South Allegheny starts slow, routs Keystone Oaks
South Allegheny may not have qualified for the WPIAL Class AA playoffs since 1986, but on the cusp of ending a 26-year postseason drought, the Gladiators were nearly victims of their own overconfidence against winless Keystone Oaks.
“We were a little bit cocky in the beginning because we are a little bit better this year,” South Allegheny senior quarterback Dustin Anderson said. “We got shown up for a little bit, but we came back and did our jobs.”
Did they ever.
South Allegheny (6-1, 5-1) scored 34 unanswered points in the second half to erase an early deficit and rolled to a 34-10 victory over Keystone Oaks (0-7, 0-6) in a Century Conference matchup at Dormont Memorial Stadium. The team's sixth consecutive victory, coupled with Steel Valley's dramatic 26-21 win over South Park, officially ended the Gladiators' playoff drought as they clinched a spot in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs.
“This is great because we haven't made the playoffs since '86 and we haven't seen nothing,” South Allegheny receiver Josh Rountree said. “We've just got to keep proving ourselves week to week and keep it going next week.”
Rountree made the play that turned things around.
With South Allegheny trailing, 10-0, with less than two minutes remaining in the first half, Keystone Oaks had a second-and-18 at the Gladiators 34 and appeared ready to extend its lead. Golden Eagles quarterback Kobe Phillippi, who had already thrown one touchdown pass to receiver Cory Sevacko, targeted him in the end zone, but Rountree made a leaping interception to turn them away before the intermission.
“He stabilized us,” South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe said. “He's such a force back there with his range and his ability to cover the entire field and we just had to get a sense of where they were trying to go and he was able to do that by making his own adjustments and that stemmed the tide.”
Rountree added another interception in the second half and also caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Anderson, who finished 8 of 12 for 98 yards and also ran for two scores. But the interceptions proved invaluable as the defense rose to the occasion in the second half and limited Keystone Oaks to nine yards of offense and 11 plays.
“That first interception kind of turned us around,” Rountree said. “We went into the locker room and got yelled at a little bit, but we came out and played ball.”
South Allegheny outgained Keystone Oaks, 225-9, after the intermission after the Golden Eagles made several big plays and picked up 174 yards in the first two quarters. Before the first interception Phillippi was 5 of 10 for 110 yards and Sevacko had caught four for 104 and the lone touchdown, but afterward Phillippi was 0 for 2 with two picks.
Keystone Oaks, in fact, made an impact on its very first play when Phillippi hooked up with Sevacko for 44 yards to give the team a first down at the South Allegheny 13. Though the Gladiators defense held, Diego Fernandez-Peteiro Belmonte chipped in a 26-yard field goal to give the Golden Eagles a quick 3-0 lead just 2:15 into the game.
Unfazed, South Allegheny pushed the ball all the way to the Keystone Oaks 19 on its first possession, but the recurring penalty theme began as the Gladiators were hit with a holding penalty and turned it over on downs at the Golden Eagles 28.
Even when South Allegheny appeared to stop Keystone Oaks, the team came up with a trick or two to keep up the assault. On a fourth-and-8 from its own 48, the Golden Eagles ran a fake punt that concluded with a pitch to Sevacko for a 16-yard gain and a first down. Then, on a fourth-and-15 from the Gladiators 27, Sevacko made a diving catch at the pylon to give Keystone Oaks a 10-0 lead with 25 seconds left in the opening quarter.
“At halftime coach told us he thought we were a playoff team and that all we had to do was keep our heads up and we got the game,” Anderson said. “It's as simple as that.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.