No letdown for McGuffey after big win; Highlanders rout Charleroi

Friday, September 18, 2020 | 11:38 PM

McGuffey coach Ed Dalton had to wonder how his team would respond after defeating Washington — one of their biggest wins in recent history — 7-6 last week. Early in a Century Conference game against Charleroi, Dalton probably was worried.

However, the Highlanders defense stifled the hosts, and two special teams plays sparked McGuffey (2-0, 2-0) to a 40-6 win at Myron Pottios Stadium.

A bad snap on a punt resulted in a first-quarter touchdown for Rocco Falsok, who recovered the ball in the end zone. Then, a pass on a fake punt was intercepted by Philip McCuen to set up a second touchdown, and the Highlanders rolled from there.

“We were slow the first seven minutes that’s for sure,” Dalton said. “After the first special teams mistake, I think we settled down on the option. Sometimes it takes us a couple minutes to get our blocking patterns down.”

The Cougars defense halted McGuffey on downs in Charleroi territory on their first two possessions.

“The defense played really well. We can’t give teams like (McGuffey) gifts like we gave them tonight,” Cougars coach Brady Barbero said. “McGuffey is a solid team. They are physical and tough, have a good defense. They played their hearts out.”

The Highlanders got their ground game working in the second quarter. Kyle Brookman capped the first offensive scoring drive with a 1-yard run to give McGuffey a 14-0 lead.

Charleroi freshman quarterback Gianni Pellegrini was intercepted by Eric Donnelly on the next Cougars possession, and a personal foul penalty set up the Highlanders at the Charleroi 13. Three plays later, Falsok found Brookman in the end zone for a 21-0 advantage.

The Cougars offense struggled most of the night. After another three-and-out, McGuffey went on a six-play, 51-yard drive. Jeremiah Johnson scored from 1 yard, but the extra point was blocked by Darius Cooper.

A personal foul penalty on the touchdown moved the ball to the Charleroi 45 for the kickoff. McGuffey took advantage with an onside kick, which they recovered. Three plays later, McKinley Whipkey, who had been contained, ran through a huge hole on the right side for an 18-yard touchdown. The Highlanders led 34-0 at the half.

The Cougars ended the first half with no first downs and three turnovers. Part of the issue was the inexperience of Pellegrini. The other was the physical McGuffey defense.

“It is a lot to ask for a freshman to come in and perform,” Barbero said. “We lessened the playbook and made our world small. We are only going to get better. There were a lot of good decisions we made and some bad ones. We’ll fix those mistakes and go after it.”

Added Dalton: “Because it is so quiet (in the stadium) ,you can hear the hits. We had some nice hits all over the field. That leads to drops, and I think that is why they started dropping the ball. (Charleroi’s) strength is their line, so it was not like we were competing against a bad offensive line.”

Down 40-0, Charleroi (0-2, 0-2) put together a drive that resulted in its initial first down and, consequently, its first touchdown of the season.

The drive began with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter and ended with 5:45 left in the game. The 11-play drive went 68 yards and ended with a 19-yard touchdown run by Nikko Pellegrini. The junior fought his way into the end zone but was stopped short on the 2-point conversion. The score gave the Cougars a much-needed boost.

“(Not scoring) starts to weigh on you. Last week we had our opportunities,” Barbero said. “This week we really struggled to move the ball out of the gate. But as the game progressed, we started to move it a little more. It felt good to get the ball in the end zone.”

Charleroi will try for its first win again next week at Waynesburg, and McGuffey hosts Frazier.

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