Instant offense from Cruce Brookins leads Steel Valley past Beaver Falls in WPIAL Class 2A title game

Friday, November 25, 2022 | 4:49 PM

Steel Valley football coach Ray Braszo got the proverbial monkey off his back Friday at Acrisure Stadium.

For the first time in his 34-year career, a Braszo-coached team defeated Beaver Falls. And by doing so, Braszo got his first Gatorade dousing at the former Heinz Field.

Steel Valley quarterback Cruce Brookins scored three touchdowns, and the Ironmen defense forced four turnovers in a 34-14 victory over Beaver Falls in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game Friday at Acrisure Stadium.

It was the sixth time Steel Valley (12-0) has won a WPIAL title. The others were in 2018, 2016, 1989, 1988 and 1982. Beaver Falls was denied its sixth title and lost in the finals for the second consecutive season. The Tigers lost to Serra Catholic last year, 35-12.

The Steel Valley win also avenges a 21-8 defeat to Beaver Falls in the 2021 semifinals. Beaver Falls was in its third consecutive championship game, having defeated Sto-Rox, 43-30, in 2020.

“We came ready to play,” Braszo said. “They really wanted it. They wanted the championship, and they got it done. I’m really proud of them.

“I’ve been down here three previous times, and I didn’t know if I could stand losing another one. I never mentioned it to my team and never said, ‘Win it for me.’”

Brookins let the Tigers know on Steel Valley’s second offensive possession what they were in for as he went over right tackle, avoided a defender near the Beaver Falls 15 and completed a 56-yard touchdown run.

“That was a tone setter,” Brookins said. “We like to dominate the running game. We kept running things and they couldn’t stop us.”

After Beaver Falls, taking advantage of a pass interference penalty, grabbed an 8-6 lead on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Jaren Brickner to Da’Sean Singleton, Brookins went over left tackle and raced 53 yards for a 14-8 advantage.

Brookins rushed for 162 yards on nine carries in the first half. He finished with 170 yards on 17 carries.

Before the end of the first quarter, Steel Valley’s defense stepped up as Donald Barksdale picked off a Brickner pass and returned it 53 yards to make it 20-8.

Beaver Falls turned the ball over three times in the first half.

“Their ‘backer made a tremendous play, but that was a bad play call by me,” Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone said. “It changed the momentum.”

Late in the first half, Brookins stopped another Beaver Falls drive by intercepting a Brickner pass at the Steel Valley 7.

Steel Valley’s defense limited Beaver Falls, which scored more than 50 points in its first two playoff games, to 19 yards rushing in the first half and Brickner completed only 6 of 16 passes for 81 yards. He was intercepted twice, was sacked once and was hit numerous times.

“Our defense is probably the strength of our team,” Braszo said. “Our stats are great offensively, but defensively shutting people down is big. We have a lot of aggressive players. That’s why we’re probably so physical in the running game.”

Beaver Falls, with the aid of a questionable pass interference call, cut its deficit to 20-14 early in the third quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Da’talian Beauford.

But a 53-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Da’Ron Barksdale gave the Ironmen a short field at the Beaver Falls 22. Two plays later, Brookins scored on a 5-yard run to make it 27-14.

“I’m proud of the players for not hanging their heads,” Nardone said. “Steel Valley’s defense did a great job getting us off schedule. I’m a rhythm play caller and we couldn’t do it. The last few games, we were lucky enough to get three or four yards a play. They were the best defense we’ve seen all year.”

One of the biggest disrupters was senior Gregory Smith, a Miami (Ohio) recruit. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder defensive tackle was unstoppable. He recorded 10 tackles, three tackles for losses, forced a fumble and had 1.5 quarterback sacks.

“He plays that way when he comes to play,” Braszo said. “He doesn’t go full speed. If he would, he’d kill. Sometimes he falls asleep a little bit, but today, he took it to them.”

Beaver Falls’ Brixx Rawl blocked a punt, setting the Tigers up at the Ironmen 24, but Steel Valley stood tall and held on downs.

Late in the fourth quarter, Steel Valley’s Donald Barksdale capped the scoring by racing 56 yards for a touchdown.

Earlier, Barksdale had a 51-yard touchdown run denied because of a penalty against his brother Da’ron.

Steel Valley will now face the winner of Saturday’s PIAA game at Cupples Stadium between Westinghouse and Farrell.

Watch an archived video stream broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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

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