---- — By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
BETHLEHEM -- The last time Selinsgrove faced Allentown Central Catholic, as the Seals were on their way to winning the 2009 Class AAA state title, they had to stop one of the state's top quarterbacks, then freshman Brendan Nosovitch.
When the two teams square off for the first time since that game, at 7 p.m. Friday at Fred Banko Stadium at Liberty High School, in the PIAA quarterfinals, the Seals will see another great player -- but this time, he is a running back.
Selinsgrove's stout defense (five shutouts, three in the playoffs) will be charged with slowing down senior Colin McDermott. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound back has rushed for 2,742 yards and a whopping 35 touchdowns this season.
Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess, noting that the previous Vikings squads ran the spread and threw the ball around, said, "They still have a basic spread offense, but what I see is that the quarterback (senior Anthony Beck) is not featured as much as he had been. It's more their tailback, who is tremendous."
Hess said of McDermott, "The kid is an unbelievable talent. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He is one of those guys who sees the field well and he can cut back and it comes so naturally for him. He is very elusive; he has great acceleration."
Asked to compare him with any back the Seals (10-3) have faced this year, Hess mentioned Trinity's Adam Geiger, who they played in Week 2.
"Not only is (McDermott) shifty and elusive, but oh, my goodness, he's got such balance; he can put a hand down on the turf and re-accelerate. You've got to make sure you tackle the kid," Hess said.
Vikings coach John Cupples said McDermott "has great vision and great footwork."
He added, "If something's not wide open, he always tries to find a hole for himself and make some yards."
Depending on what the Vikings (8-5) give them defensively, the Seals may either unleash their own quick, elusive back (freshman Juvon Batts), or, as they did last week in a win over University Prep of Pittsburgh, run bruising fullbacks (senior) Mike Walter and (sophomore) Conner Leisenfeld inside.
Against Prep, Hess said, "We felt we could run between the tackles. We put two fullbacks in there and ran right at them. We felt they had the speed to catch Juvon on the outside."
Hess sees a much-improved Vikings defense from one that allowed 97 points in a three-game skid early in the season.
"They are playing good defense. They run the same thing we saw last week, a 4-3, but they shift it around a little more than University Prep. Their linebackers are good, they really play downhill, and are extremely tough. They have a big man inside, Oscar Ghasab (6-3, 275). He is one tough son of a gun," Hess said.
Cupples said the difference in the defense from earlier to now is that they focused a lot more on just the tackling. "Earlier in the season, we were in position (but) we just weren't making those plays that we needed to make. We weren't really fundamental as far as tackling went.
"I think our defense just got a little bit more aggressive and we've been tackling a little bit better since mid-season," he said.
Hess is impressed with the Vikings, especially in light of their heavy graduation losses, which included Nosovitch, who is now at South Carolina.
"Coach Cupples did a great job. He was left with very little there, and you can just see they have made progress every week, every time they have gone out on the field. They are 8-5 now, but their five losses came to some great football teams (all were Class AAAA opponents, including three in a row to Freedom, Emmaus and Easton)."
Hess said that the key will be stopping McDermott, but the Vikings are also capable of throwing the ball with Beck (1,022 yards, 9 TDs).
"Especially this week, it comes down to the line of scrimmage. They have a great runner, so we have to control the line of scrimmage. They have a nice offensive line and three nice inside linebackers.
"Our strength is our running game, so we have to be able to control the line of scrimmage. That's what it's going to come down to in my mind."
The Seals have improved offensively in the second half of the season, even after inserting a new starting quarterback, sophomore Isaiah Rapp. Hess said, "We've come on by leaps and bounds, and really, it's been the offensive line that has made the difference. The last three weeks, every time you watch film you see our offensive front blocking, getting better and that really is what it's been about.
"Our pass protection has been very good, but, when we are running the ball successfully, it's hard to come away from that and start throwing it around," he said.
Hess said the Vikings' schedule helps prepare them for this type of game, but so does the Seals' slate. "I'm glad we play teams like Berwick, Southern Columbia, Mount Carmel and Trinity. Without that, where would we be? We need that stuff to make some noise in the playoffs, and I am thankful that we have teams like that we can play in the regular season."
Cupples, who replaced former Susquehanna University linebacker Harold Fairclough at the helm of ACC this year, is impressed with the Seals.
"They are definitely a tough, physical team. It seems like they like to run the ball just as much as we do. They're tough and they're big up front. It's going to be a battle stopping the run."
Cupples added that the Seals have a great running back in Batts and outstanding power backs in Walter and (Zach Adams), as well as a good nose guard in (Harley Stahl). "They've got a lot of kids that can play ball."
The winner will move to the semifinals against the winner of Friday's game between Interboro and Archbishop Wood.