BY ERIC KNOPSNYDER
Phil DeMarco has spent all season trying to improve his team’s defense.
The Windber coach has tried different looks and different players, but with his Ramblers set to face rival Conemaugh Township in the District 5 Class A championship game at Berlin tonight, he’s done tinkering.
“I’m not even going to mention defense,” DeMarco said Wednesday night. “We’ve got to find a way to win the game.”
Mostly, the Ramblers (8-2) have done that with their high-powered single-wing offense. Last week they rallied to beat Berlin 47-44 as Brandon Ulasky, Jarid Cover and Kyle Smith each ran for 100 yards. Cover scored the final touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to cap the comeback.
“I told them last week after the game ‘You’re unbelieveable,’ ” DeMarco recalled. “They said ‘Is that a good thing or a bad thing?’ I said, ‘That’s a good thing.’ ”
Conemaugh Township (9-1) is the top seed in District 5 and beat Windber 49-41 in Week 2. In that game the Ramblers trailed 35-14 at the half before coming within a foot of a touchdown that would have given them a chance to tie the game.
Indians coach Sam Zambanini thinks his defense has improved since then, giving up more than one touchdown only once in the past six games.
“We’ve evolved into more of a defensive team than we were early,” Zambanini said. “Each week we’ve gotten better defensively.”
The Indians will face a big test from a Windber team that has averaged 40.8 points per game. The Ramblers do it with a diverse offense. Cover has a team-high 1,436 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground while Brandon Ulasky has run for
687 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught
35 passes for another 557 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Erick Strapple has thrown for 901 yards and 10 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
“That’s the essence of the single wing,” DeMarco said. “We spread the wealth in this offense.”
Even so, Zambanini isn’t convinced that Windber and Conemaugh Township will light up the scoreboard like they did early in the season.
“I think some people might be surprised,” he said. “A lot of people might see it as a shootout, high-scoring affair, track meet – whatever you want to call it – but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it turns out to be a defensive game.”
Conemaugh Township has an explosive offense of its own, as the Indians have averaged 37.2 points per game for the season. Seth Zaman leads The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area with 1,798 rushing yards, and the senior has 24 touchdowns on the ground, but he’s not the Indians’ only threat.
“They’re not a one-man team,” DeMarco said. “They can throw the football – I think they proved that in the first game.”
Quarterback George Bivens has thrown for 1,016 yards and 10 touchdowns this season against just three interceptions. His top target is Kyle Zambanini, who has 461 yards, but Zaman (232 yards) and Keith Myers (205) are also threats in the passing game.
Fullback Brett Byers has rushed for 405 yards and eight touchdowns and also is the lead blocker for Zaman. Center Mike Lysic leads an offensive line that has impressed DeMarco.
“You can’t underestimate their guys up front,” DeMarco said.
Conemaugh Township’s players probably won’t underestimate Windber, either. Last year the Indians beat the Ramblers in the regular season before falling to them in the district championship game.
Coach Zambanini hasn’t let them forget it.
“That’s got to be one of the motivating factors for our guys, especially since we have a lot of guys that were in that game last year,” he said. “Hopefully they have the memory of that game. That could be part of their motivation.”
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