Bellefonte’s Dylan Deitrich and Selinsgrove’s Logan Leiby took different paths to lead their teams into the state playoffs this season.
Deitrich played quarterback for the first time in his career in the team’s second game and thrived at the new position as the Red Raiders’ leading rusher and top offensive playmaker. Leiby is a four-year starter at quarterback who earned all-state honors last season and put up eye-popping passing numbers again in the final year of his career.
Both signal-callers caught the attention of the opposing head coach heading into the matchup between their teams in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs Saturday at Altoona’s Mansion Park.
“The first thing that jumps out at you is their quarterback Dylan Deitrich,” Selinsgrove coach Derek Hicks said.
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Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning, meanwhile, immediately mentioned Leiby’s gaudy statistics as he discussed the Red Raiders’ opponent.
Leiby has completed 66 percent of his passes while throwing for more than 3,000 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. He led the Seals to the District 4 championship and into the state playoffs to take on the Red Raiders. With Leiby under center for Selinsgrove (10-2) and Deitrich leading the way for Bellefonte (10-2), both teams have clear identities on offense.
“We each butter the bread a little differently,” Manning said. “We like to run the football. They like to throw the football. We can throw it when we have to. They can run it when they need to.”
Selinsgrove’s success revolves around Leiby and the passing game, but the Seals also developed a running game throughout the year. They showed how far they’ve come in last week’s district championship game against Shikellamy, as running back Joe Kahn rushed for 175 yards and one touchdown on 40 carries in a 34-0 win. During the regular season, when Selinsgrove lost 28-26 to Shikellamy, Kahn rushed for 42 yards on 15 carries, while Leiby finished 17 for 30 for 219 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
“They sat back and basically played the pass and kind of dared us to run the football, and we weren’t able to,” Hicks said. “We weren’t real good at that, and it was at that point that we figured if we wanted to get to this point, we better develop a running game.”
While Kahn has become a threat, Bellefonte will need to be ready for Leiby and his receivers to advance to the quarterfinals — even if it’s raining in Altoona on Saturday. Hicks has seen the weather forecast and expects wet conditions, but the Seals have prepared all season for this situation. They’ve practiced outside whenever it rained, and they’re making sure Leiby is ready to go.
“Logan hasn’t thrown a dry football all week,” Hicks said. “Every drill he’s doing, everything we’re doing, we’re making sure we’re handing him a wet football to just get the feel for it.”
While Manning’s staff prepares the defense for Leiby, Hicks is concerned with Deitrich.
The Red Raiders’ quarterback has rushed for 1,509 yards and 26 touchdowns. Since taking over at quarterback, he’s surpassed the 100-yard mark in nine games, including a pair of 200-yard performances.
“It’s always tough when we’ve played teams in the past where they basically have a phenomenal athlete at quarterback,” Hicks said. “It just adds another element that makes it that much tougher on the defense.”
And like Hicks’ plans to put the ball in Leiby’s hands to make plays, Manning will continue to ride his team’s strength. The running game powered the Red Raiders to the state playoffs, and if they can execute like they have much of the season, Manning believes his team will be competitive.
“Will we have to play as close to perfect as possible? Yeah. Yes,” Manning said. “We’ll have to play our best football game of the year. If we do, it could be very interesting.”
PIAA Class 4A first round
Bellefonte vs. Selinsgrove
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Altoona’s Mansion Park
Players to watch: Bellefonte WR/DB Cade Fortney — Fortney is the Red Raiders’ top wide receiver with 35 catches for 629 yards this season. Fortney picked up a pair of crucial first downs against Johnstown last week during a scoring drive, making a one-handed grab on third down and rushing for 17 yards on another third down. He’ll also factor into the Red Raiders’ defensive effort against Leiby. Selinsgrove WR Jarrett Inch — Inch is Leiby’s favorite target with 65 catches for 1,062 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He’s hauled in at least one touchdown in six straight games.