HERSHEY, Pa. – High atop Section 26 of the visitors side of seating at HersheyPark Stadium, a group of South Fayette youth could be seen running back and forth across empty rows of bleachers during the second half of Saturday’s PIAA AA state championship game.
It was eerily similar to what was going on down on the gridiron below. West Catholic’s lethal rushing attack was moving forward full throttle and there was little South Fayette’s defense could do about it.
West Catholic (13-2) blew through the South Fayette (15-1) defense for 407 rushing yards and more than 500 yards of total offense to claim the Philadelphia Catholic League’s second PIAA football championship in a convincing 50-14 victory in the PIAA AA state championship game played at HersheyPark Stadium.
The victory was one to savor for West Catholic, which two years ago experienced the biggest of heartbreaks in a double overtime loss to Wilmington Area. Victory #520 in WC school history brought the school its long-awaited golden football to place in the trophy case. In the fourth quarter, ahead by 30 with victory all but a formality, the contingent of Burr fans started chanting, “Par-ty! Par-ty! Par-ty!”
Asked if the word “atonement” was appropriate to use this day, Burrs’ head coach Brian Fluck simply said, “Yes.”
“It’s tremendous,” Fluck said of the state football title. “This (win) is for all the West alumni; for the 2008 team; for all the people that back us. This victory shows that West Catholic is one of the best football teams in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Few would argue with Fluck that West is one of the best after Saturday’s performance. The Burrs, or should we say, the “Blurrs” (for their impressive team speed) brought to Hershey a pro-I rushing offense that averaged 270 yards per game and had gouged out totals of 298, 486 and 347 yards in the last three weeks. With three backs with more than 740 yards and an offensive line that averaged 256 pounds per man, the Burrs ran, ran, ran, and to cross things up, ran some more.
“They physically beat us up a little bit,” said South Fayette head coach Joe Rossi.
After falling down 7-0 to the Lions on a Christian Brumbaugh 8-yard pass to Zach Challingsworth, the Burrs went to work. They ground out two first downs before Anthony Reid ended the drive with an intercepted pass, but South Fayette could muster zero points from the gift given by its defense.
Then, enter David Williams, a sophomore for West Catholic with plenty of speed to burn. On his first carry of the game, he went 81 yards to the house to break WC’s goose egg with 1:59 left in the opening stanza. On his second carry, he rambled 17 yards, moving the Burrs from the shadow of their own end zone to the 25 yard line. The very next play, Reid hooked up with senior Jaelen Strong-Rankin on a 75-yard touchdown pass with 8:45 left in the first half, and West Catholic never looked back or trailed again. Reid extended the Burrs’ lead to 20-7 with a 7-yard run on a bootleg play.
West Catholic capped its second quarter scoring binge with two more touchdowns – a 16-yard run by senior Brandon Hollomon and a 25-yard pass from Reid to Strong-Rankin with just :05 left in the half. The Burrs led, 36-14, posting an impressive 30 points, 234 yards of offense and eight first downs in the period to put the game out of reach.
The 25-yard touchdown pass right before halftime might have been the deciding dagger to South Fayette’s hopes of a PIAA title.
“We wanted to put the final nail in the coffin there,” Fluck said. “The kids came out and played with a tremendous amount of confidence and swagger today.”
West only attempted one pass in the second half – it was intercepted by South Fayette senior Ben Meredith – pounding it out between the front five of Dom DiGalbo, Todd-Jamal Waters, Mike Makor, Rodney Linder and Eric Wyant for 198 more yards of terra firma and two more touchdowns – a 4-yard run by Williams and a 26-yard run by Josh Mathis – to put the mercy rule and a running clock in effect with 10:27 left in the two team’s 2010 seasons.
“The last couple of weeks we’d been playing really well up front,” Fluck said. “Our guys played well up front today.”
Brumbaugh’s career at South Fayette ended shortly after that final West score. Harrassed and pressured all day by the Burrs’ relentless defense, the Lions’ record-setting field general was lifted with 9:14 left in the game for what Rossi called “safety concerns,” noting, “He took some pretty good shots and we wanted to protect him.”
Brumbaugh, who will continue his football career at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, completed 11-of-26 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, both to Zach Challingsworth (5 rec., 73 yards, 2 TD).
South Fayette, which had averaged more than 240 yards passing per game, was held 130 yards below its average. The Lions’ offense, which averaged 42 points per game and had rolled up more than 530 yards in the PIAA semifinals against Forest Hills, was limited to just 138 yards this day and nine first downs. SF’s ground game was bottled up well – yielding a scant 22 yards on 19 carries – and paced by Trevor Fiorentini’s 41 yards on nine rushes.
“Trevor tried to do a nice job for us on the ground (but they’d pretty much taken that away and made us one-dimensional),” Rossi said.
South Fayette’s final 2010 breakdown, “Family,” was broken between sobs and tears and the sting of defeat. Moments before, the entire green and white contingent, an estimated 2,000 in number, gave their Lions a standing ovation as the team accepted the silver football trophy signifying state runners-up. As public address announcer Bob Schellenberg said, “You have made the McDonald community very proud,” the SF crowd rose to a standing ovation once more.
“There’s pain right now,” Rossi admitted. “But this has been a journey they’ll remember. It’s been a special year and they’re a special group of guys. I hate to see them go.”
West Catholic, meanwhile, was paced by Williams’ 181 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts. Hollomon added 104 yards on 14 attempts, Mathis 61 yards on eight carries and Reid 30 yards on six attempts. The Burrs finished with 531 yards of offense and 23 first downs. Reid finished 3-of-6 passing for 124 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.
The theme, however, was atonement.
And this day, for West Catholic, atonement was almost sweeter than Hershey’s chocolate.