Serra Catholic forces 9 turnovers, wins for coach in WPIAL Class 2A finals

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Friday, November 26, 2021 | 7:39 PM


Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus wore a hat at Heinz Field that said “battle,” a brand name of sportswear, but also one word that captures both his determination to coach and his defense’s relentlessness to win.

Those battles are intertwined.

Motivated by their coach’s health struggles, Serra Catholic forced nine turnovers and scored three defensive touchdowns Friday night as the Eagles celebrated their first WPIAL title since 1998. Elijah Ward and Terrell Booth returned interceptions for touchdowns, and DaiQuan Chatfield carried a fumble to the end zone as No. 6 Serra Catholic defeated No. 5 Beaver Falls, 35-12, for the WPIAL Class 2A championship.

“We’re doing it all for him,” said junior Michael Schanck, who forced a fumble and recovered three. “He’s at practice every day. It’s hard seeing him in a wheelchair, but it’s motivation for us. We’ve got to win for him.”

A rare neurological disorder diagnosed in recent months has forced Regus to use a wheelchair. Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (PIDP) causes weakening of the arms and legs.

“(Coaching) is all I’ve got to look forward to in the daytime, to wake up to,” said Regus, who took disability retirement from work. “I go to therapy and then I go to practice. I’ve got to make it to practice. They need to see my face. I need to see their face. We help out each other.”

Friday’s win means at least one more week of practice.

Serra Catholic (14-1) faces District 10 champion Farrell (11-0) in a PIAA semifinal Dec. 3 or 4. But regardless of whether there is one or two weeks left in Serra Catholic’s season, Regus pointed out that this WPIAL championship won’t ever go away.

“This feeling isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for anybody. Just for me to be blessed, and to receive this blessing while I’m going through something, is great.”

Beaver Falls (9-4) was the defending WPIAL champion, but turnovers doomed any chance of a repeat. The Tigers lost five fumbles and threw four interceptions. They recovered a sixth fumble themselves.

Serra Catholic has shown a knack for causing turnovers. When finishing tackles, their players make a concerted effort to strip the ball from the arms of running backs.

“That’s pretty much the reason they beat Sto-Rox last week — all of the turnovers they force,” Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone said. “I feel like I didn’t put guys in positions to win the game. I can’t blame those turnovers on the players. There were a lot of calls that I made in this game that didn’t put our guys in positions to be successful and put the ball at risk.”

Yet, despite those turnovers, the score was close in the fourth quarter. After forcing six turnovers, Serra Catholic held only a slim 14-12 lead with about five minutes left. But Serra then forced three more turnovers.

“We’ve won more than one game by just defense alone,” Regus said.

Booth broke the game open with a 15-yard interception return touchdown around the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, and Chatfield returned a fumble 43 yards with 64 seconds left. In between those two scores, another Beaver Falls fumble set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Machai Duetrieulle-Brooks.

“We work a lot in practice on stripping the ball and tip drills,” said Booth, who had two interceptions and recovered a fumble. “That translates to the game.”

Serra Catholic’s Jayvon Holt and Pharoh Fisher also forced fumbles, and Duetrieulle-Brooks had an interception.

Beaver Falls led 6-0 after scoring on the opening possession. Trey Singleton caught a 28-yard touchdown from Jaren Brickner.

Serra used an 11-yard touchdown run by Duetrieulle-Brooks and Ward’s 30-yard interception return to lead 14-6 at half. Along with two touchdowns, Duetrieulle-Brooks had a game-high 94 yards on 22 carries for Serra.

The third quarter was scoreless.

Beaver Falls scored early in the fourth on a 6-yard touchdown run by junior Isaiah Aeschbacher, but the running back was tackled for a loss on the subsequent two-point run. Serra led 14-12.

That proved to be Beaver Falls’ last scoring chance. The Tigers’ next four possessions resulted in two lost fumbles and two interceptions.

“Our defense has been carrying us a long time,” Regus said. “They know how important it is.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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