PITTSBURGH — The game plan for Serra Catholic’s WPIAL Class 2-A championship game was simple. Just attack. And keep attacking, over and over and over. Nine times, to be exact.
Serra Catholic attacked all right, continually punching, ripping and tearing the ball away from Beaver Falls. And when the occasion called for it, the Eagles even stopped the Tigers from getting a chance at the ball. Serra Catholic forced nine turnovers (five fumbles, four interceptions and even a turnover on downs) to completely suffocate Beaver Falls, 35-12, and win its first WPIAL title since 2007.
Beaver Falls head coach Nick Nardone put the blame on his shoulders, lamenting the poor opportunities he put his team into, but his players credited the Serra Catholic defense in doing things they hadn’t seen all season — and echoing Nardone’s sentiments of Beaver Falls’ defense playing well enough to win the game.
“It’s always good to come back to try and win a championship, but we had like 10 turnovers,” Beaver Falls senior Tyler Cain said. “I mean, it’s very rare that you’re going to win a game with however many turnovers that we had, but like what coach said, if it was all about defense, we win that game.”
The Beaver Falls’ defense certainly held its own, limiting the Serra Catholic offense to just two touchdowns, but the all-out pressure created by the Eagles was simply too much to withstand in the end.
“Our defense has been carrying us for a long time, and they know how important it is,” Serra Catholic head coach Jose Regus said. “The line started struggling in the second half, and we knew we just had to pick it up some type of way.”
Despite Serra Catholic basically controlling the entire game, with just about six and a half minutes left in the game, Beaver Falls had a chance to drive the length of the field and take the lead in a 14-12 game. Despite five first half turnovers (including a pick-six at the end of the second quarter from Eagles junior Elijah Ward), the Tigers were a missed extra point and failed two point conversion away from a tied ball game.
However, while it wasn’t Beaver Falls’ night, it was most definitely Regus and Serra Catholic’s.
Serra Catholic senior Terrell Booth immediately grabbed his second interception of the game, jumping a pass thrown by Beaver Falls junior Jaren Brickner and sprinting back to the end zone for a back-breaking pick-six to kill the Tigers’ chance. A couple of plays later, Booth picked off another Brickner pass — the seventh and eighth takeaways for the Eagles’ defense.
And barely a minute later, the Serra Catholic defense ripped a ball away from Beaver Falls and junior DaiQuan Chatfield returned the fumble to the end zone for another touchdown. With 21 points off of three turnovers, the 14-12 lead stretched to 35-12 in a little less than five minutes.
“Things didn’t go our way tonight,” Nardone said. “Things definitely didn’t go our way tonight. I feel bad for the kids because they played their hearts out, man, they played their hearts out. It just did not seem like it was our night tonight.”
In a battle between dominant defenses, while a 35-12 score looks like a complete blowout, the Serra Catholic defense did enough to edge out a stifling effort from the Beaver Falls unit.
Regus never had any doubt in his defense — or his team as a unit. He’s had “100 percent trust, faith and belief” in his defense all season long. According to Regus, it was an all-team effort. “However we can get it,” Regus said, “we’re going to get it.”
While Serra Catholic has been attacking the grind of becoming a WPIAL champion all season, Regus has been attacking a battle of his own. With chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (a rare neurological disorder) forcing Regus to a wheelchair and a battle with the rare disorder, football — Serra Catholic football — has been one of the biggest inspirations in his battle.
“I had to take a disability retirement from my job, so I’m not working, so it’s all got to look for in the daytime, to wake up to,” Regus said. “I go to therapy then I go to practice. I gotta make it to practice. They need to see my face, I need to see their face. We help out each other.”
Friday night’s WPIAL title still hadn’t sunk in for Regus, he said, as he sat clutching the WPIAL Trophy in the Heinz Field locker room. All he could think about was the special group of kids he’s helped grow into champions, and the way that accomplishment will live on forever.
“This is going to go on forever,” Regus laughed. “This feeling ain’t going nowhere. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for anybody. For me to be blessed and to receive this blessing while I’m going through something is just great.”
It’s a night that will live on forever, and even with a PIAA Class 2-A semifinals matchup next Friday, the euphoria of redemption, breakthrough and glory is one that will linger for a long time.
“I feel like a WPIAL champ, for real, for real,” Booth laughed.
He — along with all of Serra Catholic faithful — is a WPIAL champion.