That has been Steel Valley’s motto the entire 2016 football season and did not come close to stopping Saturday night at Joe Walton Stadium at Robert Morris University.
The top-seeded Ironmen (13-0) ran away with their 13th consecutive mercy rule victory in the WPIAL 2A Championship Game, beating No. 3 Neshannock 49-14.
“It means a lot to bring this back to Steel Valley,” said head coach Rod Steele. “The Mon Valley has always been known for hard-nosed kids, good programs and you can throw us in there now as Champions.”
Steel Valley wasted little time in opening up their advantage. On Neshannock’s opening drive, Steel Valley linebacker Kaleb Hughes blocked a punt. Neshannock punter Danny Welker recovered and advanced the ball for a first down. However, four snaps later, Hughes again blocked Welker’s punt, with Steel Valley tackling Welker at the Neshannock 5-yard line.
On Neshannock’s next play, DeWayne Murray hit the end zone for the first of his five touchdown runs.
Murray, a division one recruit who moved into sixth place on the WPIAL’s all-time leading rushing list, carried 16 times for 213 yards and scored on runs of 5, 2, 3, 75 and 13 yards. The senior tailback now has 6,259 yards and 111 touchdowns in his career, including 43 scores this season.
“We played as a team and came together as brothers,” said Murray, who also led the Ironmen with eight tackles on defense.
After Murray’s first score, Steel Valley forced a punt and, on the first play of their third drive, Quarterback Ryan Harper connected with Zai’ Henderson for a 65-yard scoring strike.
On their ensuing offensive drive, Harper found tight end Trevon Adams for a 55-yard bomb down the middle of the field to push the Ironmen lead to 21-0 after the first quarter.
Harper finished 7 of 13 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns.
Murray again found the endzone midway through the second quarter with a 2-yard run set up by a 38-yard Paris Ford punt return and a 38-yard leaping reception by Ford to the Neshannock 2-yard line.
Ford, a Pitt recruit, accounted for 129 all-purpose yards, made 7 tackles, 2 for loss, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.
“We have big targets,” Harper said. “When they target (Ford), we have other guys like Zai’Quan Henderson and they all make big plays when we need it.”
Up 28-0 at half, Steel Valley had outgained Neshannock 264-67, including 182-22 through the air.
The Ironmen sent the game into the mercy rule in the second half on a 3-yard run by Murray to cap off a 3-play drive.
After Amonte Strothers intercepted Antuono, Murray again hit pay dirt, sprinting 75 yards to give Steel Valley a 42-0 edge with 7:13 left in the third quarter.
Ford then forced a fumble on Neshannock’s ensuing drive. Murray finished off Steel Valley’s scoring with 1:31 left in the third on a 13-yard dashthat pushed it to 49-0.
Neshannock was able to break the shutout in the final quarter on touchdown passes from Antuono to Anthony Dovidio and from Jared Staph to Greg Fornataro, both from six yards out.
For the game, Steel Valley outgained Neshannock 441-203.
Antuono, the WPIAL’s second player to end his career with 5,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards, finished 7 of 23 passing for 51 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
For Steel Valley, the win gives the Ironmen their fourth WPIAL title of all-time and first since 1989, as Steele joins George Novak and Jack Giran as coaches to win titles for Steel Valley.
“What’s special about this team is the bond and the friendships they have with one another,” Steele said. “When they have that bond and set their mind to do something, you know, it’s pretty special.”
Neshannock’s season is over at 12-2 after their 10-game winning steak is snapped. Senior tailback Sean Doran rushed for 95 yards and 16 carries and caught four passes for 31 yards.
Steel Valley advances to the PIAA 2A Semifinals and will meet Wilmington on Friday at 7 p.m. at North Allegheny High School.
Score By Quarter
Neshannock: 0 – 0 – 0 – 14 = 14
Steel Valley: 21 – 7 – 21 – 0 = 49
5:03 – SV – DeWayne Murray 5-yard Run (Alex Grace Kick) 7-0 SV
4:22 – SV – Zai’ Henderson 65-yard Pass from Ryan Harper (Grace Kick) 14-0 SV
1:43 – SV – Trevon Adams 55-yard Pass from Harper (Grace Kick) 21-0 SV
7:44 – SV – Murray 2-yard Run (Grace Kick) 28-0 SV
9:07 – SV – Murray 3-yard Run (Grace Kick) 35-0 SV
7:18 – SV – Murray 75-yard Run (Grace Kick) 42-0 SV
1:31 – SV – Murray 13-yard Run (Grace Kick) 49-0 SV
6:54 – N – Anthony Dovidio 6-Yard Pass from Frank Antuono (Tristan Tuck Kick) 49-7 SV
0:15 – N – Greg Fornataro 6-yard Pass from Jared Staph (Tuck Kick) 49-14 SV