Berwick’s defense needs to do something few opponents of Valley View have been able to accomplish.
Take the Cougars out of their comfort zone.
Do that and it will go a long way to a possible District 2 Class 4A championship when Valley View (9-3) plays at Berwick (10-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
Valley View lives by the ground game. They’ve averaged 40 rushes per game while throwing an average of seven passes. So if Berwick could get the Cougars’ offense into second-and-longs and third-and-longs, quarterback Chandler Fuller’s arm — rather than he and running back Seth Vernon’s legs — may be needed more than expected.
“They are a tremendously strong running team,” Berwick coach Frank Sheptock said. “So to be able to neutralize or be able to win your share of first downs is critical because they’re a team with very good athletes back there with a very diverse running game. So to put them a little behind schedule or put them behind the sticks a little bit would be extremely critical.”
Coughlin couldn’t do that in a 40-7 semifinal loss to Valley View. The Cougars’ first three scoring drives started with runs of 18, 21 and 21 yards by Vernon. Vernon is tall for a running back at 6-foot-3 and runs a bit upright, but has shown the ability to slink through traffic without losing speed. Mason Kordish is a nice compliment with 10 TDs runs. He is the more traditional low-to-the-ground runner. Chandler is second on the team in rushing.
As for Berwick’s ground attack, it took a hit in the 48-14 semifinal victory over North Pocono. Leading rusher Evan Klinger injured his ankle late in the second quarter returning a punt and spent the rest of the game on crutches. Sheptock said Klinger was making progress toward playing Friday, but didn’t sound very optimistic it would happen.
Owen Shoemaker took over the role as the main ball carrier vs. North Pocono and finished with 145 yards and four touchdowns on 16 carries. Shoemaker has six rushing TDs in the postseason, equalling his number during the regular season.
Berwick’s offense was problematic early in the season, but received a boost in Week 7 when quarterback Jared Marshman returned from a broken ankle suffered during the summer. He has thrown for 822 yards and 13 touchdowns in six games.
“There’s the on-the-field thing,” Sheptock said, “but there’s also the confidence and leadership and interaction. I also think we had a good wake-up call out at Williamsport. I mean, we had a good season, but maybe be got a little bit complacent going into the Williamsport game and expecting different things. Really, as a team we dialed back in as the playoffs were starting.”
Berwick lost its regular-season finale 32-27 against Williamsport, but roared back with a 42-0 win over Wyoming Area in the district quarterfinals.
While Berwick will be making its sixth consecutive appearance in a district championship game, Valley View is playing for a title for the first time since 2011. The team bottomed out at 2-8 in 2013 and has made a steady climb back to respectability under coach George Howanitz, who was Valley View’s quarterback when it won the PIAA Class 2A state title in 1992.
“We had some good seniors coming back and some younger kids we thought could make some plays for us,” Howanitz said. “They really came together as a group. It’s a total team effort. It’s a great bunch of kids.”