East Allegheny’s quickness too much for Southmoreland

Friday, November 5, 2021 | 10:54 PM

There was plenty of excitement in Alverton on Friday.

Even though the coke ovens that once burned beyond Russ Grimm Field weren’t glowing, the Southmoreland football community was ready to celebrate the school’s first WPIAL home football playoff game.

But visiting East Allegheny had other ideas about which team would be celebrating. The Wildcats spoiled the euphoria with a dominating performance.

East Allegheny quarterback Michael Smith rushed for two touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass on a wide receiver reverse and threw a touchdown pass to lead the Wildcats to a 36-11 victory in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round game.

It was East Allegheny’s first road playoff road win and put them in the quarterfinals at No. 1 Central Valley on Nov. 12. The Wildcats are 5-5.

Southmoreland (7-4) was making only its third visit to the WPIAL playoffs, second in three seasons, couldn’t cope with East Allegheny’s quickness on defense and struggled the entire game.

“We knew they had team speed,” Southmoreland coach Dave Keefer said. “Their defense took it to us. We couldn’t get anything established offensively. That’s the fastest team we’ve played all season.

“We played some good speed teams, but for overall team speed, they were the fastest. They brought it, and we couldn’t handle it up front.”

Things didn’t start well for the Scotties. On their first eight offensive plays they lost a total of 27 yards. Their first positive play came on an 11-yard run by quarterback Anthony Govern on their fourth possession.

“We were savages on defense,” East Allegheny coach Dom Pecora said. “My uncle, Pat, told me to win the dogfight, and the score will take care of itself. We were in their backfield all night. I’ve never been so proud of a team in my entire life.

“How we performed, those linebackers we have, I don’t have the words to describe how great they were. They were just dogs and tough. They’re hard-nosed, toughest kids. I’d go to war with them every day.”

Despite their woes on offense, the Scotties’ defense limited East Allegheny to a 35-yard field goal by Matthew Armenio.

“I was proud how our defense played,” Keefer said. “Their backs were against the wall all game.”

But East Allegheny’s offense scored touchdowns on three of four possession in the second quarter to build a 24-3 lead.

Smith got it started, scoring on a 3-yard run to cap a 52-yard drive. He then caught a 61-yard pass from wide receiver Michael Cahill on a trick play to make it 17-0.

Southmoreland, which had been shut out in its previous two playoff appearances, snapped that streak when Jake Kaylor nailed a 25-yard field goal to make it 17-3 to cap 10-play drive behind the running of Govern.

The teams exchanged interceptions late in the second quarter, Isaac Trout picking off Smith and Cahill intercepting a wide receiver trick play from Travon Lee. But Cahill returned the interception 42 yards to the Southmoreland 38.

Smith then hit Prashaun Gainer with a swing pass, and the nifty wide receiver weaved through the Scotties defense to give East Allegheny a 24-3 lead at halftime.

“We’re not the biggest team in the world, but we can run,” Pecora said. “We thought that it would be an advantage on film, and it turned out to be bigger than we thought. You’re not going to run the outside on us.”

Gainer opened the second half by returning the kickoff 63 yards to the Southmoreland 13, then Mekhi Manor scored on the first play of the third quarter to make it 30-3.

Southmoreland was able to score its first playoff touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard run by Govern, but Smith closed things out with a 1-yard run with 23.3 seconds left.

While the loss was disappointing for the Scotties, Keefer said it was a learning experience for the program.

“I told them this is the ultimate team sport,” Keefer said. “This is only going to help you. There is a brotherhood in football players, and you can take that into life. For the young guys, the torch is being passed.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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