Late touchdown gives resurgent Shaler its 1st victory over Woodland Hills

Friday, September 30, 2022 | 11:53 PM

After his team’s thrilling double-overtime victory over Franklin Regional on homecoming last week, Shaler coach Jim Ryan said he hoped the win would kick start the Titans into conference play.

It did that, as the Titans knocked off Woodland Hills for the first time Friday night, in the 12th all-time meeting between the two schools. Shaler, with a 46-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Keegan Smetanka to junior wide receiver Joe DeSabato with 14.2 seconds to go, came out victorious at the Wolvarena, 28-21.

Shaler is off to its best start in 11 years at 4-2 and 1-0 in the Class 5A Northeast Conference.

“I’m speechless right now. It’s one of those things that will take time to process a bit,” Ryan said. “This means everything to our district. We’ve never beaten Woodland Hills. We’re a program that’s been on the mend for a while. This is enormous.”

Ryan said it comes down to his guys not really looking at the game as a whole but “for the next rep” and was pleased his team made the big plays down the stretch, including DeSabato’s catch.

Before that score, Kaden Orga’s interception gave Shaler a chance.

It was one of a handful of instances Woodland Hills coach Tim Bostard thought got away from the Wolverines.

“It was back-and-forth, but we made enough mistakes to hurt ourselves,” he said. “We needed to be more disciplined and couldn’t keep them behind the sticks enough, and we had the turnover at the end on the comeback route.

“As a coach you turn around and second guess yourself: ‘Was it the right call?’ But in the end, their kid made a play, and that’s how it goes sometimes.”

The scoring started on Shaler’s first drive, which was the game’s opening drive. With 8 minutes left, Shaler scored on a fourth-down play. Smetanka threw a 25-yard jump ball to tight end Brandon London, who hauled in the pass. It was one of his five catches for 49 yards.

Woodland Hills responded later in the first when freshman quarterback Cam Walter found Scoop Smith for an 11-yard touchdown pass that tied the score.

Both teams scored in the second, with Woodland Hills taking a lead at 14-7 on a 5-yard run by Brandon Jones, who finished with 106 yards on 19 carries. Smetanka then hooked up with Peyton Plantz for the final score of the first half, a 3-yard touchdown pass.

In the middle of the third quarter, Shaler regained the lead when DeSabato recovered a forward fumble by Orga after his catch and run in the end zone for a score. Walter ran a sneak from a yard to tie it for Woodland Hills with 5:51 to play before DeSabato’s heroics.

Woodland Hills took a hook-and-lateral across midfield on the game’s final play but went no further.

Luke Cignetti was bottled up, finishing with just 20 yards on 11 carries after entering with more than 700 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns. DeSabato caught five balls for 86 yards and the score at the end, Orga hauled in five for 54 yards. Smetanka, who entered as the WPIAL’s third-leading passer in yardage, threw for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He was picked off twice.

When Cignetti was bottled up, other playmakers stepped up.

“That’s the reality of the players we have in our offense. When one aspect gets bottled up, we have other options to open up a defense,” Ryan said.

Woodland Hills got nine completions from Walter for 109 yards and saw some other freshmen and underclassmen make plays. But the Wolverines are looking for more discipline and improved execution moving forward, Bostard said. The Wolverines will play a nonconference game against Highlands next week.

Shaler heads to North Hills to try to check another goal off the list: beat the Indians.

“This win means a lot, but, again, one of our goals we set up was to beat North Hills this year,” Ryan said. “Doing this puts us on trajectory for good positioning, and we’ll look to do it again next week.”

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