Berwick’s worst loss in its last 29 games came against the team the Dawgs play tonight in the PIAA Class 3A football quarterfinals.
But District 4 champion Selinsgrove shouldn’t expect a repeat performance from the D2 champion Dawgs, who fell to the Seals 28-3 back on Sept. 26.
“Certainly, we have a lot to prove here,” Berwick coach Gary Campbell said. “We have a lot to prove about how far our football team has come since then. We feel we’ve improved greatly and are ready to prove that on Friday night. We’re excited for this game.”
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
Prior to that loss to Selinsgrove (12-1), Berwick’s worst loss in three years under Campbell came on Sept. 29, 2006. Once again, the Seals were the opponent in that 35-6 setback.
That 2006 Berwick team matured into a District 2 finalist the next season. And Campbell believes this year’s team has grown as well since losing to Selinsgrove.
“In the middle of the season, we were still trying to find an identity to our team,” Campbell said. “We found it, obviously, on defense and special teams.”
Berwick (11-2) was amidst working in five new starters on defense when it lost to Selinsgrove. Also, standout defensive end Ryan Sitler was learning the nuances of playing middle linebacker.
The way the postseason has gone, those changes have taken hold. Berwick hasn’t allowed a touchdown in three playoff games and held D11 champion Wilson Area to a pair of field goals in last Friday’s 13-6 victory. Wilson Area came into the game averaging 40.9 points per game.
Much of the defense’s credit has gone to the linebackers and secondary, and rightfully so. Defensive back Mike Dalberto had two interceptions vs. Wilson Area, returning one 85 yards for a score. And linebacker Ryan Cordingly was as brutal as ever blitzing the quarterback.
Campbell, though, cited the development of the defensive line as a key. Defensive tackles Brett Bodwalk and Pete Ervin tie up blockers to allow the linebackers to run free. Defensive ends Casey Davenport, Zach Powell and Roy Dennis have also been stout against both the pass and run. Powell is the only senior among the five.
Last Friday’s challenge was stopping Wilson Area’s passing attack. Tonight the Dawgs will face a Selinsgrove offense that is run-first but also very capable of throwing the ball.
Selinsgrove tailback Kyle Reinard, who had 107 rushing yards in the Sept. 26 meeting, was closing in on 1,000 for the season entering last Friday’s 35-10 victory over D6 champion Hollidaysburg. Quarterback Cory Briggs set the school record for TD passes in a season with 29 thus far, as well as setting the single-season passing yardage mark. Receiver Ryan Keiser has 19 touchdown catches and will be the main concern.
All the defensive pressure may not matter if Berwick’s offense can’t perform better this time against Selinsgrove.
“The big thing was we did nothing offensively against their defense,” Campbell said. “We had one opening drive. It was kind of a mirror of Abington Heights where we went down 80 yards or so and kicked a field goal. After that, nothing.”
The Dawgs won the D2 title with a 3-0 victory over Abington Heights, the lowest scoring championship game in District 2 history. They had a lone touchdown in a 12-0 semifinal win against Coughlin and one offensive score against Wilson Area.
Moreover, Selinsgrove held Berwick to a season-low 71 yard rushing (1.9 ypc) and forced the Dawgs to pass a season-high 27 times.
Berwick needs to reverse those statistics as well as the turnover battle. The Dawgs lost the ball three times against Selinsgrove while failing to create an opponent turnover for the only time all season.
“Unfortunately, for us it was the same old story. We had three turnovers and that hurt and we gave them field position,” Campbell said.
“It was 12-3 in the fourth quarter and we had to take some chances to get back in the game, and they opened it right up. They hit another one, then bang-zoom hit another one and it was 28-3. So the 28-3 might be a little misleading.”
vs. Selinsgrove (12-1)
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium
What’s at stake: The winner plays in the semifinals next weekend against the winner of the game between District 1 champion Bayard Rustin (12-1) and District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (10-2). If Berwick wins, the game will most likely be at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
Last met: Selinsgrove won 28-3 on Sept. 26.
Huddle Up: Berwick hasn’t allowed a touchdown in three postseason games, shutting out Coughlin 12-0 and Abington Heights 3-0 in the District 2 playoffs. The Dawgs then limited Wilson Area, which was averaging 40.9 points, to a pair of field goals in a 13-6 first-round victory in the state tournament.
•Berwick last played in the 3A quarterfinals in 2004, defeating D1 champion Upper Merion 47-16 at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. The Dawgs then lost 16-13 to D3 champion Manheim Central in the semifinals at Kemp Memorial Stadium in Shamokin.
•Selinsgrove is making its fifth consecutive appearance in the state quarterfinals. The Seals were grouped with teams from the western part of the state the last four years and lost all four quarterfinal games to the District 7 champion, including three opponents that went on to win the state championship.
•Selinsgrove won the inaugural Division 1 title in the Pennsylvania Heartland Athletic Conference, which was formed for the 2008-09 school year by 25 schools in the central part of the state. Mount Carmel won the Division 2 title and Bloomsburg the Division 3 championship.
•The teams have played the past five years during the regular season, with Berwick winning three times. They were rivals in the Susquehanna Valley Conference until Berwick moved to the Wyoming Valley Conference in 1988.