Central football set to take on Hickory

In beating top-seeded Richland, the Central Scarlet Dragons might have gotten more than their first District 6 Class AA football title in five years.

The Dragons might also have gotten a little tune-up for PIAA quarterfinal round opponent Hickory.

“They are somewhat like Richland,” Central coach Dave Baker said when asked who the Dragons played this year that most closely compares to the District 10 champions. “They beat teams by pretty high scores. They are good at big plays. They do a variety of things. There’s not one thing they do best. They are a solid team.”

The Dragons will attempt to take the next step toward a potential state championship on Saturday afternoon at E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.

Central is 11-2. Hickory only has lost once in 12 starts this year.

Baker sees Hickory as a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways.

“They’re a spread offense team with a 4-3 defense. The quarterback [Matt Voytik] is a good runner. They have one receiver [Andrew Pryts] that seems to be pretty fast, and they like to throw deep to him. They have one fairly good tailback [Lou Derloni], Baker said. “Their defense is fast. They have a very good middle linebacker [Daulton Linton]. They are quick to ball. Not really big, but they are a fast defense.”

Hickory has outscored the opposition 566-113 this season.

The Hornets are no stranger to the PIAA playoffs or to District 6 competition. Hickory has been in this position each of the last two years, too, but the Hornets were stopped by Tyrone at Mansion Park in 2011 and Richland at Slippery Rock University last season.

One element of those Hornet squads is very different: They were led by running back DeShawn Coleman. Coleman accounted for 4,141 yards rushing and 70 touchdowns and twice made all-state before committing to West Virginia. He eventually landed at Gannon, where he sat out this year after not being cleared by the NCAA academically.

Without Coleman, Hickory was far from a sure thing to even be contending for a district championship coming into the season, but the Hornets didn’t miss a beat.

“We firmly believe it takes more than one player to be a ball team,” Hickory coach Bill Brest said. “Ironically, after we lost to Richland last year, two of my senior captains this year, Matt Voytik and Daulton Linton, met with me and said, ‘Coach, we’re better than that. Don’t worry, we will lead this team. We’ll be back where we need to be.’

“The players believed it. The coaches believed it. So here we are.”

Scoring-wise, these Hornets are right in step with the previous two editions. However, Hickory gave up more than 170 points each of the last two years – including 78 in its encounters with Tyrone and Richland.

“We had to adjust some things defensively. We were exploited by Richland last year in a mighty way,” Brest said. “The other thing is I don’t think we were strong enough. I traveled out to Kansas to meet with one of our connections who used to be with the Carolina Panthers, and we talked about the weight program. We weren’t as strong as Richland last year.”

Whether the Hornets have improved as much as they needed to will be put to the test on Saturday. Led by players like Ty Miller and Austin Conrath up front, the Scarlet Dragons seem to have plenty of strength. The Dragons also have their two-pronged big-play attack on offense with quarterback Austin Cunningham and running back Bradi Moore.

Cunningham has more than 1,000 yards both passing and rushing and has run for at least 100 yards in all three of Central’s playoff games. Moore has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving while scoring 32 touchdowns.

Brest respects both of the Dragons’ key playmakers, but he thinks this game will be won by the players who don’t usually attract the attention or score the touchdowns.

“I just think it’s going to come down to the offensive and defensive line,” Brest said. “I think it’s going to be a great battle. I think Central has a great offensive line, nice size, nice strength, they move well, good footwork, quick hands, strong kids. Defensively, they do a nice job as well. They just come after you, and they don’t stop.

“They remind us a little bit of us.”

Although the Dragons are new to this role, Baker said his early impressions were that his players were on a good, even-keel about playing in the state quarterfinals. He thought the team was ready to go, noting that his starters seldom got to play a full game because few of them played deep into Central’s seven mercy-rule wins and a number of them don’t start both ways, so they were fresh and ready to play a tough contest with so much at stake.

“They seem to be taking this fairly seriously. These are pretty mature kids for the most part, and they are motivated to keep going,” Baker said. “They’re looking forward to it, and I think they see an opportunity that this is a game that you would think that you would have a chance to win.”