Elizabeth Forward rallies past Belle Vernon

| Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 12:12 a.m.

Elizabeth Forward found itself trailing Belle Vernon early and was still down at halftime, yet the Warriors managed to come back for a 35-13 Big Nine victory on Friday night, thanks to a couple of big-time playmakers.

Matt Bernadowski returned the second-half kickoff 82 yards for one of his four touchdowns, igniting a 28-point third-quarter scoring spree that carried Elizabeth Forward (3-1, 3-1) to its third home victory without a loss this season.

Bernadowski also scored on a 45-yard punt return in the first half, cutting the Belle Vernon lead to 13-7, and added two other third-quarter TDs on a 41-yard run and a 10-yard pass from quarterback JaQuaun Davidson, who rushed for 144 yards, including a 67-yard scoring run that sealed the outcome late in the third.

“We have too many weapons, too many playmakers to be (nearly) shutout in the first half,” Elizabeth Forward coach Mike LeDonne said. “Give Belle Vernon credit. They got on us early.”

Belle Vernon (1-3, 1-3), which lost its third game in a row, was playing without injured quarterback Travis Snider and running back Anthony Levis.

The Leopards scored all their points in the first quarter.

Derek Verkleeren gave Belle Vernon a 7-0 lead with an 85-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Freshman quarterback Mike Fine, making his first career start, then scored on a 1-yard run to increase the lead to 13-0.

Fine finished the game 12 of 21 for 120 yards and one interceptions, but the Belle Vernon offense sputtered for much of the way.

“Mike has a bright future, but he's got to grow up quickly for us,” Belle Vernon coach Aaron Krepps said.

But Davidson and Bernadowski helped to engineer enough successful plays to go around — particularly in the third quarter, when Elizabeth Forward took charge of the game.

“This is the third week in a row that we've collapsed in the second half,” Krepps said. “We lose focus and shut down.”

Bernadowski got loose down the left sideline for his kickoff return to open the second half to give Elizabeth Forward the lead for good, 14-13, and the Warriors gained momentum when Davidson found Bernadowski minutes later on the 10-yard scoring strike to make it 21-13.

Davidson was just 3-for-7 passing for 33 yards, with all the completions going to Bernadowski, who raced nearly untouched into the end zone on his 41-yard scoring run on the next possession to give Elizabeth Forward a 28-13 advantage.

When Davidson sprinted 67 yards for another score, it was as though he was telling Bernadowski not to claim all the credit.

“JaQuaun is starting to take charge more and more,” LeDonne said. “We can be a very dangerous team when he plays with an edge. We were tonight in the second half.”

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