” Dalton said. “It’s a different game with what we’ll have to cover. They’re going to screen, so you’ll be able to handle that and (Militzer) takes chances on different scenarios. You have to be ready on every play.”
The two teams are in a rare situation for Week 2. The loser is 0-2 in a tough conference that features Washington, which faces Burgettstown and its 22-game losing streak this week, Mt. Pleasant and Southmoreland.
The loser tonight will have ground to make up with difficult games against conference foes the rest of the way.
“If you win this one, you put yourself in a pretty big spot,” Militzer said. “You can knock them to 0-2. It’s a big game for both teams. Whoever wins puts themselves in a nice spot to make the playoffs and whoever loses is going to have a lot of work to do and not a lot of margin for error.”