Explosive Sto-Rox offense, Western Beaver’s big-play defense share Week 6 limelight

Friday, October 16, 2020 | 2:01 AM

The lights above Sto-Rox’s football field aren’t new, but they might feel a little brighter this week.

Big games have that effect.

The stadium in Stowe Township will host two Class 2A contenders from the Three Rivers Conference when Western Beaver (5-0, 3-0) visits Sto-Rox (4-1, 2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. With two weeks left in the regular season, this matchup carries conference title and WPIAL playoff implications.

It’s also a chance to enjoy the limelight.

“It’s an opportunity for my young guys to see what they’re made of,” Sto-Rox coach LaRoi Johnson said. “This is the first big stage for them. You have to get use to the lights a little bit before you’re used to the stage.”

Sto-Rox played on the WPIAL’s biggest stage a year ago at Heinz Field in the finals, but only four starters remain from that runner-up lineup. Western Beaver’s roster also is new to the bright lights of big football games.

The Golden Beavers are 5-0 for the first time since 2007, and they’re seeking their first 6-0 start since 2005. They last won a playoff game 12 years ago, but the team found a spark this fall in coach Ryan Matsook’s first and only season.

Matsook, who won WPIAL and PIAA titles at Beaver Falls, came out of retirement to coach. However, he recently accepted an administrator job at Moon, ending his comeback after this season.

“We’re going to finish this thing and go as far as we possibly can,” Matsook said. “They’ve been a great group and the coaching staff is fantastic. I guess if you’re going to come out of retirement and do it, I couldn’t pick a better group to do it with.”

Neither team has lost on the field this season. Sto-Rox’s only loss was by forfeit to Carlynton in Week 1.

With a win Friday, Western Beaver would clinch at least a share of the conference title. If Sto-Rox wins, the night could end with a three-way tie atop the standings.

Brentwood also is 2-1 in the conference.

The game will be video streamed live on TribLive HSSN.

Sto-Rox brings the conference’s highest-scoring offense into Friday’s matchup at 37.8 points per game. The Vikings scored 56 in last week’s win over Seton LaSalle. On the other side, Western Beaver’s defense is allowing only 14.6 points, best in the conference. But its defense doesn’t just prevent points, it also scores them.

In the past two weeks combined, Western Beaver had four defensive touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Dakkari Bradford returned an interception and a fumble for touchdowns last week. Elias Bishop and Austin Jones returned interceptions for touchdowns a week earlier.

“They capitalize on the mistakes that you make,” Johnson said. “They have some good athletes in spots who can cause some disruptions. It’s going to be a test for us to be able to go at them.”

Western Beaver’s defensive strength starts with its four linebackers. Along with 6-foot-4, 185-pound Dakkari Bradford, the others are seniors Austin Jones and Daquan Bradford and junior Cam Irvine.

This week, they’ll have multiple roles.

“This week is a unique challenge in that Sto-Rox is so wide open,” Matsook said. “They do a lot of things that are very scary and put a lot of stress on the defense. We’ve got to tackle. We have all year and I’m hoping that we’re up to the challenge Friday.”

Sto-Rox scored eight touchdowns in last week’s 56-14 win over Seton LaSalle. Among them, Vikings quarterback Josh Jenkins threw two to Zay Davis, who also added a rushing touchdown.

The Vikings scored 44 points in a Week 3 win against Shady Side Academy.

“Sto-Rox has a lot of speed and a lot of young kids who play with a lot of emotion,” Matsook said. “Their coach had them in the championship game last year, so they’re not a stranger to big games.”

Western Beaver may not have as much experience in that category, but Matsook’s team did earn a confidence boost after a 35-22 win at Brentwood last week. Junior running back Thad Gray scored three times.

“We played on the road last week and played well,” Matsook said. “I’m hoping that ingredient propels us to a win this week. But I truly believe that Sto-Rox is the best team that we’ve faced thus far. We’re ready for the challenge.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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