Defense steps up for Moon in shutout victory over Woodland Hills

Friday, September 10, 2021 | 11:49 PM

When Moon needed it most, its defense came through.

The Tigers (3-0) bottled up Woodland Hills (1-2), stopping the Wolverines four times in the red zone to win a 15-0 nonconference game at the Wolvarena Friday night.

“Our kids battled,” Moon coach Ryan Linn said. “That was our best defensive effort in regards to getting to the football as a whole. We had some kids who had to step up tonight due to injuries.”

Moon was without all-conference defensive end/tight end Dante Docchio but was able to make up for his absence on defense.

Seniors Dylan Sleva and Ben Bladel took over the game, spearheading a defense that held Woodland Hills to just 151 yards of total offense.

Division I recruit Deontae Williams accounted for 142 of the 151 yards, rushing for 115 on 23 carries. But only 38 of those yards came after halftime.

“We respect him a lot,” Sleva said of Williams. “So we were just spying him most of the game, rolling out of the pocket with him, eyeing him up, watching the mesh and reading it.”

“I think both teams that played tonight have a really good defense,” Woodland Hills coach Tim Bostard added. “I think their goal was to not let us outside with our team speed, and they did a great job with that.

“Mistakes killed us. We were inside of the 20 four times and didn’t come away with any points. That’s on us.”

The Wolverines missed a 43-yard field goal after reaching the red zone on their first drive. Bladel forced a fumble of Williams on the following Woodland Hills possession, and on their third series, an 11-play drive, the Wolverines were stopped on fourth down at the 5-yard line.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight from the start,” Bladel said. “We showed up, and we knew that anywhere on the field, they had a chance to score. So we had to toughen up and make the play.”

Moon scored on its third possession, as Jeremiah Dean capped a seven-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. That score held until the fourth quarter.

On the final play of the third quarter, Williams was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury but later returned. The senior quarterback, who also punts, was replaced on special teams by junior Noah Hutcherson. He shanked a punt for just 4 yards, and the Tigers scored four plays later on a Sleva run from 4 yards.

“It was sort of quicksand. When one thing goes wrong, you keep trying to get out, and you just couldn’t get out,” Bostard said. “It keeps sucking you back in. It comes down to execution, and that’s on me.”

Part of that quicksand included yellow flags. The Wolverines were penalized 11 times for 72 yards, including a holding call that wiped out a 79-yard kick return early in the final quarter.

Williams was able to reenter the game but was sacked in the end zone by Moon’s Aiden Mazreku four plays later.

Moon’s offense, which came into the game averaging 259 rushing yards per contest, surprisingly went to the air with quarterback Ty McGowan to try to ice the game.

The plan failed, as McGowan, who passed for 114 yards, misfired on multiple occasions, stopping the clock frequently on two late drives and allowing Woodland Hills a pair of opportunities to get on the board.

“We typically use some bigger bodies (in the run game) who were gassed from defense,” explained Linn of the play calling. “We have some young kids who aren’t ready to go into those roles yet.”

Woodland Hills, however, turned the ball over at the Moon 18-yard line and 6-yard line in the final quarter, as Bladel and Sleva came up with multiple key stops.

“(Bladel’s) just a force,” Linn said. “He was all-state as a sophomore. I told him tonight that he needed to be the best defensive player on the field tonight, and he was. And Dylan was right next to him. He made every tackle.

“Those (stops) were huge. It was a 15-0 game and easily, if one or two of those goes in, it’s 15-13 or 15-14. We made plays when we needed to.”

Woodland Hills, which has scored only six points in the last two games after losing to McKeesport, 7-6, on Saturday, has another marquee rivalry game next week, as it travels to Penn Hills on Friday night.

“Every week is a different week,” Bostard said. “We play that team up there on Rodi Road. I won’t even say their name. But it’s a great rivalry game.”

Moon, meanwhile, is 3-0 to begin the year for a second straight year and hosts North Hills next, with the hopes of a 4-0 start for the first time since 2004.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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