For the second consecutive year, a football team led by a record-setting quarterback has found its way to the PIAA AA championship game. Last year, it was Kyle Smith (now at Central Michigan) and his more than 8,500 career passing yards and 118 touchdowns gracing Hershey’s turf as the Lancaster Catholic Crusaders put the finishing touches on a 21-14 victory over Greensburg Central Catholic. Oddly enough, Smith’s passing didn’t play a very large role in the game, which was played in snowy conditions.
Fast forward by one year, and the new record setter is a William & Mary commit from the WPIAL named Christian Brumbaugh. And Brumbaugh headlines a South Fayette football team that will invade Chocolatetown with a pretty proficient offense that has scored a boatload of points the last two weeks.
South Fayette will journey to Chocolatetown to face talented Philadelphia Catholic League champion West Catholic (12-2) for the PIAA AA championship Saturday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium. Kickoff is slated for noon. South Fayette will be pitted against a West Catholic defense (including first string and reserves) that allows an average of 9.8 points per game.
Some around the state might be wondering, “Just who is South Fayette?” Sure, the Lions aren’t quite a household name or an established football power in the AA landscape like an Aliquippa or a Wilmington or a Lancaster Catholic, but the green and white might be one of the hottest AA football programs in the state at present. Consider: In the Lions’ last 26 games, they are 25-1 overall. The lone loss came to Aliquippa in the 2009 WPIAL AA quarterfinals, 47-34, after the Quips rallied with a 32-point fourth quarter for the win. Heck, prior to 2009, the Lions hadn’t won a football playoff game (WPIAL or otherwise) since it moved up to the AA classficiation.
Now, here’s a little more about that, “Who is South Fayette?” question. The Lions’ latest WPIAL football championship, won a little more than two weeks ago, is the third such title in school history. But the school’s first two WPIAL titles came very long ago, in 1936 and 1964. The Lions also lost a WPIAL title game in 1967 and reached the WPIAL A semifinals in 1999. South Fayette has a McDonald, Pa., mailing address and serves the municipality of South Fayette Township in southwestern Allegheny County. The varsity boys’ basketball team won the 2010 AA state championship over Philadelphia Strawberry Mansion. It gets done in the classroom, too, at South Fayette, as in 2009 the district’s eighth grade ranked 6th of 141 western PA middle schools for a three-year compilation of scores from PSSA tests, according to The Pittsburgh Business Times.
South Fayette’s football team has been pretty good at passing tests, too. In the last two weeks, the Lions have taken down District 9′s most prolific scoring team ever (Brockway) and a six-time state semifinalist that averaged over 220 yards rushing per game (Forest Hills). Before it played Aliquippa at Heinz Field, the Lions soundly defeated Beaver Falls in the WPIAL AA semifinals, holding a 48-7 lead at one point in the game. It wasn’t like Beaver Falls was a slouch, either. The Tigers, 43-7 overall since 2007, were making their fourth straight WPIAL semifinals appearance.
South Fayette, which plays in the WPIAL’s Century Conference, isn’t the first representative from this conference to reach the PIAA finals. Seton-LaSalle reached the 2002 state title game against Mount Carmel Area, falling, 18-13. South Park rallied in the 2005 AA finals against upstart Wilson Boro for a 28-17 victory. South Park also won the 1997 state title over South Williamsport.
Head coach Joe Rossi owns a career won-loss record of 61-33, and formerly led Riverview High School before arriving at South Fayette. Rossi has enjoyed the spoils of coaching a Lions’ squad that, over the last two football seasons, has scored 1,004 points (an average of 38.6 points per game) and defeated opponents by an average margin of over 19.5 points per game.
South Fayette has been especially dynamic this season, scoring 631 points (42.1 points per game). That’s the fifth-best single season scoring output ever in the WPIAL and 17th-best in state history. Only Aliquippa has held South Fayette below 30 points in the playoffs this season. The Lions have hung 40+ points on nine of its 15 opponents this season and topped the 50-point plateau on four such occasions.
The aforementioned Brumbaugh has made life a lot easier for Rossi. A senior, Brumbaugh has put up jaw dropping passing numbers, not just this season, but also in his career. The William & Mary commit has completed 227-of-342 passes for 3,620 yards and 50 touchdowns (tying Kyle Smith’s state record for TD passes in a season). The 3,620 yards rank as the third-highest output of individual passing yards in a season, trailing only former Mechanicsburg quarterback Zach Frazer (3,674 yards, 2004) and Brockway’s Derek Buganza (3,824 yards, 2009). The former WPIAL record for passing yards was owned by Seton-LaSalle’s Bill Stull (3,310 yards, 2004).
Here’s an interesting stat: as a sophomore, Brumbaugh threw for 1,175 yards and seven touchdowns (he missed some time with an injury that year). As a junior, he threw for 2,184 yards and 29 touchdowns. Now, with his current season stat line, it means that #7 has improved his season stat line each of the last two seasons by at least 1,000 yards and 20 TD.
For his career, Brumbaugh has thrown for 7,056 yards and 86 touchdowns. The 86 touchdown passes rank him 7th in state history and the 7,056 yards are 11th-best. Completing this prolific aerial assault are a corps of quality wide receivers in Tyler Challingsworth (71 rec., 1,044 yards, 9 TD), Jeff Davis (48 rec., 705 yards, 10 TD), Josh Patterson (37 rec., 598 yards, 13 TD), and Zach Challingsworth (36 rec., 789 yards, 10 TD). Leading the way on the ground is Davis, a senior who has 197 rushes for 1,535 yards and 14 TD. Fullback Trevor Fiorentini is seldom used, but he packs a punch, having scored 11 rushing touchdowns on a little more than 40 attempts.
Paving the way for the Lions’ offense is a line that averages exactly 243 pounds per man, led by Nick Faraci (6’2, 285), Tyler Chabali (6’0, 240), Keith Hitlan (6’1, 195), Nick Guyan (5’11, 210) and Sean Lacinski (6’0, 285). Nolan Spicer, a 265-pounder who played on both the SF offensive and defensive lines, has been injured for much of the season. Spicer made significant contributions on both sides of the ball for the Lions in 2009 and was one of the top returning sack artists on the Lions’ defense.
Tight ends Eric Myers and Tanner Courtad are both utilized as blockers and receivers, and both are also productive in their linebacker spots on defense. Junior Tyler Yee serves as the kicker.
Can South Fayette’s football team, like its basketball team, upend another traditional Philadelphia power to claim its first PIAA championship? Find out Saturday afternoon.