McDONALD – The nerves of Naman Alemada might have gone away, but he doesn’t want anybody to think his confidence has.
It easily could have.
A misleading stat line, which included four interceptions, in South Fayette’s home opener could have erased any confidence the junior quarterback might have had after his first varsity start.
“I had a sense of urgency,” Alemada said. “I forced throws, got flustered. I felt like I needed to tweak some things.”
A two-week tweaking turned into a performance those in Kelly green and white have come to expect from their litany of Lions’ quarterbacks.
Comfortably standing from the pocket with his lanky 6-5 frame, Alemada slung the ball over the field and an efficient South Fayette offense cruised to a 37-21 victory over New Castle in a Northwest Eight Conference game Friday night.
Starting fast by completing his first 10 passes, Alemada finished the night completing 22 of 28 for 277 yards and five touchdowns.
“When you start to get comfortable, the game slows down,” said South Fayette coach Joe Rossi. “People don’t know when you watch the USC film, it was two great plays and his third and fourth (interceptions) were tipped. It was just one of those nights, especially when you have to throw 54 times.”
Alemada instead had a night to remember Friday while quickly erasing all hope of a New Castle (1-1, 2-1) comeback when he found Nolan Lutz in the corner of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown to give South Fayette its 37-21 lead with 9:17 left in the fourth quarter.
It looked as if the Lions would cruise to victory after a 12-yard pitch-and-catch from Alemada to Joey Audia on a bubble screen late in the third quarter to put them up 30-7.
Then, New Castle showed life.
Red Hurricane’s standout tailback Demetrius McKnight broke free for the first time in the game, outrunning everyone on a toss play for a 59-yard touchdown that trimmed the lead to 30-13 with 48 seconds left in the third.
A successful onside kick, long pass and a two-yard McKnight touchdown plunge less than two minutes later cut the deficit to nine points, 30-21, with 11:24 remaining in regulation.
McKnight was bottled up for the majority of the night. He had 20 carries for 135 yards, most of which coming on his long touchdown run.
Another onside kick, this time recovered by South Fayette (2-0, 2-1) led to the five-play, 48-yard drive that ended with Alemada’s touchdown to Lutz.
“I’m a little disappointed we let them back in the game, but our guys rebounded,” Rossi said. “(New Castle) is a good football team that was coming off two big wins. They came out firing in the second half.”
However, the Red Hurricane suffered too much destruction in the first half.
After New Castle tied the game at 7-7 with a little under three-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter, South Fayette scored a pair of touchdowns and recorded a safety on a botched punt snap to lead 23-7 at halftime.
“You play (South Fayette) and know they are going to make big plays,” said New Castle coach Joe Cowart. “They are going to run for chunks of yards and make plays in the passing game because they’re so efficient. You have to make them earn it. For the most part, I thought we did that.”
The Lions had five plays for more than 20 yards, including when Alemada found a wide open Audia after faking a screen pass for a 46-yard touchdown. Charley Rossi also had a catch for 46 yards.
The two receivers combined for 11 receptions for 161 yards. Audia had six catches for 96 yards and the pair of touchdowns.
Ryan McGuire and Luke Pschirer also caught touchdowns for South Fayette.
“The receiving core as a whole has helped,” Rossi said. “We are playing like eight kids. We are going to continue to play kids who are ready. They are doing a nice job catching the ball.”
Alemada was aided by a balanced rushing attack of Drew Franklin and Shay Aitken. Franklin had 125 yards on 15 carries before exiting in the second half with an injury. Aitken had 10 carries for 49 yards.
“I can deal with the pressure a lot better now,” Alemada said. “I remember watching Brett Brumbaugh. I watched Drew (Saxton) run the offense for three years. Jamie (Diven) showed me how to run the (run-pass option). I’ve tried to take everything I’ve learned from those guys and build on my game from it.
“I knew I just had to fix some things. I’ve done that.” Alemada continued. “I trust my guys, but more importantly, they trust me.”