Dec. 3—Shenango Valley football aficionados always have maintained a healthy respect for the WPIAL. So while it's not Aliquippa, Beaver Falls or Clairton, Farrell High Head Coach Amp Pegues sees Serra Catholic similar to those other proud, pedigreed programs.
"I'm treatin' 'em as they're the best team in the state, you know? Each game, that's how we're gonna approach it," Pegues emphasized.
Farrell (11-0) faces WPIAL champion Serra Catholic (13-1) for the regional championship Friday at 7 p.m. at Slippery Rock University's Mihalik-Thompson Stadium.
According to the PIAA website, Farrell will be making its 12th appearance — 6th in 7 years — in the statewide semifinals, though for the first time in Class 2A. The program is 6-5 in the semis, and the Steelers are seeking their 3rd PIAA championship game berth in 4 years.
Conversely, this serves as Serra's 2nd state semifinals contest. According to Malsom's research, Serra Catholic claimed a 2007 win over Kane (48-21), but bowed to Steelton-Highspire (34-15) in the title tilt. The WPIAL crown — earned via a 35-12 victory over Beaver Falls — is the 3rd in McKeesport-based Serra Catholic's grid annals.
According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Serra Catholic actually was out-gained by Beaver Falls (194-169); however the Eagles coerced a WPIAL championship game record 9 turnovers, turning a trio into TDs.
Serra Catholic led 14-12 with 6:28 remaining, before Terrell Booth's 15-yard Pick-6 and DaiQuan Chatfield's 43-yard Scoop 'n Score broke Beaver Falls' back.
"That's ridiculous!" gushed Serra Catholic defensive tackle Mike Schanck in an interview with The Post-Gazette. Schanck recovered 3 of Beaver Falls' 5 lost fumbles. "We've been taking the ball away from teams every game," Schanck told The Post-Gazette. "We've had multiple turnovers in multiple games, too (18 in the last 3 WPIAL tournament games). That's just what we do. We're ball hawks."
In the 2nd stanza the Eagles' Elijah Ward pilfered a pass, returning it 30 yards for a TD, one of 4 interceptions recorded against Beaver Falls' quarterback Jaren Brickner.
"They're a fast team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They're a quick, aggressive team," Pegues praised, adding, "A little undersized, but you can tell ... a lot of athletes out there. They're well-coached, and they play with a lot of energy. They've had fifteen turnovers the last two games on the defensive side of the ball.
"They've just been hammerin' teams defensively," Pegues continued. "They shut down a good Sto-Rox team, they beat a good Laurel team, and they beat a good Beaver Falls team, basically with a lot defense, with a lot of turnovers on that side of the ball and they returned 'em for touchdowns. They're a good team."
Offensively, Pegues characterized Serra Catholic as "kind've a spread team. They run some inside (Machai Duetrieulle-Brooks posted a 22-carry, 94-yard outing against Beaver Falls, including a 1-yard). But they like to try and throw the deep ball, and if you can take that away they seem to struggle a little bit there.
"But,' Pegues acknowledged, "they have so many athletes out there on the field they can make the big play at any time."
The Eagles have outscored opponents, 435-135, or 31.07 to 9.6 per-game.
Quarterback Max Rocco has completed 119 of 225 attempts (52.9%) for 1,839 yards and 24 TDs (7 interceptions). He spreads the ball to Terell Booth (43 catches, 860 yards, 20 per-catch, 14 TDs), Jayvon Campbell-Holt (35-600, 17.1, 7 TDs), Amire Spencer (19-323, 17 per-catch, 1 TD) and Duetrieulle-Brooks (12-129, 11.7). Duetrieulle-Brooks (162 attempts, 957 yards, 5.9 per-carry, 8 TDs) is the Eagles' leading rusher.
Farrell has won back-to-back PIAA playoff games on the road, winning over Westinghouse at Cupples Stadium, then in the snow at District 9 champion Karns City. So to Pegues, playing at SRU is " ... a place we're very familiar with. We've played at Slippery Rock quite a bit, we know the stadium. So that's quite a big advantage for us."
Although the Steelers were without Kylon Wilson last week (groin pull), Omar Stewart stepped up, catching scoring strikes from Kabron Smith and Trian Holden. Also, Anthony Stallworth staggered Karns City during the 2nd half, surpassing the century mark including a 20-yard scoring sprint.
According to archives at The Herald, Stallworth (5,227) is situated 4th in all-time Mercer County career rushing annals. He trails Hickory's Chuck Carr (6,847), Lakeview's Blake Reddick (6,548) and Sharon's T.J. Phillips (6,241) on that short list.
Pegues, having played in it back in the day, knows the WPIAL as well as anyone. He acknowledges the tradition and talent level.
"We've beaten a WPIAL team the last two years we've played 'em (Clairton, 10-7 in 2019; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 41-10 in 2018). Wilmington beat a WPIAL team last year, as well (Beaver Falls, 21-19). But I don't really concern myself with that. They get a lot of marquee 'cause they're in a bigger market there in the Pittsburgh area.
"You know, the WPIAL is the WPIAL. I played in the WPIAL, and we've seen the WPIAL all the time, but I don't look at it like that," Pegues continued. "I would still think that we'd be the favorites, just off the (state) rankings alone. But I don't really pay attention much to that.
