Youth football league crowns champs
What looked like a runaway, ultimately turned into a last-second nail-biter for the Lower Burrell Flyers.
But they'll still see it as a championship upset.
The Flyers, unnoticed in the relatively new state rankings, jumped out to an early first-half lead and held off a fierce charge from the Highland Hornets in a 28-26 win in the 13-under, Greater 28 title game on Saturday night at Don Bushman Stadium.
Highlands (9-1) came in ranked No. 2 in the state by the National Prep Youth Football Association.
Quarterback Max Garda rushed for two touchdowns and running back Jack Ryan caught a touchdown and ran for another to lead Lower Burrell (8-2).
“This team believed all year that they could win every game they were in,” Flyers coach David Belinotti said. “They knew they were playing against a great tradition and a great program, like Highlands.”
Highlands rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to make it close, coming within a two-point kick of overtime. Hornets running back Dominic Martinka rushed for a game-high 238 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries.
Where the first half was owned by Lower Burrell, Highlands laid claim to the second.
Martinka scored three touchdowns in the second half, pulling the Hornets to within two scores with less than four minutes to play.
Martinka brought the Hornets to within two points with an 83-yard run, his only touch of the fourth quarter. A two-point kick separated Highlands from an overtime-forcing tie. But a bad snap and a failed run kept the margin at two points.
Highlands was unable to advance the onside kick the necessary 10 yards and Lower Burrell ran out the clock to seal it.
“We knew (Highlands) was the measuring stick of this league,” Belinotti said. “That's a great football team right there. They've got great players, and they've got great coaches.”
Garda and Ryan led the Flyers to a 28-7 lead at halftime.
“We just started out a little late and made some mental errors,” Highlands coach Don Bushman said. “That happens every now and then. Not taking anything away from the kids, because they did a tremendous job.”
• In the 11-under game, undefeated Ford City (11-0), the No. 3-ranked team in the state, scored late to prevail, 14-7, over Kiski Valley (7-3).
Ford City's twin running backs, Jake and Zach Aretz, each scored rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
Jake rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries and Zach picked up 57 yards on 11 carries.
“They're fantastic kids,” Ford City coach Ken Markilinski said. “They're the heart of our team.”
Running back Tracey Morris, who rushed for 57 yards on 18 carries, led Kiski Valley. Luke Lander rushed seven times for 37 yards and had the Knights' only score.
• In the 9-under title game, the third-ranked Kiski Valley Cadets (11-0) outpaced Lower Burrell (8-3), 19-7.
Kiski Valley's Dominic Reiter had all three scores, finishing with 135 yards on nine carries.
Lower Burrell's ground game was balanced with the attack of Dominic Holmes, who had 11 carries for 66 yards and one touchdown, and Justin Ulizio, who carried 13 times for 61 yards.