SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Football, much like life, is a series of good and bad moments. You’d hope that good outweighs the bad, that there are just enough good to outweigh the bad in the end. After all, no one — or nothing — is perfect.
Serra Catholic certainly wasn’t perfect against Farrell Friday night at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium in the PIAA Class 2-A semifinals, but the good certainly outweighed the bad in a 27-18 win to advance to the state championship game.
Three moments in particular, from three particular seniors, stand out in changing the tide of the game in favor of Serra Catholic.
Pharoh Fisher Takes The Lead
After a key sack from Ryan Brooks, one of two on the night for the big senior defensive end, on a 3rd-and-12 forced Farrell into an obvious punting situation deep in its own territory, the Steelers faced unfamiliar circumstances.
For a team that had outscored its opponents 564 to 74 over 11 weeks this season, Farrell had only punted a handful of times entering Friday night’s contest.
With Farrell’s Lamont Samuels lined up to boot the ball away, the snap bounced off the turf a few times before Samuels was able to scoop it up. Before he could quickly attempt to boot the ball away, Pharoh Fisher was there to drag him down at the four-yard line.
“When we made that tackle, we just knew we had to capitalize,” Fisher told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “We were on the goal line, the defense got it done, so the offense had to punch it in.”
Fisher didn’t waste any time either, bouncing through the Farrell defense and into the end zone to turn a 6-6 deadlock into a 13-6 lead. And Serra Catholic wouldn’t lose that lead.
Jayvon Holt Extends the Lead
With Farrell facing another 3rd-and-12 play, this time, the result favored the Steelers.
Farrell’s Trian Holden scrambled to buy himself some time, and with the Serra Catholic defense bearing down on him from behind, he launched a prayer up for teammate Taidon Strickland. With two SC defenders blanketing Strickland, it was an improbable opportunity, but Strickland came down with the ball and raced into the end zone for a 65-yard score.
And despite a stifling defensive effort through three and a half quarters, Farrell trailed just 20-18.
The Serra Catholic offense trotted back out on the field, and what seemed like seconds later, Jayvon Holt was splitting the Farrell secondary and racing to the end zone. Holt caught a quick slant from Max Rocco and exploded through the defense on a 68-yard touchdown catch and run, but he didn’t even know he was getting the ball.
“It was a designed RPO play, I was just thinking, ‘I gotta do my route like I’m supposed to do, catch the ball,’ I actually didn’t even know he was throwing it to me,” Holt told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “I turned around, [Rocco] pointed and threw that joint. All I knew was I had to be the ballplayer that I am and score that touchdown.”
Holt’s touchdown pushed Serra Catholic’s lead to 27-18 with just under nine minutes left in the game. Farrell’s high-powered offense, which had scored 50 points per game this season, had plenty of time to jump back into the game.
Terrell Booth Secures the Lead
Terrell Booth had already scored Serra Catholic’s opening touchdown on an eight-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter and picked off his fourth pass in the last two games, but it was his final effort that secured the Eagles’ win.
Farrell had to drive just about 80 yards and score quickly to close the gap against Serra Catholic to one possession — trailing by nine midway through the fourth quarter — and the Steelers managed to drive into Eagles’ territory with time to spare.
However, Farrell faced a must-convert 4th-and-6 from just inside the Serra Catholic 40-yard line. With Serra Catholic once again forcing another tough throw from Holden, this time, Booth didn’t let the Steelers convert a miracle deep pass.
“I knew they had to go deep, I knew it was a pass, so I had to play it right,” Booth told Pittsburgh Sports Now.
Booth camped out in the secondary like a centerfielder, and when Holden launched the ball toward the goal line, he was in perfect position to high point the ball, haul it in and raced 100 yards back to the end zone — although, an unnecessary holding call negated the touchdown, the interception stood.
Serra Catholic was able to salt away a large part of the remaining four minutes in the game, and it was too little, too late for Farrell.
Despite a big game from Farrell’s Anthony Stallworth, who entered the game banged up and suffered another knock in the first half but kept playing, the Serra Catholic defense wreaked havoc upon the Steelers all night.
“The game plan was to stop [Stallworth] because he’s the best player on they team, we had to get him to the ground and make sure our defense kept causing them turnovers and we would come out here with the win,” Holt said.
Stallworth racked up nearly 200 yards on the ground, hard-earned yards against a stout Serra Catholic defensive line, but the Farrell offense wasn’t able to muster much support outside of the 65-yard touchdown strike from Holden to Strickland.
Serra Catholic forced five turnovers (two interceptions from Booth and a pick-six from Jaden Williams, two forced fumbles), a couple of turnovers on downs and tackled the Farrell punter in the backfield. With 14 takeaways in the last two games and four defensive touchdowns, the Eagles’ defense is flying high — perhaps higher than any in the state.
“We just fly around,” Fisher said. “Every time we make a tackle, we always go for the ball … just playing fast and hard.”
And now that Farrell is out of the way, Serra Catholic will get its toughest test of the season yet again in the form of Pennsylvania powerhouse Southern Columbia — with the Tigers coming off a 56-14 PIAA semifinal win over Nothern Lehigh.
While Southern Columbia will be a colossal challenge, if Serra Catholic executes its game plan, continued to put out an overwhelming defensive pressure and gets back in the lab this week, as Booth says, the Eagles will have a chance to finish the season right.
In a season filled with good moments, including the euphoria of Friday’s win at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium Friday night, bringing home the state championship would produce the greatest moment of them all.
“It means everything,” Holt said. “Our seniors, we dreamed of this since freshman year. This means everything to us.”
Serra Catholic will play Southern Columbia next Friday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa. for the PIAA Class 2-A championship.