Panthers’ defense will be key against Farrell

In Jarrett Samuels’ 10 years as the Farrell High School Steelers’ head football coach, the program has put together quite a resume.

The Steelers have won six District 10 titles, reached the Final Four among Class 1A teams in the state five times and lost to Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in the state championship game two seasons ago.

But Northern Bedford coach Garry Black, whose District 5 champion Black Panthers open the PIAA Class 1A state playoffs on Friday night with a 7 p.m. game against Farrell at Slippery Rock High School, had some words of wisdom for his team this week.

“Farrell has a great football program and some terrific players, but I told my kids in practice this week, they’re the Farrell Steelers, not the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Black said. “Our kids have heard and been told that we’ll have a really hard time playing with these kids. But their players are 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids just like our players are. They’re a Class 1A program, just like we are. I believe that if we can continue to do what we’ve been doing, we’ll be able to compete with them.”

Especially, Black maintains, if Northern Bedford — which carries a 10-2 season record into Friday’s game — continues its proficiency on the defensive side of the ball.

Since the start of October, Northern Bedford’s defense has allowed a total of just 53 points in its last six games — an average of less than nine points per game.

In last week’s District 5 Class 1A championship game at Somerset High School, Northern Bedford shut down a powerful Windber offense as the Black Panthers prevailed, 17-14, taking home their first district championship since 1995.

“Defense is the ultimate equalizer,” Black said. “When you play good defense, it allows you to compete with anybody. (Farrell) has speed, so we’ve got to limit their explosive plays. They’ve been blowing teams out, and we’ve been playing games that are close and tight.

“I think that’s what we’ve got to do (Friday) — keep it close before halftime, and give ourselves a chance to win in the second half,” Black said.

Farrell (9-2) won the District 10 championship game last week, 52-27 over Cambridge Springs at Greenville, as junior running back Christian Lewis surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season by running for 225 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns. Lewis also caught two passes out of the backfield for 57 yards.

Samuels said that winning the turnover ratio has been, and will continue to be, a key factor for his team.

“One of the keys will be to take care of the football, and not beat ourselves,” Samuels said. “That’s something that we’ve been stressing all season long. Whenever we’ve been able to limit our miscues and play a clean game, we’re a hard team to beat. In the games that we’ve lost, we haven’t played a clean game, and we’ve turned the ball over.”

Samuels has watched the Northern Bedford team on film, and has tons of respect for the Black Panthers’ physical style of play.

“We’re facing a district champion,” Samuels said. “They’re definitely battle-tested, and they proved that in their last game (the District 5 championship game), winning a close game at the end. Offensively, they’re a straight-forward, physical team, with two or three good skill guys who can really run the ball downhill, and an offensive line that blocks really well.

“Defensively, they play a good scheme, and they’re very physical with their linebackers,” Samuels said of the Black Panthers. “We know that Northern Bedford is going to come out and give us all they’ve got. From looking at them on film, they look like a hungry and determined team. If we don’t match their intensity, we could be going home.”

Black had high words of praise for several of his players — notably senior defensive lineman Tristin Guyer, junior linebacker Alex Fouse, junior offensive lineman Kyle Guyer, senior defensive end Trevor Allison, sophomore fullback/tight end-linebacker Colby Imler, and senior quarterback Andrew Foor.

“Alex Fouse was in on play after play (against Windber), Kyle Guyer has been an absolute stud on the offensive line, Tristin Guyer continues to make plays and wreak havoc in the opposing backfield, Colby Imler plays well on both sides of the ball, Trevor Allison is a really good defensive end who is a technician at that position, and Andrew Foor has had a really great year at quarterback,” Black said.