McKinley won't be taking Riverside lightly at Thursday's Harvard Cup championship game, and coach Tony Truilizio has taped evidence to back it up.
As the season wore on, the Riverside coach made a curious discovery on his weekly trips to pick up game film at the district's audio/video center on St. Lawrence Street.
"Their mailbox is right next to ours and McKinley would always have two copies of our games. They had two coaches breaking down our games," Truilizio said. "If anybody is taking us seriously, they are. I think all McKinley cared about was us, and who we were playing. They're smart. That's why they're 20-0."
The Buffalo Public Schools tape each Harvard Cup game and make the tapes available to coaches for scouting purposes. With 24 hours advance notice, coaches can request extra copies.
Part of what those tapes revealed was a Riverside defense that has shut out four of its last five opponents. Truilizio said most teams in the Harvard Cup run a 5-3 defense (five down linemen and three linebackers). He runs a 3-5 and uses the two outside linebackers in a stand-up position.
"It gives the illusion of a 5-front, but the two outside linebackers we can drop into coverage way faster, and we can send a blitz from somewhere else," Truilizio said. "Their responsibility is totally different than a defensive end. The offensive lineman has to account for a defensive end, but sometimes he's not there. It's a defense you don't see, and people don't know how to attack it."
The Riverside linebacking corps includes Antonio Dickson, Trent Alls, Willie Jefferson, Jordan Smith and Edwin Vega.
Truilizio said his team was still learning the defense when it met McKinley for the first time in Week Four. McKinley won, 38-20, in a game Truilizio said was closer than the score.
"He's got a good defense, but we're going to go out and do what we normally do," McKinley coach Bill Johnson said.
Johnson said his team uses max protection blocking schemes, which keep the running backs in to help with pass protection and give the quarterback more time.
Riverside enters Thursday's 104th Harvard Cup on a six-game winning streak. Senior running back Davon Rollins is 147 yards shy of 1,000. Dickson is coming off a three-interception game against Grover Cleveland in the Harvard Cup semifinals, giving him seven for the season. Alls leads the team in tackles with 78.
>The McKinley mystique
A win for McKinley would be its third straight title and would allow the Macks to retire the Harvard Cup. McKinley has outscored its opponents this season, 321-70. The Macks are riding a 20-game winning streak that started with a 6-0 win over Hutch-Tech in the 2006 league opener.
"People are trying to knock us off. We tell the kids a win over us is like winning the Harvard Cup, it doesn't matter what week it is," Johnson said. "Opponents have a tendency to play us harder than the average opponent. That's the way they come at us."
Senior running back Arvin Bell had Riverside's number in the first game with 135 yards rushing and three touchdowns. He has 1,118 yards overall.
Bell has been nursing a sprained ankle. Johnson held him out of practice Monday and Tuesday and he was going to test it today. Johnson said Bell can't cut like he normally does.
>On the sidelines
Johnson was Truilizio's running backs coach at Canisius College during his playing days in '88 and '89. "He taught me how to be a fullback, stiff arm, spinning off tackles. . . . When I became a head coach in the Harvard Cup, I'd ask for his advice. His best advice was keep it simple. Don't outcoach yourself." . . . The last time McKinley and Riverside met for the title was in '95, a 20-8 win for the Macks. . . . Riverside quarterback Ajay Hopson has thrown for 819 yards and six TDs. . . . Riverside's last title was in '04, a 19-14 win over Hutch-Tech. Mike Williams, now at Syracuse, returned the second-half kickoff 75 yards for the winning points.