Leechburg tops Greensburg Central Catholic in thrilling playoff tune-up

Friday, October 29, 2021 | 10:53 PM

Two playoff-bound high school football teams, eager to flex their muscles one last time during the regular season, waged a heavyweight battle Friday night in the WPIAL Class A Eastern League.

In the “someone-wins-and-someone-loses” category, Leechburg came out on top in a wild, 31-27 decision at No. 4 Greensburg Central Catholic, scoring the deciding touchdown with 46 seconds left on running back Braylan Lovelace’s surprise 2-yard jump pass to Logan Kline.

“That was the first time I’ve done it,” Lovelace said. “I didn’t know we were doing it until we called it. I just knew I had to make a play.”

Leechburg coach Randy Waters, nearly overcome with emotion — the Blue Devils (8-2, 5-2) are back in the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1988 — said the team practices the jump pass play frequently.

“We’ve been practicing that play for five weeks,” Waters said. “We just never called it before this.”

The winning drive, which covered 2 1/2 minutes, came after Greensburg Central Catholic (6-4, 4-3) had taken a 27-24 lead on Tyree Turner’s 70-yard pass to Nate Dlugos, the second time the duo hooked up in the second half on a scoring play.

“We knew they were one of the highest-scoring team around and had plenty of firepower,” GCC coach Marko Thomas said. “They just took it to us, but we put ourselves in that situation. We couldn’t dig ourselves out of holes the entire game. Too many penalties and too many bad first plays.

“Give them credit. They made a nice play there at the end.”

Though Lovelace, who entered the game with 1,169 yards rushing, made the crucial game-changing pass, Leechburg quarterback Thomas Burke was overcame a slow start to finish 16 for 24 for 184 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass to Kline that gave the Blue Devils a 21-13 halftime lead.

Burke deflected credit afterwards, saying it was a team victory and singling out several other players, including Lovelace, a fellow team captain.

“He’s a great athlete and everyone knows it,” Burke said. “I know he’s a Division I athlete and I use it to my advantage. I use his speed. I use his size. He helps me more than he will ever know. He runs the ball when I’m tired. He runs the ball when we can’t pass. And when we do pass, he puts his nose in there and blocks. He’s an amazing teammate, an amazing player, an amazing person, and I’m so thankful for him.”

Lovelace, his stat line hampered by a 26-yard loss on a botched punt, finished the night with 17 carries for 60 yards rushing.

Waters fought off his emotions in the aftermath, letting the final moments of the game tell the story. But he was quick to point out the bond this Leechburg team has formed.

“The way they fought and everything, I couldn’t even say anything to them at the end,” he said. “I was too choked up. I’m just so proud of them. They wouldn’t quit. They just kept playing.”

When GCC took the lead late, Waters said afterwards, “We thought we had 2:33 to go and we could do it.”

The Blue Devils certainly proved him right, and now, it’s on to the postseason.

The WPIAL is set to release its playoff brackets at 6 p.m. Saturday night on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Leechburg rallied with two unanswered touchdowns in the first half to take a 21-13 halftime lead as Lovelace scored on a 21-yard run before Kline’s catch of a Burke pass for 29 yards.

Burke’s 1-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter gave Leechburg a 7-0 lead.

Greensburg Central Catholic responded with a pair of scores by Jaydin Canady, whose 85-yard kickoff return offset Burke’s score and preceded his 7-yard run with 2:07 left in the first.

Leechburg failed on a pair of first-half field-goal attempts by Jake Schuffert, who later kicked a 34-yarder in the third quarter.

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