Forest Hills will be in the somewhat unfamiliar role of an underdog entering tonight’s PIAA Class AA playoff game at Mansion Park.

The District 5-6 champion Rangers will face WPIAL District 7 winner South Park.

The 13-0 Eagles just happen to be the top-ranked Class AA team in the state. Coach Tom Loughran’s squad has outscored opponents 481-149 and held eight teams to single-digit scoring, including two shutouts.

“You have to prepare for a whole lot of things,” said veteran coach Don Bailey, whose Rangers are 11-1. “They have a tremendous running game. They have a very big, strong tailback in Tyler Scruggs. He’s 6-2, 225 or 230 pounds and he’s a power runner. They have a big, strong offensive line and two nice-sized tight ends. They have a very good outside receiver, No. 2, Brandon Detwiler. He can run. To top that off, they have a Division I quarterback in Conner Dixon.

“They also have a very well-organized defense with big, strong, outstanding linebackers and good defensive backs. They have a tremendous football team.”

Forest Hills is no pushover, either.

The Rangers have won nine straight and outscored opponents 368-156 overall.

“They have a good team,” Loughran said of Forest Hills. “We need to be prepared to play. At this point, it’s mostly a mental thing. The physical end of it has kind of all been taken care of. Everybody knows they have athletes. Everybody knows they’re tough. It’s kind of getting through the grind.”

South Park defeated Greensburg Central Catholic 24-20 on Saturday at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. Michigan State-bound quarterback Dixon completed 11 of 18 passes for a career-high 221 yards and a touchdown in the WPIAL title game.

“He’s got a gun for an arm,” Bailey said. “He’s got a great touch. He puts it on the money. We’re going to have to be able to pressure him.”

The 6-foot-4, 183-pound senior completed 68 of 123 passes for 1,515 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.

“He’s a gifted athlete,” Loughran said. “He’s 6-4. He runs a 4.4 40. He has a 36-inch vertical jump. He has a great throwing arm. He’s a great leader, a good character kid.”

Dixon’s top target is wide receiver Detwiler, who has 32 catches for 996 yards and 16 TDs. Tight end Adam Gill has 14 receptions for 266 yards and a pair of scores.

On the ground, running back Scruggs has 1,447 rushing yards and 26 TDs on 211 carries. Stanley Dotson has 719 yards on 89 carries.

“We pride ourselves on being balanced,” Loughran said. “We have a couple good tailbacks – a bigger kid, Scruggs; a smaller kid, Dotson. We have a smaller, quicker receiver in Detwiler. We have a big tight end. We try to spread it out rather than just going to the run.”

Forest Hills also utilizes a balanced attack.

Quarterback Travis Rearick has an area-best 2,069 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Rangers receivers Adam Trout (52 catches, 946 yards) and Jake Oswalt (36-766) are Nos. 1 and 2 in area receiving yardage.

Forest Hills running back Will Lazration has gained 953 yards on 179 carries to rank fifth in the area.

“The last couple of games we’ve been able to throw the ball extremely well,” Bailey said. “But we’ve had good balance with the run. Travis Rearick is over 2,000 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Will Lazration is close to 1,000 rushing and Adam Trout is close to 1,000 receiving.

“Throw in Jake Oswalt and he’s probably close to 800 yards receiving.”

Oswalt caught seven passes for 208 yards and a pair of TDs last week in the 31-28 district championship win over Bishop McCort. Rearick passed for 262 yards in the title game at Mansion Park.

Loughran is concerned with Forest Hills’ offensive and defensive lines.

“They have tremendous size up and down,” the coach said. “When I say size, I not only mean physically big kids from a weight standpoint, but also a lot of tall kids. They’ve got a 6-6 end, a 6-5 receiver. I don’t know if we’ve seen any receivers as tall as Oswalt. They’ve got some great size on the line. We have size, but they seem a little bigger.”

Each team has state playoff experience. South Park won the PIAA Class AA championship in 1997 at Mansion Park. Forest Hills played in the 1994 state championship game at Altoona, losing in double OT to Mount Carmel.

“We’ve been there before, but so have they,” said Bailey, whose teams are 1-3 against the WPIAL.

Mike Mastovich can be reached at 532-5083 or

Recommended for you