McKeesport's conversion pays off in opening-round victory over West Allegheny
Matt Miller's cheat-sheet says go for two when you're up by five, so McKeesport's coach stuck to the script.
"Thank God we did," he said, smiling.
For the second year in a row, a two-point play decided McKeesport's postseason fate.
Layton Jordan's touchdown run and two-point conversion in the third quarter made the difference in Friday night's 22-21 victory over West Allegheny in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. The seven-point lead proved decisive when West A scored in the fourth quarter and missed the extra point kick.
"I don't know who made that sheet," Miller said. "It's like the Bible. It sits in the bottom of our desk and then during the season we pull it out. It worked."
A year ago, Miller's team watched as West Allegheny celebrated a 38-37 championship game win after a two-point run in overtime. This time it was McKeesport who celebrated the one-point win, But the celebration started only after junior Devin Sims intercepted a West A pass with 51 seconds left.
"We had to come out here and do what we didn't do last year," said Sims, who made the interception near his own 25-yard line.
As a result, No. 6 seed McKeesport (7-3) faces conference rival Gateway next week in the semifinals.
The first-round exit is unfamiliar for No. 3 West Allegheny, a two-time defending WPIAL champion. Injuries hurt the team all season, and senior Will Weber fought through a lingering ankle sprain Friday to rush for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Weber also threw for a touchdown, a 13-yarder to Mateo Vandamia with 9:16 left in the fourth.
"We've shown a little bit of our toughness," West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said, "and I think the kids were proud to represent our program which is touching for me. Because when you have kids who don't have as much ability or talent but they give you everything they've got, those are pretty special young men."
Afterward, Palko admitted this "could be" his last game. The veteran coach, who owns a record eight WPIAL titles, is taking early retirement as a teacher in the district.
"I'm retiring from education," Palko said. "That's all I know right now."
Palko, who has a reputation for two-point gambles, was the first coach to go for two Friday. His Indians found success early in the third quarter after an 80-yard touchdown run by Weber. Noah Ledford's conversion gave West Allegheny a 15-14 lead.
But in the fourth, trailing 22-21 after Vandamia's touchdown catch, West Allegheny chose to kick the tying extra point rather than go for the lead. Kolby Stout's kick missed.
Both offenses had the same plan: run the football.
McKeesport's triple-option showed its strength as Jordan, quarterback Johnny Harper and wingback Carlinos Acie all scored touchdowns. Harper led with 117 yards on 14 carries, while Jordan added 74 yards on 14 carries.
Harper had a 51-yard touchdown run on the second snap and Acie added a 36-yarder later in the first quarter. In between was a 1-yard touchdown run by Weber.
McKeesport rushed for 254 yards while West Allegheny rushed for 255.
"It was old school," Miller said, "everyone running the ball, smash-mouth football, and we were able to pull it out."
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.