Wilkinsburg holds off Leechburg in opener
Wilkinsburg and Leechburg seemed determined to put on an offensive onslaught Saturday afternoon, but the heat at Graham Field turned the game into a battle of attrition, as the Tigers held onto a 14-13 Eastern Conference victory in the season opener.
Both offenses seemed poised for a big outing in the opening minutes, as Wilkinsburg quarterback Ryan Cox tore through the Leechburg secondary with two passes, both to wide receiver Robert Higginbotham, for 51 yards during the first drive, giving the Tigers (1-0, 1-0) an early 6-0 lead.
Leechburg (0-1, 0-1) also moved the ball well, cracking the Tigers' 10-yard line in its first two drives, but stalled with a blocked field goal and a turnover on downs.
The Blue Devils' defense made up for the missed opportunities when Matthew Rzewnicki jumped in front of Cox's pass and danced his way to the Wilkinsburg 5. The interception set up halfback Alex Kalmar's 3-yard touchdown run, putting the Blue Devils up, 7-6, midway through the second quarter.
That was the first of six combined turnovers that slowed the game's pace and had both offenses baffled throughout the second half. The players began to cramp midway through the second quarter.
Wilkinsburg coach Mike Fulmore said he was pleased with his team's effort but recognized it will need to improve in order to have a successful season.
“Our guys played tough,” he said. “It's the first game of the year, it's the first time these guys have been tested. We continue to hold our standard high and we'll work on it and be better next week.”
The Tigers owned a 14-7 halftime lead after defensive end Ramere Brown returned a fumble 5 yards for a touchdown.
Leechburg had several chances to tie the game but stalled on fourth down before quarterback Alex Sipolino found Taylor Oberdorf open on the left side for an 18-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. But Quinten Wolfgang could not convert the extra point, leaving the Blue Devils down, 14-13.
Leechburg coach Mark George said he will need to address his team's mental focus in the coming weeks after failing to capitalize on several chances.
“When you're tired, you're mentally not as sharp,” George said. “When you're not as sharp, when you get mentally sluggish, that's what happens. Your fundamentals go out the window.”
The Blue Devils had one final chance to win the game, facing a first-and-10 from the Wilkinsburg 35 with just under a minute remaining, but they failed to convert on a fourth-and-2 from the 27 that clinched the game for the Tigers.
Wes Crosby is a freelance writer.