"I think, with the talent level, they're a little more evenly matched and more competitive games in the WPIAL. Obviously, it's a bigger district, there's a lot of talent, bein' from that Pittsburgh area. You can see some difference there. But we've played some good teams up here in the district (10), as well. We've played some great programs — the Wilmingtons. So there's a lot of great programs up here. It's just that (the WPIAL), they're a bigger district so they get a lot more media attention that kind've hypes them up, so to speak. But I think we're a good program, as well."
Serra Catholic's contingent has been motivated by a malady incurred by Head Coach Jose Regus. According to The Post-Gazette Regus has been relegated to a wheelchair and walker for the last 3 months, owing to a sudden, yet inexplicable neurological disorder. Regus explained to The Post-Gazette,
"It happened, like, overnight. I went from walking to not walking. But," he added, "I don't look at it as a downfall. It made us stronger. It made me stronger. It brought a little more unity to the team. I'm healing."
For Pegues' players, advancing to the PIAA plateau is pretty basic: "That's how you win football games — you limit your turnovers and limit your penalties, and I think we'll be fine.
"But," he said regarding Serra Catholic, "they're still a very good team. They've won games where they haven't had those turnovers and they were still able to win those games. But, just for our ball club, if we can take care of the ball and limit the penalties, I think we'll be fine."
Pegues reflected on Farrell's foray through the 2021 season:
"Someone said that about us earlier, that how is the Farrell team gonna handle all the pressure, being one of the top teams in the state? I think the kids are handlin' that pretty well. We know what's at stake — it's win or go home. So if we don't perform well, a team like Serra Catholic can definitely beat us.
"And we've been tellin' the guys, you've gotta bring your all every game. So this is just another one of those games where we have to be on point. If we're not, we could be goin' home. I think my guys are up to the challenge, and they've proven that they've been up to the challenge all year, so I think they'll be fine," Pegues concluded.
QB — Kabron Smith 5-9, 170, Soph.; Trian Holden, 6-0, 210, Sr.; Lamont Samuels, 5-8, 130, Jr.
RBs — Anthony Stallworth, 6-0, 190, Sr.; Taidon Strickland, 5-11, 205, Sr.
WRs — Omar Stewart Jr., 6-3, 175, Sr.; Kylon Wilson, 5-10, 170, Jr.; Dwight Gregory-Allen, 6-0, 175, Sr.
C — Jakai Burris, 6-3, 245, Soph.
LG — Preston Williams, 6-2, 380, Sr.
LT — Anthony Y. Jackson, 6-6, 285, Jr.
RG — Jaimin Holden, 6-2, 310, Sr.
RT — Brian Phillips, 6-2, 325, Jr.
Es — Kien Wade, 5-10, 165, Jr.; Malachi Owens, 6-4, 205, Jr.
Ts — Malachi Green, 5-11, 310, Soph.; Jaimin Holden
LBs — Anthony D. Jackson, 5-10, 210, Sr.; Omar Stewart Jr., Taidon Strickland
CBs — Zaire Thomas, 5-10, 140, Jr.; Kylon Wilson
FS — Lamont Samuels.
QB — Max Rocco, 6-1, 181, Sr.
RBs — Machai Duetrieulle-Brooks, 5-6, 168, Sr.; Zack Weber, 6-0, 204, Sr.
WRs — Pharoh Fisher, 6-2, 182, Sr.; Terrell Booth, 6-0, 170, Sr.; Jayvon Holt, 6-0, 173, Sr.
LT — Drew Hairston, 6-0, 183, Soph.
LG — Jadell Minniefield, 6-0, 236, Soph.
C — Danny Opferman, 6-1, 257, Sr.
RG — Michael Schanck, 5-10, 220, Jr.
RT — Matt Bisceglia, 5-11, 207, Sr.
Es — Ryan Brooks, 6-2, 214, Sr.; Dior Blair-Brown, 5-10, 202, Sr.; Michael Schanck
T — Zack Weber
LBs — Machai Duetrieulle-Brooks; Jaden Williams, 5-7, 175, Sr.
CBs — Pharoh Fisher; DaiQuan Chatfield, 5-9, 134, Jr.
SS — Jayvon Holt; Terrell Booth
FS — Elijah Ward, 5-10, 133, Jr.
Note: Serra Catholic lineups courtesy of TribHighSchoolSports.TribLive.com.
58 Greenville 0
66 Mercer 0
58 Lakeview 0
40 Sharpsville 0
54 Wilmington 0
78 Kennedy Catholic 0
48 Fort LeBoeuf 21
District 10 Playoffs
60 Greenville 14
48 Wilmington 6
24 Westinghouse 7
30 Karns City 12
SERRA CATHOLIC (13-1)
24 South Allegheny 0
30 East Allegheny 14
56 Imani Christian 8
40 Seton LaSalle 10
1 Carlynton 0*
14 Freeport 3
39 Shady Side Academy 7
1 Ligonier Valley 0
62 Apollo Ridge 20
46 Summit Academy 0
7 Steel Valley 28
61 Neshannock 21
35 Beaver Falls 12