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Wilkinsburg holds off Leechburg

| Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

After two years as a starter at center, Wilkinsburg's Jonathan Carpenter sparkled in his debut at quarterback.

Carpenter completed seven passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers posted a 24-14 victory in the season opener at Graham Field.

Sophomore Robert Higginbotham caught a 73-yard pass from Carpenter to open the scoring then returned an interception 62 yards for a touchdown.

Wilkinsburg took a 24-0 lead but had to hold off a late Leechburg rally.

Blue Devils touchdowns by Shon Seibert and Jeff Holmes cut the deficit to 10.

The game marked the Eastern Conference opener for both teams, and the victory gave Wilkinsburg an 12-11 edge in the series.

“Can you believe that kid was a center?” Tigers coach Michael Fulmore said. “I'll tell you what. I couldn't be any prouder of Jonathan. We talked about it all preseason, and he's got quite an arm on him.”

“It felt pretty good out there,” Carpenter said. “You have all the eyes on you.”

Leechburg drove to the Wilkinsburg 10, but the Blue Devils missed a 22-yard field goal.

Carpenter then completed a 20-yard pass to Genaro Coleman and two plays later connected with Higginbotham on the 73-yard scoring play.

An interception by Shemar Owens Bailey set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Carpenter to Xavier Reed with 13 seconds left in the half.

After Eric Dowdy recovered a Leechburg fumble on the second-half kickoff, Dremar Everette scored on a 30-yard pass.

“It was like deja vu,” Leechburg coach Mark George said. “The same thing happened here last year. We fumbled the second-half kickoff, and it took the air out of our sails.”

Three plays from scrimmage later, Higginbotham picked off a J.B. Burtick pass and raced 62 yards to put the Tigers ahead 24-0.

Wilkinsburg missed four consecutive two-point conversion tries.

The Blue Devils scored with 45 seconds left in the third quarter on a 46-yard sweep right by Seibert.

Leechburg then thwarted a fake-punt attempt by Reed and took over at the Tigers' 30. Five plays later, sophomore Burtick found Jeff Holmes in the end zone for a 13-yard score.

Burtick was in the lineup because of an injury to quarterback Josh Stearman.

But Leechburg wasn't done as Cory Nulph recovered an onsides kick. Burtick, however, was sacked twice, forcing a punt.

“We played one quarter today,” George said. “When we didn't punch it in in the first quarter, it took us awhile to get motivated. ...We didn't execute and play the way we're capable of playing.”

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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