Nijhay Burt’s 5 touchdowns lead Steel Valley past Keystone Oaks

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Saturday, September 18, 2021 | 1:02 AM


NiJhay Burt was one of the WPIAL’s leading rushers in Class 2A last season, so Steel Valley knew what it had in the returning senior running back.

Burt entered Friday’s game with 294 rushing yards in the season’s first two games, both wins for the Ironmen. He nearly matched that total against Keystone Oaks, carrying the ball 28 times for 285 yards and scoring all five touchdowns for Steel Valley in a 32-13 victory.

“What you see is what you get with NiJhay,” according to Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo. “He runs hard, he hits hard and he’s just a top-caliber ballplayer.”

Burt got started on the first drive of the game for the Ironmen after Keystone Oaks went three and out. After junior quarterback Cruce Brookins scampered 50 yards, Burt capped off the drive with a 6-yard scoring run. After Steel Valley stopped the Golden Eagles on fourth down on the next drive, Burt scored on a 2-yard run. After the extra point was blocked, the Ironmen led 13-0.

Keystone Oaks started to get its passing game untracked on the next possession, driving 74 yards in 11 plays. Junior quarterback Nick Buckley found running back Kevin Drew open in the left flat. He was hit at the 5-yard line and fumbled into the end zone but recovered the ball for a touchdown to cut the lead to 13-7.

But Burt struck again, this time racing 65 yards for a score and a 20-7 Ironmen lead.

Keystone Oaks then marched down the field, and on fourth and 3 with under a minute left in the half, Buckley found tight end Ryan Healy wide open in the end zone to make the score 20-13 at halftime.

It was more of the NiJhay Burt show in the second half, as he scored on runs of 6 and 70 yards as Steel Valley upped its lead to 32-13.

Braszo said Burt’s desire complements his talent.

“First of all, he wants it, he loves to play the game,” Braszo said. “He listens to his coaches and has a lot of talent to go along with the hard work he puts in.”

Burt also had a 77-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty and had a 55-yard interception return negated via penalty.

“With that great speed,” Braszo said of Burt, “when he gets a burst, he’s hard to catch.”

Burt and Brookins helped a banged-up defense hold Keystone Oaks to just 15 rushing yards, although Buckley completed 25 of 46 passes for 236 yards, with two touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice.

“Coach (Kevin) Clark put together a great game plan defensively,” Braszo said. “(Keystone Oaks) can control the ball with some powerful backs and a big line. Their passing game gave us problems. We lost some players in the secondary and had to put some younger kids in the game.”

Steel Valley finished with 501 yards of offense, including 448 on the ground. Brookins also eclipsed the 100-yard mark, gaining 116 yards on 12 carries.

“Cruce is a smart quarterback, he gets good grades in school,” Braszo said. “He’s another guy who works hard like NiJhay and wants to be the best player he can be. He’s probably better on defense as a defensive back than he is on offense.”

The No. 4-ranked Golden Eagles (2-2) will visit Montour next week before opening conference play Oct. 1.

Steel Valley is 3-0 for the first time since 2017, and the Ironmen have a nonconference matchup with Brentwood before opening conference play by hosting Ligonier Valley in two weeks.

“I’m ready to get into the conference,” Braszo said. “The good part is you can still get better; the bad part is you get injuries. We’re playing well, but we don’t have a lot of depth.”

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