Leechburg plugs away in decisive win vs. Summit Academy

Saturday, September 4, 2021 | 6:51 PM

It wasn’t the start the Leechburg football team hoped for Saturday afternoon, with three turnovers in the first quarter, but once it settled down, it found a rhythm.

The Blue Devils shook off the early mistakes and scored six touchdowns from the second quarter on to pull away for a 43-8 victory over Summit Academy in Herman.

“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot in the first quarter,” Leechburg coach Randy Walters said. “We had an interception. Then quarterback (Thomas Burke III) fumbles the ball, and then (Braylan) Lovelace fumbles the ball — and that never happens — but what I liked is that our guys didn’t quit. They just kept at it. (Summit Academy) has some good athletes, and they played hard. The second half for us was a lot better.”

The game was scoreless at the end of the first quarter, and two of Leechburg’s three turnovers were in Summit Academy territory. But the Blue Devils got the spark they needed on the final play of the first, when Eli Rich stripped the ball away from Aden Koimene and recovered the fumble. It was the first of four turnovers forced by the Leechburg defense.

The fumble recovery set up Leechburg inside the Knights’ 30, and Rich finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

“Eli is a hell of a football player, and he never comes off the field,” Walters said. “He’s a legit 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. We put a little dive play in for him this week, and he gets five to six yards every time he runs it. He’s a tough kid and a captain. Those are the guys who are supposed to spark us when we are down, and he did just that.”

Each team recorded a safety, and it looked like it would be a one-score game going into halftime. But Leechburg executed a two-minute drill from near midfield, and Rich scored again from 5 yards, giving the Blue Devils (2-0) a 16-2 lead on the Knights (0-2) heading into the break.

Lovelace got rolling for Leechburg in the second half, scoring three times. He cashed in Leechburg’s first possession of the second half with an 8-yard touchdown run. He added a 1-yard touchdown run later in the third and had another 8-yard score in the fourth. Lovelace finished with 90 yards on 13 carries.

Leechburg quarterback Thomas Burke III shook off an early interception and went 12 of 17 passing for 177 yards. He threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Logan Kline in the fourth quarter.

Koimene scored the lone touchdown for Summit Academy on a 7-yard run in the third. Knights quarterback Kylee Davenport had a strong outing, rushing for 92 yards and throwing for 57. Koimene and Davenport had some tough runs, carrying multiple defenders to try for extra yardage.

“I’m proud of them,” Summit Academy coach John McCloud said. “Our guys worked hard today, and they’ve started to work harder in practice, too. They are running 15 stairs at (the Summit Academy) building all the way up and all the way back down. They asked me to do that with them. They wanted to get in better shape. They’re starting to pick things up. They still get angry. No one is going to take a loss like that and be happy.”

After two weeks on the road, Leechburg will debut its new turf field at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday when it hosts Brentwood.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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