SOUTH FAYETTE TWP. Pa. — In the WPIAL Class-2A bracket, things are packed in tight, and the difference in seeds may not be as big as you typically would assume. Take No. 6 seed Serra Catholic for example. Over the past two seasons the team has lost two games, one a 2020 playoff game, the other a late season loss to No. 1 seed Steel Valley. Still, they have entered the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 7 and 6 seed respectively.
Last year, their season was was hit by COVID more than others, but they went into the playoffs 4-0, and 2-0 in conference play before lining up as a seven seed. They beat the No. 2 seed, but lost a 49-38 thriller to No. 3 Sto-Rox in 2020, and despite an 11-1 record this year, they once again had to play Sto-Rox in the semifinals. This year the Vikings were the No. 2 seed.
“376 we waited for this,” admitted wide receiver Terrell Booth.
Booth, like all of his teammates knew the exact number of days since their playoff loss, and they all found a way to redeem themselves with an impressive 13-12 victory that will send them to their first WPIAL championship since 2007.
“No revenge for us,” said offensive coordinator Mick Betler. “Just redemption.”
By their definitions, revenge means to retaliate, while redemption means to recover. Serra Catholic did not have ill will towards their opponent. But they knew that they were better and that the seeding did not matter. They felt that they had chances to win in 2020, and that if they took care of themselves, they would redeem themselves.
“We always we felt we were better than them,” admitted senior Jayvon Campbell-Holt. “We knew we would come back to them in the playoffs, and we knew we wanted to come out and win this time.”
Last season Serra Catholic felt that mistakes on their end were the difference, and this season the shoe was on the other foot. Sto-Rox lost four fumbles, one out of their end zone for a touchback, and one that set up the first score of the game. They threw an interception from the four-yard line to the end zone, they missed an extra point, a field goal, and Serra Catholic recovered an onside kick. Sto-Rox was making mistakes, and Serra Catholic was on high alert to take advantage by playing mistake free football.
“On film we saw that they held the ball pretty loose,” noted Campbell-Holt. “We said that we were going to attack the ball all game.”
They did that, and did an impressive job on pouncing on everything. Still, despite taking advantage of multiple game changing turnovers, Serra found themselves trailing 12-7 to the undefeated Vikings with just 4:41 to go.
Sto-Rox kicked the ball out of bounds, committed a personal foul penalty, and gave Serra Catholic the ball at the 43-yard line. On third down with 10 yards to go Max Rocco drilled Terrell Booth who was running across the middle of the field. Booth turned on the jets and put up the game-winning touchdown with just over two minutes to go.
“I gotta score, run my fastest, get in the end zone and end this game,” Booth said as he saw pay dirt in front of him.
“Terrell Booth has electrifying speed,” Campbell-Holt noted of his teammate.
“Terrell Booth is lights out,” added Betler. “One of the fastest kids on the field at all times.”
Serra Catholic almost scored too early, and left Sto-Rox over two minutes left. However, the defense that turned the ball over throughout the game, got pressure on the quarterback and ended the game with a fourth down stop.
“I told the team we were good,” said Campbell-Holt about holding Sto-Rox down. “We know our defense is a great defense, and defense wins games. We knew we would win with our defense today.”
The defense was lights out. They blitzed at the right times, dropped back at the right times and handled a talented running back and group of speedy receivers better than anyone has all season. Sto-Rox came into the game averaging 40 points per game, and last season put up 35 per game, including 49 against this very defense. Serra Catholic went from 49 points 376 days ago to 12 points on a Friday night in South Fayette.
“Coach (Akeem Robinson) is the best defensive coordinator in the WPIAL.,” boasted Betler.
Defense wins championships is something that the coaching staff, players, and even the fans were echoing as the defense has won all three playoff games by allowing 21, 0, and 12 points.
Now, Serra Catholic misses out on a second helping of redemption against No. 1 seed Steel Valley, but the championship is still on the line as No. 5 Beaver Falls will meet them at Heinz Field.
“Were gonna be practicing football on Thanksgiving day it is a beautiful thing.” said Betler. “This school hasn’t been to the WPIAL championship since 2007, we won it then, and we want to do the same, we are going down there with a purpose, and a goal to win.”