Central Valley overpowers Belle Vernon Area
Take an already banged up Belle Vernon Area football team, strip it of its top playmaker and then set it up against an athletic opponent giving up an average of five points per game and you have a recipe for disaster.
That's pretty much the story of the 14th-seeded Leopards' 40-7 WPIAL AAA first-round playoff defeat at the hands of third-seeded Central Valley.
All-conference senior wide receiver Cody Menges went down in last week's victory over Albert Gallatin to a high ankle sprain that stripped the Leps of their top receiver — he had averaged 24 yards per catch with eight touchdowns on the season — and return man.
“Injuries have been the status quo for us,” BVA coach Aaron Krepps said. “It's tough. It's never easy at any level and it puts us in some difficult situations at times. When you lose your starting quarterback and your starting tailback and then your top receiver goes down right before the playoffs, it's never an advantage by any stretch of the imagination. It just makes things difficult.”
Down 26-0 and set to kick off to begin the second half, kicker Derek Verkleeren dribbled the ball forward and recovered his onside kick to light a spark underneath the Leps.
“It was a great kick,” Krepps said. “We have practiced it a lot and Derek executed it perfectly. It gave us a lot of momentum at the beginning of the second half.”
But at the Warriors' 15-yard line six plays later, a tipped pass fell into the hands of Central Valley's Jordan Whitehead, who raced 99 yards the other way for a pick six. After a BVA three-and-out, Whitehead struck again, taking a punt back 77 yards for the mercy-rule triggered touchdown.
“Obviously the game plan was to not give them any extra opportunities to get the ball into Whitehead's hands,” Krepps said. “He's a dynamic player. We did held him in the first half but he is hard to stop.”
The Leopards were unable to get much of anything going against a Warriors defense that shutout five opponents during the regular season. The Warriors' front seven harassed freshmen quarterback Mike Fine, sacking him four times and intercepting him three times. Running backs Luke Durigon and Philip Taylor produced several nice runs on Central Valley's first team defense, but they were few and far between. Durigon led the Leps with 55 yards on 17 carries.
“Their defense is physical, disciplined and very athletic,” Krepps said. “They have size up front and speed in the back end. They're tough to play against. Luke ran hard. He's a fighter. Hopefully the experience taking the brunt of the carries for us this season is only going to make him better in the future. He is going to be a very nice tailback.”
It wasn't until the Leps were down 40-0 that they were able to reach the red zone. Fine was nearly intercepted trying to find senior tight end Jake Sweitzer downfield, but Sweitzer was able to get his hand on the ball and wrestle it from the defender as the pair hit the ground for a 29 yard gain. Durigon went in from three yards out on the next play for the Leopard's only touchdown. Fine finished strong after a shaky start, with a final line of 7 completions of 13 attempts for 71 yards, three of those to Sweitzer for 39 yards.
“The rule is if they both come down with the ball it goes to the offense,” Krepps said. “Jake made a great play to get his hands on the ball and make the play for us.”
BVA took advantage of several Central Valley miscues and on the strength of a gutsy defensive line the Leopards only trailed 14-0 after 16 minutes of play. But BVA muffed a punt and the Warriors recovered at the six. Three plays later quarterback John George found JaQuan Pennington in the endzone for a score. George himself took the next one in – from 23 yards out – but the conversion failed and Central Valley led 26-0 at the half. Central Valley advances to play (blank) next week.
“You hope the younger kids learn from this,” Krepps said. “We have 20 underclassmen who lettered, who saw a lot of time and you hope that they use this game as a learning experience and turn it into an advantage going forward.”
Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.