Burrell creates four-way tie atop Allegheny
Burrell entered its showdown at Shady Side Academy on Saturday hoping to rebound from last week's tough loss to Freeport.
No ill effects lingered, however, and Burrell vaulted into title contention in the Class AA Allegheny Conference with a 17-14 victory at the Grandizio Athletic Complex in Fox Chapel. The result was a four-way tie for first place in the Class AA Allegheny Conference with Shady Side Academy, Freeport and Ford City (all 4-1).
Senior quarterback Cam Nelson threw two first-half touchdown passes, as Burrell withstood Shady Side Academy's second-half comeback.
Burrell overcame a big day from Shady Side Academy's Brian Nickel, who scored on an 80-yard touchdown run and totaled 159 yards on 18 carries.
"For two years we have been losing games like this," Burrell coach Tom Henderson said. "Give Shady Side a lot of credit. They really played well in the second half. I'm just happy to get over that hump."
Nelson's 12-yard touchdown pass to Chris Linden pushed the Burrell lead to 17-6 before the half, but Shady Side Academy quickly countered following the break.
After keeping the Indians in check for much of the first half, the Burrell defense surrendered a 48-yard drive at the start of third quarter that allowed Shady Side Academy to move within a field goal. The Indians used Nickel's four carries to set up quarterback Reggie Mitchell's play-action fake that left Tanner Jones wide open for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Nickel's two-point conversion run cut the deficit to 17-14.
Linden twice halted Shady Side Academy drives with interceptions, but Nelson threw an interception with 8 minutes remaining that left the outcome in doubt. Still, Burrell appeared poised to stop the Buccaneers on third down, but Mitchell's 46-yard screen pass to Nickel moved the chains.
But Burrell's defense produced another big turnover. Dave Yakopec intercepted Mitchell's pass in the end zone. Shady Side Academy got the ball back with a little more than two minutes remaining, but Mitchell's last-chance effort on a fourth-down carry was stopped inches short in Burrell territory.
"We win like men and we lose like men," Shady Side Academy coach Dave Havern said. "The kids did everything we asked of them in the second half. If anyone would have to beat us, I would want it to be Burrell."
Burrell got off to a strong start behind a stifling defense and a fortunate special teams play. The Buccaneers held Shady Side Academy to zero yards on its first three rushes, and a botched punt gave Burrell the ball at the Indians' 21.
Nelson quickly completed passes to Linden and Yakopec, but the quarterback's apparent touchdown run was negated by an illegal procedure penalty. The Buccaneers had to settle for Brian Shaw's 23-yard field goal and an early 3-0 lead.
The teams traded turnovers following the field goal, but both offensives struggled to move the ball. Shaw's 47-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left, but Burrell's defense forced another quick stop.
The Buccaneers then took advantage of a second short field — this time the result of Yakopec's 26-yard punt return to the Shady Side Academy 27 — as Nelson connected with Yakopec for a 26-yard touchdown strike and a 10-0 lead. For the day, Nelson completed 18 of 28 pass attempts for 143 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
But Shady Side Academy came right back, and Nickel found a crease in the Burrell defensive line before weaving in and out of tacklers for an 80-yard touchdown run that cut the Burrell lead to 10-6. The Indians botched the extra-point attempt, but quickly forced another Burrell punt.
The Indians attempted to benefit from the change in momentum and were aided by a Burrell personal foul. But Nickel's fumble on his fifth consecutive carry was recovered by the Buccaneers' Frank Perriello.
Burrell then ran its two-minute offense to perfection, and Nelson methodically moved his team down the field using a mixture of short passes and timeouts. Nelson connected with Perriello and Yakopec to put the Buccaneers within striking distance, and capped the nine-play, 68-yard drive by connecting with Linden in the half's final seconds. The touchdown stretched the Burrell lead to 17-6 before Shady Side Academy staged its second-half comeback.