South Park back in playoffs
South Park's football team hadn't qualified for a postseason bid since 2005. Tom Loughran coached the Eagles to an undefeated record and a PIAA championship that year.
Loughran was on the South Park sideline Friday, urging on his team in a hotly contested game at Steel Valley that meant everything to the Eagles' hopes of getting back to the WPIAL playoffs.
It wasn't any easy time.
Quarterback Nick Scholle scored two touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards to help South Park to its fifth consecutive victory by beating Steel Valley, 22-0, in a Century Conference game, clinching the Eagles' first WPIAL playoff berth since they won that state title in 2005.
South Park scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to clinch its first playoff berth since going 16-0 overall in winning WPIAL and PIAA titles eight years ago.
“I'm happy for the kids,” Loughran said. “We set goals at the beginning of the season to win a conference championship, make the WPIAL playoffs and win another PIAA championship.”
Pretty lofty aspirations for a team that started the season 0-2.
“We have a good team. These guys play hard. I give them an A-plus for effort,” Loughran said. “We're not always the smartest team, but we give it our all.”
Scholle scored on runs of 8 and 26 yards for South Park (5-2, 5-1), which took advantage of five Steel Valley turnovers. Greg Pantuso also scored on a 3-yard run for the Eagles, who opened the year with losses to No. 10 Quaker Valley and top-ranked Aliquippa.
“The team that prepares for their opponent, the one that's focused all week during practice, without any distractions, that's the team that comes out victorious,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said.
“When you have distractions during the week, it has an affect on the results,” he said.
It was the fifth consecutive loss for Steel Valley (2-5, 2-4).
The teams combined for nine turnovers, but Steel Valley's were costlier. The miscues began with a South Park safety that the Ironmen gave up on the first drive of the game. A snap went over the head of punter Brandon Donovan, who kicked the ball out of the end zone to avoid a possible fumble that could have resulted in an Eagles touchdown.
Leading 2-0, South Park scored its first touchdown on an 8-yard run by Scholle with 4:17 left in the first half, giving the Eagles an 8-0 advantage that stayed put until the fourth quarter, as both teams' defenses, at times, were brilliant.
Steel Valley's Derek Taylor intercepted a pair of Scholle passes.
But the Ironmen finally wore down in the fourth quarter after their offense failed to find the end zone, despite several long drives deep into South Park territory.
“The defense played great, for sure,” Steele said, “but our offense just didn't finish.”
Steel Valley played much of the game without senior running back D'Andre Pickens, who reinjured an ankle in the first quarter. Pickens, who gained more than 600 yards and scored nine touchdowns in the Ironmen's first two games before severely spraining the ankle, carried just six times for 7 yards.
“Losing a player of his caliber affects me, and it affects the other kids,” Steele said. “Ultimately, when your leader goes down, it affects everyone.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.