Bishop Canevin, OLSH both looking for school’s 2nd WPIAL title in Class A final

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Thursday, November 25, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Having one WPIAL football championship in the trophy case is good, but having two is twice as nice.

That is the goal for the two combatants in the 2021 WPIAL Class A championship game set for 2 p.m. Friday at Heinz Field.

It was only three years ago when Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (9-3) capped off its program’s eighth year of existence with a 28-6 victory over rival Rochester to win the 2018 Class A crown.

It was a tad longer, 31 years to be exact, since Canevin (12-1) upset Washington, 21-20, to win WPIAL Class AA gold.

Now those respective trophies are hoping to soon have company.

OLSH coach Dan Bradley knows what his ninth-seeded Chargers need to do to win it all.

“First, we need to play disciplined football. Limit dead ball penalties and limit mistakes,” he said. “Defensively, we need to contain their big-play guys.”

So far this postseason, OLSH has been able to limit the opponent’s big plays, holding Greensburg Central Catholic, Clairton and Rochester to an average of 12 points per game.

On offense, junior quarterback Nehemiah Azeem has been a dream for the Chargers. He has thrown for 377 yards and four touchdowns in three playoff games. He also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown in a 14-13 semifinal win over Rochester.

The balanced OLSH run game is something that concerns Bishop Canevin coach Richard Johnson.

“Stop the run,” he said. “They are really good at what they do. Their bread and butter is wearing you down and running the ball.”

While Azeem is the definitive leader of the OLSH offense, who will guide Bishop Canevin remains to be seen.

In the first round and quarterfinals, sophomore Jason Cross led the Crusaders with five touchdown runs and a pair of scoring passes. However, Cross struggled early in the semifinal against Cornell and was replaced by freshman Kole Olszewski, who connected on 9 of 13 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns to rally the Crusaders to a 24-7 victory.

“We will continue to roll with the hot hand and break their film down and see which one matches up better,” Johnson said. “They both provide a different look.”

This is a very young Bishop Canevin team, but they have not blinked in the postseason spotlight, outscoring Burgettstown, Shenango and Cornell, 115-27.

Does Johnson have any concerns about how his Crusaders will handle the big stage of playing for a championship at Heinz Field?

“One thing about our guys is we play free,” he said. “They go up against tough competition every day in practice. If they make a mistake, you owe your teammates a play. It’s been like that all year, so they know what the expectation is. Play fast and fearless. The rest will take care of itself.”

Both coaches realized early on that they might have something special brewing here in the 2021 season.

“In the beginning of the year, we believed we could be a factor in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “We felt we could be in the final four if we stayed healthy, had some luck and made plays.”

“When we were able to jell at camp, we knew we could be a contender,” Johnson said. “Our main thing was becoming a closer family. To hang out with each other all day with no outside distractions forced us to focus on us. They started to trust each other. We became a team.”

The last time these two teams were scheduled to play was in Week 4 of the 2019 season. Bishop Canevin forfeited the game as part of a 1-9 season for the Crusaders. They did play the previous year with the Chargers winning big, 42-0.

Third-seeded Bishop Canevin has won seven straight games since its only loss of the season in Week 5, 28-18 to Clairton.

Meanwhile, OLSH had lost three of four games heading into their regular season finale against Big 7 Conference champion Cornell. The Chargers prevailed in that game and have won four straight.

“I think we realized the finality of the season,” Bradley said. “It’s been a completely focused team the last four weeks. We’ve been playing a very physical brand of football and we’re forcing a lot of turnovers.”

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