If Central Valley unseats defending PIAA Class AAA champion Archbishop Wood for its first-ever state title, it won’t be just because of Jordan Whitehead. The Pitt commit has already proven himself to be a consummate teammate. But Whitehead, at the risk of spewing coach-speak, is just one part of why the Warriors find themselves at Hersheypark Stadium tonight.
He is averaging 14 yards per carry, he’s scored 24 touchdowns on the ground and he is, by his own standards, just one “average” performance away from breaking the 2,000-yard rushing barrier this season. If his senior campaign had one defining moment, it would be his 55-yard touchdown against West Allegheny in the third quarter of the WPIAL Class AAA Final, which will be talked about into perpetuity.
Whitehead, to this point, has underscored everything we’ve ever heard about great players being those who are great when they absolutely have to be. But he wouldn’t be playing for PIAA gold if not for the real turning point of Central Valley’s 2014 season: a blocked field goal courtesy of Joey Shively in that district final.
Whatever Bob Palko had to say to his Indians after conceding the Parkway Conference crown to CV must have rung hollow til halftime at Heinz Field, because the Warriors, straight out of the tunnel, knocked them on their rear ends that night. Then, as only Palko’s teams would do, West A showed tremendous character by erasing what was once a 21-0 deficit in the third quarter.
It had stolen every palpable ounce of momentum it could, and that was even before D.J. Opsatnik, who went 3-for-3 on field goals as a freshman in the previous WPIAL Championships, lined up for a 43-yard attempt. That’s when Joey Shively channeled his inner Aaron Donald.
Whitehead will get all the glory for breaking five tackles–which felt more like fifteen–en route to his go-ahead score. But it wouldn’t have happened, nor would Central Valley have staved off West A’s historic comeback, without that tremendous special teams play by Shively.
“All week in practice we had it set up,” Shively recalled, “and on the extra point before that, I had just timed it wrong. This time, I cut down my angle a bit and timed it out perfectly.”
Central Valley reached the PIAA Championships with the No. 3 overall offense in the WPIAL. What has made it a championship-caliber unit is that Whitehead has the best supporting cast he’s ever had.
“Joey makes crazy plays like that. I think that was the most key play of the game,” Whitehead later concurred.
Shively, in addition to his season-saving play, has scored four times on just seven receptions all year, collecting 136 yards.
Fellow flanker B.J. Powell, the team’s leading pass-catcher and one of several great teammates engulfed by Whitehead’s shadow, has 880 yards receiving and 11 TDs, including the game-winner at Heinz Field.
Kurt Reinstadler, a less-used receiver, has elevated his game in the postseason too. He now has eight TDs and averages 20.4 yards per catch–a hair more than Powell.
Change-of-pace back Preston Johnson, a Rochester product who could be a featured back in most other offenses, has not only averaged a healthy five yards a carry, but a touchdown every seven carries as well.
Holding it all together is quarterback John George, who has amassed 22 TDs and over 1,600 yards from scrimmage. Behind him is Chris Callaghan, who, garbage time or not, has also done a phenomenal job moving, throwing and protecting the pigskin, with 13 TDs against just two picks.
With due respect to Wood’s defense, another well-peopled unit that should give CV’s running game, in particular, its most formidable challenge yet, does this sound like a team merely carried on a superstar’s back?
“We’re all looking for a way to make that next big play,” Shively said.
Win or lose, this has been the best year for football in Central Valley’s short history. By becoming the first Triple-A team from these parts to make it this far since Thomas Jefferson went all the way in 2008, Mark Lyons’ Warriors have already represented themselves, their school and their region beautifully. Plus, they’re coming off a win over Bishop McDevitt, a first-rate program that, in terms of raw talent, is on level pegging with many of the top Quad-A programs in Pennsylvania.
Assuming a possible coaching search begets no significant recruiting turmoil, Pitt will be getting exactly what it bargained for (an impact player with the agility of Tyler Boyd and the defensive prowess of Darrelle Revis) next year. This high school football season will be remembered as one in which the top skill player in western Pennsylvania, if not the complete Commonwealth, lived up to all his hype.
But let us not forget the guys, especially Shively, who fought every Friday to give him one more week to prove himself. Judging by how Whitehead has managed the hype, he sure won’t.