No. 1 Central Valley lands knockout punch on Keystone Oaks

Friday, November 6, 2020 | 9:43 PM

Stephon Hall came bursting through the wedge and was optimistic about what he saw in front of him.

All that loomed between the 6-foot-2 Central Valley senior wide receiver and the end zone was Keystone Oaks kicker Greg Wagner.

Hall raced around Wagner and found the end zone, providing one of several highlight-reel touchdowns for the state’s top-ranked team during a 70-21 victory over fourth-seeded Keystone Oaks during a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal Friday night at Sarge Alberts Stadium.

“In that moment, it was just, ‘I can’t get caught,’” Hall said. “I have to get to the end zone. I can’t get caught, especially by a kicker. No offense, but in that situation, I saw green field ahead of me and knew I can’t get caught.”

The Warriors (8-0) will look to defend their WPIAL title against third-seeded Elizabeth Forward next Friday at North Allegheny High School.

The timing of Hall’s 82-yard kick return was especially crushing for the Golden Eagles. Keystone Oaks (5-3) grabbed some momentum at the end of the first quarter when junior defensive back E.J. Simon intercepted an Ameer Dudley pass and returned it to the Warrior 3-yard line.

Kevin Drew scored on a 2-yard run two plays later to cut the deficit to 21-7 with 11 minutes, 12 seconds left before halftime. But Drew’s touchdown couldn’t stop the inevitable onslaught from the Warriors.

Hall’s kickoff return kicked off a string of four straight touchdowns for Central Valley, which also beat the Golden Eagles, 65-14, during the regular season.

“You can’t kick off or punt to Central Valley because all they do is run them back,” Keystone Oaks coach Greg Perry said. “We played them before and got killed and were happy when we didn’t give up a kickoff or a punt. Today, we gave up a kickoff and a punt. We know we can’t kick to them, but it happened.”

Dudley scored on a 44-yard run, Landon Alexander turned a screen pass from Dudley into a 60-yard score, and Matt Merritt returned a fumble 19 yards to extend the Warriors lead to 49-7.

Central Valley also scored on a punt return in the first quarter when Myles Walker fielded a kick on the bounce and went 52 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s an old adage. There are three phrases to this game,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “I think good football teams have to be good in all areas. We work hard in that special teams phase. We spend 15 to 20 minutes a day on it.”

The Golden Eagles were limited to 44 yards in the first half, including 5 on the ground in 23 attempts. Keystone Oaks quarterback Logan Shrubb was playing with an injury and was limited to 39 passing yards and held to minus-3 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Central Valley (8-0) didn’t waste much time getting on the scoreboard. The Warriors’ first drive ended with Dudley finding Brandon Graham for a 12-yard catch and run.

Hall put the Warriors ahead 21-0 with 1:32 left in the first quarter by hauling in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Dudley, who finished with 173 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Alexander led Central Valley with 108 yards receiving and scored twice.

Hall said the Warriors are maintaining a business-like approach to this playoff run.

“For us, it’s just tunnel vision,” Hall said. “We have to finish through this year, especially for our seniors. We have to.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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