Explosive 1st quarter leads Woodland Hills past Shaler

Saturday, September 30, 2023 | 8:11 PM

If any fans heading to the Class 5A Northeast Conference matchup between Woodland Hills and Shaler were stuck in homecoming traffic on Mt. Royal Boulevard and were late arriving in the opening quarter, they missed a lot.

The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points with the Wolverines leading 42-14 after the first 12 minutes on their way to a 56-14 road victory.

“It was a very fun first quarter,” Woodland Hills coach Brain Tarrant said. “I’m back home here at Shaler. I coached those kids a few years ago (as a Titans assistant), and it was a great atmosphere. With them (Shaler) being 4-1, we knew we had to step up and really play our best.”

The sensational sophomore duo of quarterback Cam Walter and wide receiver Scoop Smith didn’t wait long to make their mark, as they hooked up on a 64-yard scoring pass on the first play from scrimmage.

“We already know Cam is special, and Scoop is spectacular,” the first-year coach said of his playmakers. “There are other players like Zykir Moore and Prince Tarrant who also stepped up. Our sophomore class is just really talented.”

Smith caught four passes for 125 yards and the touchdown grab.

Shaler came right back, throwing the ball to move down the field and tie the game.

Quarterback Keegan Smetanka completed five passes on the drive for 59 yards, the last completion to tight end Brandon London for a 14-yard touchdown.

Smith went right back to work for Woodland Hills, taking the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The snap on the point after was off line, and the Wolverines led 13-7.

The Titans turned to the running game on the next drive, and senior Nate Rozzo found paydirt from 3 yards out. The extra point gave Shaler its only lead 14-13. Rozzo carried 10 times for 68 yards for Shaler.

Woodland Hills scored the next 43 points.

Tarrant likes the fight his team has shown so far this season.

“I’m just pleased because we’re a young team, but we are responding,” he said. “We gave up a touchdown to put ourselves behind, but I’m just proud of the resiliency we have shown.”

Sophomore Zykir Moore rumbled into the end zone from 7 yards to put the Wolverines in front for good.

Woodland Hills’ defense got into the scoring act next with a pick-6 for a touchdown.

Linair Butler hit Smetanka as he was throwing, and the ball popped in the air and into the waiting hands of Jayden Estes who returned it 7 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.

Moore added his second touchdown on a fantastic individual effort. He took a short pass from Walter and broke numerous tackles to find the end zone on a 57-yard catch and run to put the Wolverines up 35-14.

Moore then capped off the frenetic first quarter with his second TD run from 1 yard for a 42-14 Wolverines lead.

“We lost our running back, Brandon Jones, and needed some type of spark in our running game,” Tarrant said. “These guys (Moore and Elijah Nesby) have really filled that void for us.”

Moore finished with 11 carries for 81 yards and the two scores. Jones is due back in the lineup for Woodland Hills next week.

After a scoreless second quarter, Woodland Hills added a touchdown in each of the final two quarters.

Senior Andre Smith, who intercepted his second pass of the game to set up Woodland Hills inside Shaler territory, capped off the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run down the near sideline.

“This week, we voted him one of our captains,” Tarrant said of Andre Smith. “He and Antonio Nash, another captain, are just playing lights out, spectacular defense right now.”

With the running clock in effect, Walter threw his third touchdown pass of the game, connecting with Cymeon McCoy from 7 yards to make the final score 56-14.

Woodland Hills, (4-2, 2-0) forced seven Shaler turnovers in the game.

The Wolverines have now won four of five games and are tied with Penn Hills atop the Northeast Conference.

With a nonconference tilt up next at Highlands, Tarrant said the three-game stretch, including the Shaler game, was circled on the Woodland Hills schedule.

“We are talking about this three-game stretch here,” he said. “With Shaler, then Highlands and Fox Chapel, if we handle our business, we can go into the last two weeks (with conference games) against Pine-Richland and Penn Hills holding our future right in our own hands.”

Shaler (4-2, 0-1), which started the season with four straight wins, has now dropped two straight after losing its conference opener. Smetanka threw for 159 yards and a touchdown for Shaler but was picked off four times. The senior signal-caller also paced the ground game with 69 yards on 10 carries.

The Titans host North Hills next week in a conference matchup.

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