Beaver Falls, Steel Valley to meet in clash of WPIAL Class 2A powerhouses

Wednesday, November 23, 2022 | 8:18 PM

Last season, Beaver Falls had a WPIAL championship experience to forget.

The Tigers turned the ball over nine times — a WPIAL record for a championship game — in a loss to Serra Catholic on the North Shore.

That experience has turned into a rallying cry for Beaver Falls, which is set to play in its third straight WPIAL title game at 2 p.m. Friday against Steel Valley.

Beaver Falls reigned supreme in Class 2A in 2020 by defeating Sto-Rox for gold before last year’s loss to Serra Catholic.

On their way to Acrisure Stadium, the 11-1 Tigers have knocked off Ligonier Valley and Sto-Rox in convincing fashion after receiving a first-round bye.

Steel Valley is a team that was also on top of the mountain not too long ago. In 2016, the Ironmen punctuated a memorable and dominant district season by mercy ruling their way to a WPIAL title with a 49-14 win over Neshannock. They mercy ruled every opponent that season all the way to a state title.

So the last championship appearance for the Ironmen faithful is a fond memory.

Now the two go at it for the Class 2A title Friday at Acrisure Stadium.

“All season long we’ve preached ball security,” said Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone. “In a game like this, turnovers can be a big thing. We have to protect the ball on offense and make plays on defense to get the ball back. Steel Valley is a tremendous football team. It’s going to take a full team effort.”

Steel Valley was ousted from the playoffs last year by the Tigers, 21-8, in the semifinals, but coach Ray Braszo doesn’t think his team is looking for revenge from that exit. It’s just looking to capitalize on a chance to win a championship.

“That’s our goal is to win a championship,” said Braszo. “I don’t know that it matters who it is, but the kids know how tough a team Beaver Falls was last year and are again this year. They’ll have to meet the challenge.”

One could argue that both teams are just as impressive defensively as they are offensively. Both average at least 39 points per game on offense and both allow 8.2 or fewer points per game. They’re the top two teams in Class 2A in scoring defense.

In fact, Belle Vernon, a Class 3A finalist, is the only other team in the district that can boast a scoring defense as good as one of these two. The Leopards are at 8.2 points per game, the same as Beaver Falls.

While they’re fast, smart and aggressive on defense, they’re lighting up the scoreboard on the offensive side of the ball.

Dual-threat quarterback Cruce Brookins leads the way for the Ironmen. He’s thrown for 711 yards and seven touchdowns to just one interception on 69 attempts this season. He’s also run for 1,454 yards on 107 attempts, which is 13.6 yards per carry. He’s found the end zone 31 times.

Donald and Da’Ron Barksdale, as well as Quaron Pierce and Jesean Wright, have all carried the rock 21-plus times. Four runners, including Brookings, average at least 10.4 yards per touch. Donald Barksdale has run it 68 times for 232 yards, but he’s found the end zone 14 times.

The Tigers are led by quarterback Jaren Brickner, a passer who has accumulated 1,175 yards through the air and 15 touchdowns this season. He can get it done on the ground, too, with 652 yards on 97 carries. His backfield of Brixx Rawl, Drey Hall, Datalian Beauford and Trey Singleton are dangerous too.

Singleton is also a prolific threat to catch the ball and make big plays. He has 30 receptions this season for 1,022 yards and has scored 20 touchdowns. He’s scored seven times in the playoffs: three in the win over Ligonier Valley and four in the semifinal victory over Sto-Rox.

Da’Sean Anderson also makes an impact. He scored multiple touchdowns in last week’s win.

Something has to give.

“(Beaver Falls) is a very good running team. They always are. They have good speed defensive-wise, too, and have a good strategy on that side,” said Braszo. “Their quarterback is excellent and smart. They’re always good. We respect that.”

Nardone said top to bottom, Steel Valley will be his team’s toughest opponent by far.

“They’re a very well-rounded team. They have big-name guys that get the notoriety, but top to bottom they’re solid,” said Nardone. “Up front, they’re really good on both sides of the ball. We’ll have to match their ability and intensity. Skill-wise, they’ve got guys at positions that get attention, but a lot of guys can make plays. It’s going to be a good battle.”

The Tigers have won four of the five meetings between these teams in the last 20 years, all of which have come in the postseason. Last year’s 21-8 semifinal win for the Tigers is the most recent result. In the 2015 quarterfinals, Steel Valley beat Beaver Falls, 24-18. Beaver Falls won first-round games in 2009 and 2010 and won in the quarterfinals in 2007.

You can watch the game exclusively on the TribLIVE School Sports Network.

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