Fumble return turns tide as Ben Jackson, West Greene run past Monessen

Friday, September 20, 2019 | 11:32 PM

Typically one play can be the difference in a high school football game. From there, momentum changes and affects everything.

Although the score may not reflect it, one play caused a momentum shift that gave West Greene a 49-24 victory over host Monessen in Class A Tri-County South action Friday night at Memorial Stadium. The Greyhounds held a 24-14 lead in the third quarter at the time of the bizarre play.

West Greene had driven deep into Greyhound territory and quarterback Gavin Scott attempted to fire a pass inside the 5-yard line. Monessen cornerback Marquell Smith picked the pass off at the 3, but fumbled the return. It was promptly scooped up by Pioneer receiver Austin Crouse for a 4-yard touchdown.

“That was huge,” West Greene coach Brian Hanson said. “We had our fullback and our tight end sitting wide open and it was just a poor throw. (Smith) picked it off in the middle of the field, but fortunately, sometimes the ball does bounce your way.”

The play halted the momentum the Hounds (1-2, 1-4) had gained by scoring four unanswered touchdowns, including one on a fumble recovery of their own.

“It’s frustrating because we had all the momentum in the world,” Monessen coach Mike Blainefield said. “That’s what we talked about at halftime, trying to force some takeaways. One of them we scored a touchdown on and the other we stopped them from scoring.”

Following the play, the West Greene ground attack took over. The Pioneers (4-0, 5-0) scored on their next four possessions. Running back Benjamin Jackson had 202 yards and three touchdown runs in the second half. For the game, he ran for 359 yards and four scores.

“We got those offensive lineman all fired up and told Ben that we are getting downhill on guys,” Hanson said. “No pitter-patting it. Let’s hammer it. Kolin Walker was blocking hard and had some nice runs too.”

The Greyhound run game, which was equally tough to stop in the first half, went away in the final two quarters of the game due to an ankle injury to quarterback Isaiah Beltram. Beltram had 112 yards on the ground in the first half. Running back Elijah Davis was also lost to a hip pointer.

“We lost some guys to injury and couldn’t run the ball effectively,” Blainefield said. “We were not able to run the ball at all. We had to give the threat that we could run the ball. We did what we could. The injuries just caught us at the worst time and we lost some momentum. I’m proud of the effort the kids gave tonight.”

While Beltram was dangerous on the ground, his aerial tactics were also tough to manage. He threw three first-half touchdown passes, including a 71 yarder to Smith with 27 seconds left that gave the Hounds their first lead at 18-14.

On the first play of the third quarter, a bad pitch by Scott was picked up by the Greyhounds’ Darius Stevenson. Twenty-seven yards later, Stevenson extended Monessen’s lead to double digits at 24-14.

“We had a lot of adversity tonight,” Hanson said. “They have athletes and when they start playing good, it’s like a snowball effect. We were really fortunate to recover from it. We put it in four-wheel drive in the second half and grinded out a win.”

Walker rushed for 112 yards and a first quarter touchdown for the Pioneers. Hunter Hamilton also registered a 1-yard score in the final quarter.

Monessen visits Bentworth next week while West Greene entertains Avella.

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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