By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
ALTOONA -- There might not be two more disparate programs playing in the PIAA playoffs than Saturday's Class AAA matchup between Selinsgrove and University Prep at Mansion Park at 1 p.m.
When the Seals defeated Milton last Friday night, it was Selinsgrove's 12th District 4 football title since 1998. The Wildcats -- in their second year of existence -- won their first PIAA playoff game in school history in last week's 36-22 victory over previously undefeated Clearfield.
Not only is their history different, their styles of play are completely different. Selinsgrove has been relying on its ball-control offense and a nasty defense on its way to a 9-3 record.
University Prep spreads teams out with senior quarterback Akil Smith throwing the ball all over the field. In fact, Smith has thrown for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Wildcats' last two games.
"They will have four and five wide receivers out on every play," Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess said. "They throw the ball downfield and they have a lot of speed."
The main catalyst is Smith. The senior is in his first year as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats, who own the highest scoring offense in the Pittsburgh City League. He's thrown for 2,065 yards and 21 touchdowns this season for University Prep (7-3).
That kind of offense is going to be a different look for the Seals' 3-5 defense.
"It puts a lot of pressure on the three linemen up front and the inside linebackers to put pressure on the quarterback," Hess said. "The defensive backs are going to have to be aware at all times and not let their receivers get behind them. They are trying to come up with a big play almost all of the time."
The Selinsgrove defense should certainly be up to the task. The Seals have posted back-to-back shutouts in the district playoff, beating Shamokin 41-0 and Milton 31-0 last week.
The Seals have 26 sacks on the season with senior defensive tackle Harley Stahl leading the team with four and seven different Selinsgrove defenders have at least two sacks this season.
Senior safety Tyler Krebs leads the team in tackles with 93, while sophomore linebacker Conner Leisenfeld is second with 90 stops.
Of course, sometimes the best defense against a potent offense is to keep it off the field. That will certainly be the task of the Seals' offense at Mansion Park.
Selinsgrove has ridden its rushing attack all season. The Seals have run the ball almost five times more than they've passed this year. Dynamic freshman running back Juvon Batts has rushed for 861 yards this season and nine touchdowns. Batts has rushed for 559 yards and six touchdowns in the last four Selinsgrove games.
Sophomore Zach Adams is second on the team with 563 yards and four scores, while senior fullback Mike Walter is tied with Batts for the team lead with nine rushing touchdowns, chipping in 426 yards as well.
That's not to discount the strides sophomore quarterback Isaiah Rapp has made since taking over in the sixth week of the season. Nowhere was that more apparent than late in the first half of last week's district championship game with Milton.
Selinsgrove wanted the ball back late in the second quarter and used two time outs on defense to get it. That left Rapp with one time out and a little more than two minutes to drive down the field. The sophomore led the Seals to the touchdown, completing all three passes on the drive and getting his team to the line twice to spike the ball to stop the clock.
Hess said that stretch wasn't just important for Rapp, it was important for the Seals' coaching staff as well.
"I think (that drive) was more important for the coaching staff than it was for Isaiah," Hess said. "Nothing fazes that young man so I knew he had the confidence in himself, but it really helped the coaches' confidence in him.
"He handled that (late) drive like a pro. He did a great job."
The winner of Saturday's contest advances to the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals next week, when it will face the winner of the Allentown Central Catholic-Abington Heights contest.