Central Valley dominates Bald Eagle Area to earn trip to Hershey

Friday, November 29, 2019 | 10:44 PM

One thing in particular that stands out from the many things that Central Valley coach Mark Lyons loves about his football team is that they enjoy playing together and not one player believes he is above another.

On Friday, the Warriors took that mentality onto the field and earned a trip to Hershey together.

Central Valley was dominant on offense, defense and special teams on its way to rolling past District 6 champion Bald Eagle Area 45-0 in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals at Moon’s Tiger Stadium.

Central Valley (13-1) advanced to the PIAA finals for the second time in the 10-year history of the school and first time since 2014. The Warriors will try to win their first state title when they face District 2 champ Wyoming Area in the finals at noon next Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.

“It really means a lot, because these guys are just solid football players and they all flew under the radar a bit,” Lyons said. “There aren’t any big D1 prospects or anyone getting ink that they are a four- or five-star recruit. They just work at it together and they get excited for one another when they make a play.”

Coming off a bye after an emotional 13-12 overtime win over Aliquippa in the WPIAL final two weeks ago, Central Valley looked refreshed and ready to go from start to finish.

The Warriors intercepted Bald Eagle Area quarterback Jaden Jones three times, scored a defensive touchdown and recorded a safety on a sack in the end zone by Justin Thompson. On special teams, the Warriors recovered a fumble on a short kickoff. They had five different players score touchdowns on offense.

Ameer Dudley passed for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 124 yards on 10 carries. His night was finished midway through the third quarter after he scored on a 6-yard run that put Central Valley in front 35-0 and put the game into the mercy rule.

“This is just hard work paying off,” Dudley said. “It’s big for our seniors. It’s been five years since we last made it there, so that’s a whole class of high school players that didn’t get there.”

Stephon Hall was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the Warriors’ first possession, but the defense quickly got the momentum back two plays later when Thompson sacked Jones in the end zone for a safety.

Then the Central Valley offense shifted into high gear.

Following the free kick after the safety, the Warriors got the ball at the Bald Eagle Area 40 and scored five plays later on a 10-yard run by Jaylen Guy.

Ethan Ott kicked the ensuing kickoff short, and it was muffed by Bald Eagle Area and recovered by Central Valley at the Eagles 30. On the next play, Dudley threw a 30-yard touchdown strike to Jawon Hall.

The touchdowns came 11 seconds apart and gave Central Valley a 15-0 lead.

The Warriors purposely kicked short to avoid Bald Eagle Area’s dangerous kick returner, Gage McClenahan, all night and it worked out — not only keeping the ball out of his hands, but also leading to a turnover.

“I’m not that coach that’s going to send a message to the other team by kicking it to their best player,” Lyons said. “I was on the other end of that. Teams used to try to send a message by kicking to (Robert) Foster or (Jordan) Whitehead. I know where their strengths are, and we are not going to play to their strengths. We ended up getting a turnover out of it, and it benefited us.”

Dudley added an 8-yard touchdown pass to Myles Walker in the second quarter, and Michael Barbuto scored on an 18-yard run on a reverse.

Bald Eagle Area (11-4) got into Warriors territory on its final two possessions of the first half, but both drives ended in interceptions. Reed FitzSimmons picked a Jones pass off at the Warriors 10 with less than six minutes remaining in the first half and Jayvin Thompson had an interception on the final play before halftime.

Matt Merrit intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. The Warriors sacked Jones six times and the Eagles had minus-21 yards rushing as a team.

Central Valley becomes the fourth team in a row from the Tri-County West Conference to make the state finals. Beaver Falls, Quaker Valley and Aliquippa brought home state titles in 2016, ’17, and ’18, and now the Warriors will try to make it a fourth consecutive state crown.

“I feel like in Western Pennsylvania, we are bred differently and we play top competition week in and week out,” Dudley said. “Its guys we grew up playing against, so we don’t think too much about it. We’re playing against good teams every week.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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