Meadville defense

Meadville’s Amarri Lewis (21) corrals a Juniata ball carrier during last week’s game.

Four complete quarters.

The Meadville players probably heard those above three words from head coach Ray Collins quite often this week in preparation for tonight’s PIAA Class 4A Elite Eight playoff football showdown against Allentown Central Catholic at Bald Eagle Area High School at 7 p.m.

The Bulldogs (12-1) are 3-0 in the 2022 playoffs but they have started slowly in every game and Collins knows that can’t happen against the talented Allentown (8-5) squad who knocked off previously undefeated and the state’s third-ranked Jersey Shore 38-31 last week.

“Honestly, I think the most important thing in this game for us to be in a position to win is to play a complete game — four quarters of football,” he said. “We can’t have a first half where we commit turnovers and penalties and let our opponent push us around, but four complete quarters where we are playing hard, playing our style of physical football and getting after Allentown Central Catholic.”

Collins was mainly referring to last week’s 27-14 win over Juniata where the Bulldogs committed four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) in the first half and trailed 14-6 at halftime.

A stern tongue lashing by Collins to his players prior to leaving the locker room at halftime was just what the doctor ordered as the ’Dogs flipped the switch and played their style of intense football in the second half holding the Indians scoreless.

“I’m very proud of our team and the competitiveness that they have shown throughout this season,” said Collins. “I knew when we challenged them at halftime that they would respond. These guys want to compete and they want to win. They get disappointed in themselves when they are not playing well. They came out after halftime and really locked it in and started playing our brand of football.”

The slow starts though, coach?

“It’s tough to point at any one reason for why we come out sluggish. We have done it now for three straight playoff games so I’m not sure that there is any single factor that we can attribute it to. We have just been slow out of the gate but as they say it’s not how you start but how you finish and we have been doing a great job of finishing the games. I just wish we were a lot more focused at the start of these games.”

By all accounts a slow start by the ’Dogs against Allentown Central Catholic could be dangerous.

“They are a good football team,” said Collins. “They knocked off Jersey Shore last week and Jersey Shore came into that game undefeated and ranked third in the state. That tells you all you need to know about the caliber of opponent Allentown Central Catholic is going to be.

“They have a big line on both sides of the ball. I would compare them to the McDowell line. The quarterback is an unbelievably accurate thrower and his receivers are outstanding. They have a couple of running backs that run like bulldozers. They are thick and strong and run downhill. Overall, they are a very good team and we have to be ready to start out the game with a lot of emotion and intensity and put together four quarters of football. If we only play two quarters of football our season is going to come to an ugly end.”

As for the Vikings’ offensive scheme, Collins said “They run a spread style attack. They are very well balanced, 60 percent pass and 40 percent run. They go with a no-huddle system and will try to go up tempo.”

Late in the game against Juniata Meadville starting quarterback Gavin Longstreth suffered a back injury and missed the remainder of the game. He is a go against Allentown.

“Gavin is back and healthy,” said Collins. “He practiced all week and he was feeling fine. He’s ready to go for game night.”

Jim’s pick: Meadville 21, Allentown Central Catholic 14.

Sports Editor Alex Topor’s pick: Meadville 28, Allentown Central Catholic 24.

Sports writer Alex McGinley’s pick: Meadville 28, Allentown Central Catholic 21.

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