South Fayette begins PIAA title quest
Hunter Hayes rips off a long run. His 49-yard gain, set up J.J. Walker’s touchdown with 11 minutes to play in the game, gave the Lions a shortlived lead, 27-22, but the Quips stormed back to take the lead, 28-27, on Terry Swanson’s third touchdown run, a 29-yard scamper.
Eleanor Bailey /Staff
During post-game interviews in the media room set up at Heinz Field after South Fayette defeated Aliquippa, 34-28, Justin Watson was asked about the WPIAL Class AA championship. The senior wide receiver replied with the pat response. “It feels great,” he said.
Yet, Watson and his teammates want more from this year’s campaign. They are not content with being 13-0 and the school’s fourth WPIAL champion, second in four seasons.
“We talk about being the best team ever to come out of South Fayette,” Watson said. “To do that, we have to get that state championship.”
South Fayette’s quest starts Saturday, Nov. 30, when the Lions travel to Clarion University for a 1 p.m. kick-off against Karns City (12-1).
The meeting against the District 9 champion is the first step towards a PIAA title for the Lions, who last participated in the state finals two years ago. In 2010, the Lions saw an undefeated championship season end in a 50-14 defeat to Philadelphia West Catholic at Hersheypark Stadium.
This year’s PIAA championships are also set in Hershey. The Class AA kick-off is set for noon Saturday, Dec. 14.
In Karns City, the Lions face an opponent much like Aliquippa, which scored 595 points during its 12-1 season. The Gremlins rushed for nearly 400 yards and defeated Chestnut Ridge, the District 5 champion, 35-14, in their first-round PIAA playoff game at Northern Bedford High School.
While the Quips featured the 1-2 punch of Terry Swanson and Dravon Henry, who combined for more than 9,000 career yards rushing, the Gremlins have a talented group of running backs that go two or three deep.
Tristan Rhoades possesses the speed. He rushed for 91 yards and two scores against Chestnut Ridge. He has rushed for 680 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Wyatt Everetts has the moves. He weaved his way to 112 yards and one score on just 11 carries last week. Everetts has 614 yards on 80 carries for nine scores.
Meanwhile, Zach Moore powered his way to 81 yards and another touchdown against Chestnut Ridge. He has 650 yards rushing and 10 TDs this year.
Additionally, Adam Whited has seen his share of duty. With 63 yards last week, he raised his totals to 463 on the ground. He has reached the end zone eight times.
Before beating Chestnut Ridge, Tyler Kepple had completed 97 of 155 passes for 1,501 yards and 30 TDs. Kepple is also known to run, rushing for four scores and over 250 yards. Kepple’s top targets are Dakota Mohney and Logan Moroney. Both have over 30 receptions for over 500 yards.
The Gremlins, who lost to Aliquippa in last year’s quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, had their lowest scoring output (35) this season against Chestnut Ridge.
They are much like the Quips in that they have scored a lot of points. The Purple and Gold have racked up 640 points in 13 games for a 49-point average. They have allowed 155 for an average of 10.6 per game.
But the Lions have proved they can stop high-powered offenses. While Swanson, who gained 1,704 yards this season, rushed for 166 yards and three scores against South Fayette, the Lions made the stops when they needed them. In fact, they halted the Quips on five of six, fourth-down attempts.
“We have guys who get to the football. They have will and desire and they are unselfish,” said Rossi. “That’s what we tell them. ‘Just do your job. You don’t have to be a super hero.’ We were able to get key stops on defense.
“I’m so proud of my guys on defense. They bend but do not break,” said Rossi, adding how excited he was, too, that his linemen were able to compete against players, who had the distinct weight advantage.”
Ben Berkovitz spearheads the defensive line. He leads the Lions in sacks.
The Walker brothers, J.J. and Zach, are the top tacklers with over 100 each for the season.
Hayden Orler and Ryan Schmider lead the team in interceptions although Roman Denson and Conner Beck had the big picks against the Quips.
Bryce Christoff and Anthony Davidson are also key contributors on a defense that has surrendered only 68 points and has recorded five shutouts this season.
Meanwhile, Brett Brumbaugh engines the offense. By completing 16 passes for 315 yards against the Quips, the junior raised his season totals to 3,095. He ranks eighth on the WPIAL’s all-time passing list with 5,919 yards. He has thrown 32 touchdowns this season.
When he was in eighth grade, Brumbaugh served as a ballboy on the Lions’ state runner-up team. His brother, Christian, quarterbacked that club to a 15-1 record. His other brother, Luke, was an adversary for two seasons as he quarterbacked conference rival Seton-La Salle before heading off to Robert Morris.
During the post-game interviews, Brumbaugh said how his brothers always talk about who is the best. “Now, I have a ring,” he said of his WPIAL championship. He added he would like to have something neither other brother has: “a state title.”
And just as during the fourth-quarter comeback against the Quips in the WPIAL final, Brumbaugh said, “It’s time to be great. We live for these moments.”
South Fayette begins PIAA title quest
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