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Elizabeth Forward savors rare victory at Belle Vernon Area

| Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, 12:27 a.m.
Belle Vernon's #81 Matt McCloskey loses the ball after hitting the ground for an incomplete pass as Elizabeth Forward's #18 Jaylen French looks to tackle, at Belle Vernon's Jim Weir Stadium. Jim Ference | Valley Independent

It's been a long time coming for Elizabeth Forward.

For the first time in nine seasons, the Warriors traveled to James Weir Stadium, the home of their rivals to the south, Belle Vernon Area 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.”

The Leopards defense looked like it was going to set the tone early, allowing only two yards on the first two Warrior plays, but Warriors quarterback JaQuaun Davidson made a statement of his own when he found wideout Matt Bernadowski down deep 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.

On the Leopards' first offensive play, the snap went over receiver Cody Menges' head, and was recovered by the Warriors' Adam Smith at the BVA 4-yard line. Two plays later, running back Rex Pearce scored his first of three touchdowns on the night from two yards out.

The next Leopard drive saw another fumble, this time on a pitch that hit running back Anthony Levis in the face mask. The Warriors recovered again, this time at the Leopard 2-yard line. Pearce dove into the end zone on the next play to make it 21-0 with only three minutes elapsed.

Leopards quarterback Travis Snyder, who was injured against West Mifflin two weeks ago, made his first appearance after the third Warriors score.

“There was no hesitation there,” BVA 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 (1-3, 1-3) embarked on a 10-play drive before Bernadowski picked off a Snyder pass and returned it to the Warriors 37-yard line. It was the first of two interceptions for the Warriors' defensive back.

Two plays later, the leader of the Warriors two-headed attack struck again as Davidson raced 66 yards for yet another Warriors touchdown to make it 28-0 in favor of the visitors.

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 a hard 113 yards on 20 carries while Davidson tallied 165 yards on 15 carries and completed 2-of-6 passes for 130 yards, all to Bernadowski.

“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 when they're out there that long.

“We have to find something and start executing. That responsibility falls on me.”

The Leopards didn't go down without a fight and finally lit up the scoreboard when Derek Verkleeren raced 78 yards for a touchdown off of a reverse from Menges on the opening kickoff of the second half.

“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 night's scoring with a 1-yard touchdown 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.”

GAME NOTES: LeDonne applauded the efforts of his defensive line, which gave up only 25 yards on the ground ... Snyder finished 3-of-16 for 48 yards and three interceptions ... Verkleeren averaged 45 yards per punt, including a 62-yarder ... The Warriors finished with 10 penalties for 128 yards ... 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 staff writer for Trib Total media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or