PITTSBURGH — Redemption has been a driving force in Serra Catholic’s season. That redemption was achieved with a win over Sto-Rox last weekend to cement a spot in the WPIAL Class 2-A championship. And now the glory has been earned.
It was nothing but sweet, sweet victory at Heinz Field Friday night for Serra Catholic’s first WPIAL title since 2007, knocking off Beaver Falls, 28-12, on a cold, windy night.
A strong defensive effort from the Serra Catholic defensive, forcing five first half turnovers (and four more second half turnovers) in a dominant effort, fueled the Eagles to new heights.
With Beaver Falls set up on its own 10-yard line, down by two with 6:28 left in regulation, the Tigers had a chance to drive the length of the field and pull a win out of nowhere. However, the Eagles’ defense did what it had all night.
Facing a 3rd-and-7 from their own 12-yard line, Bricker — back into the game after taking a huge hit a few plays earlier — forced a throw into coverage and Serra Catholic’s Terrell Booth undercut the route and ran the ball back into the end zone for the second pick-six of the game.
With five forced fumbles (one returned for a touchdown), four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and a turnover on downs, it was all-out domination from the Serra Catholic defense.
However, it didn’t take long for each squads’ stars to initially make their impact on the biggest stage of them all.
Beaver Falls elected to receive the opening kickoff, and junior Isaiah Aeschbacher rewarded his coaches’ faith with a kickoff return down to the Serra Catholic 20-yard line to open the game. Despite facing a fourth and very long, after a couple of SC tackles for loss, junior Jaren Brickner delivered.
Brickner rolled out on 4th-and-18 from just outside the 20-yard line and lofted a ball toward teammate Trey Singleton, who made a contested grab to come down with the ball in the end zone for the contest’s opening score.
Serra Catholic didn’t waste much time in answering, a steady dose of runs from senior Machai Brooks moving the Eagles across midfield, a key fourth down converted by a Max Rocco pass to Booth, and Brooks bouncing into the end zone from about 10 yards out.
A missed extra point attempt from Beaver Falls left the score at 7-6, but it appeared that an offensive showdown in the swirling wind was in the works. That, however, would not be the case.
While both the Beaver Falls and Serra Catholic defenses would make life difficult for the opposing offenses, it was the Eagles’ defense that really made their impact on the game felt.
Three first half Beaver Falls’ fumbles, on back-to-back-to-back possessions, left Serra Catholic with excellent field position, but the Eagles were unable to capitalize with any points — despite field position starting right around midfield with each possession.
A turnover on downs forced by the Beaver Falls’ defense after the offense’s third turnover wasn’t able to be capitalized upon either, as both teams subsequently traded punts as the second quarter wore on.
With Beaver Falls receiving the ball on their 16-yard line following a Serra Catholic punt, trailing by just a point, with a just a few ticks under 90 seconds left in the half, the stage was set for a first half-capping touchdown drive. But SC’s Elijah Ward had other ideas.
Ward jumped a Brickner pass on first down, ripped the ball out of the air and raced back through a frantic Beaver Falls’ offense into the end zone to widen Serra Catholic’s lead to eight points.
Beaver Falls received another shot at scoring before the halftime break, helped by another return from Aeschbacher out past midfield, but as the Tigers faced a 4th-and-10 from the SC 13-yard line with nine seconds left, Brickner’s pass was picked off just outside the end zone.
Despite the five first half turnovers forced by Serra Catholic, Beaver Falls remained just one score (and a two point conversion) behind. The Eagles weren’t able to score on their opening possession, but they did burn away half the quarter before pinning the Tigers inside the 20 with a punt.
The drive wouldn’t have been possible without an extremely heads up play from Rocco, flipping the ball to Brooks while being dragged down in the backfield, and Brooks scampered across midfield to convert a third and long.
So, leading by just one score after forcing five turnovers, what did the Serra Catholic defense do? Force another turnover — a turnover on downs, 4th-and-1 stuff to get the ball back again.
It wasn’t just the Serra Catholic defense impacting the game though, with the Tigers forcing the Eagles into a fourth and long punt situation. Beaver Falls’ Mekhi Clark scooped the bouncing punt into his arms and darted down across midfield, knifed through would-be tacklers and was tackled from behind at the SC six-yard line. He did fumble the ball, but a recovery from Da’Sean Anderson saved disaster.
Aeschbacher rumbled into the end zone a play later, but he was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on the two point conversion attempt. With a 14-12 game, and just under 12 minutes to go, Beaver Falls was in its best position since scoring with the opening possession.
After forcing a Serra Catholic punt, Beaver Falls set up on its own 49-yard line with just around nine minutes left in the contest and appeared to be driving. Until SC’s Jayvon Holt ripped the ball out of Brickner’s arms for the fourth fumble of the game from the Tigers.
It was just one of those days for both Serra Catholic and Beaver Falls, and after a couple more turnovers, Brooks iced the game with a touchdown run from a yard out. And another forced fumble with just under a minute left, which was returned for a touchdown, added the exclamation point.
Serra Catholic will continue its run toward the state title, taking on the winner of District 9 champ Karns City and District 10 champ Farrell next Friday or Saturday in the PIAA 2-A semifinals.