Elizabeth Forward ambushes Belle Vernon
It's been a long time coming for Elizabeth Forward.
For the first time in nine seasons, the Warriors traveled to Belle Vernon and won a football game. Not only did they win, they won handily.
The Warriors used big plays and capitalized on three Leopard turnovers in the first quarter en route to a 35-6 Class AAA Big Nine Conference win.
“It's been a real long time,” Warriors coach Mike LeDonne said. “I had the pleasure of playing in this atmosphere, and I fell short. We stressed to the guys that this is the team that knocked us out of the chance to play for a championship in 1999. To win this one is really special, for me and these kids.”
On the Warriors' third offensive play, quarterback JaQuaun Davidson found wideout Matt Bernadowski down the middle for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
While more offense was to come from the Warriors (2-2, 2-2), that would be all they needed.
Elizabeth Forward's Adam Smith recovered a bad snap at the Belle Vernon 4, and two plays later, running back Rex Pearce scored his first of three touchdowns, from 2 yards out.
Belle Vernon (1-3, 1-3) fumbled on its next drive, and the Warriors recovered again, this time at the Leopard 2-yard line. Pearce scored on the next play for a 21-0 lead three minutes into the game.
Leopards quarterback Travis Snyder, injured against West Mifflin two weeks ago, made his first appearance after the third Warrior score.
“There was no hesitation there,” Belle Vernon coach Aaron Krepps said. “We knew that there was a good chance he was going to be able to go this week, and down, 21-0, we needed to try to do something on offense.”
With Snyder at the helm, the Leopards embarked on a 10-play drive before Bernadowski picked off a Snyder pass and returned it to the Warriors 37. It was the first of two interceptions for the Elizabeth Forward defensive back.
Two plays later, Davidson raced 66 yards for another Warrior touchdown to make it 28-0.
LeDonne wasn't surprised by the success of Davidson and Pearce.
“In simple words, I'll take it,” LeDonne said of the pair. “You look at a kid like Rex; the kid got dinged up, he was in pain and he went back in there and played through it. He's a true warrior.”
Pearce rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries. Davidson tallied 165 yards on 15 carries.
“I thought we had some opportunities,” Krepps said of his team's performance. “It's just the little things. We're not playing sound football. We got down and that was it. We're not generating any offense and it really puts our defense in a bad situation.
“We have to find something and start executing. That responsibility falls on me.”
The Leopards didn't go down without a fight and finally scored when Derek Verkleeren raced 78 yards for a touchdown on a reverse on the second-half kickoff.
“We actually only had 10 guys on the field,” LeDonne said of the play.
“Our safety counted wrong and thought we had 11 on the field, so he ran off. It was a debacle and it's on us as coaches.”
Pearce finished off the scoring with a 1-yard run with 2:23 left in the third quarter. The score was set up by a 67-yard run by Davidson.
“You know, the three turnovers early on, that was us last season,” LeDonne said. “To credit Belle Vernon, though, they never quit fighting. Coach Krepps did a great job keeping his team in the game. They never folded.”
Note: Warriors offensive lineman Michael Ocilka was ejected in the third quarter and will be ineligible for next week's game against Uniontown.
Jeremy Sellew is a freelance writer