Serra Catholic keeps its strange season alive, beats McGuffey in 1st-round game

Friday, October 30, 2020 | 11:30 PM

It has been a unique season for Serra Catholic, from only playing four games in the regular season to entering its WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinal matchup against McGuffey on a 21-day layoff.

But the Eagles didn’t worry about all of that. Their main focus Friday night on the road was about proving the doubters wrong about getting a seventh seed.

Led by quarterback Max Rocco’s 283 passing yards, Serra garnered a come-from-behind 21-14 victory with 14 points in the final 12 minutes to advance to the semifinals next week.

“We had to take it one play at a time,” Serra coach Jose Regus. “We displayed composure all night and stuck to the gameplan. McGuffey likes to run and chew the clock, but we held up. Our offense made enough plays through the air, and we got our momentum back in the second half.”

Trailing 14-7 with 10 minutes, 56 seconds left in the final quarter, the Eagles (5-0) calmly rallied on their next drive to make it 14-14 after Rocco found Terrell Booth for a 5-yard score at the 5:57 mark of the quarter.

The Highlanders (6-2) had a chance to take a lead late the fourth but a missed 31-yard field goal by Nate Witowsky clanked off the left upright and gave the visitors the ball back with 50 seconds left.

Instead of going into overtime, Serra once was again aggressive, and, two plays later, Rocco hit Jayvon Holt in stride for a 68-yard score that gave them a 21-14 lead after a successful PAT by Joe Folino.

“It’s been a different season for us, and we just battled the whole night,” Rocco said. “We felt disrespected by our seed, and our main goal was to beat McGuffey. We kept our cool, and on that last play, I knew it was going to work.”

McGuffey turned the ball over on downs to end the game, as Serra won its third opening-round game since 2006. McGuffey dropped to 1-6 in the first round since 2007.

After fumbling on their opening drive, McGuffey rebounded with a nine-play, 89-yard drive that was capped by a crazy play from receiver Kyle Brookman, who caught a 37-yard pass from Rocco Falosk, fumbled at the 5-yard line and then recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

The Eagles knocked off the rust and found paydirt at the 2:17 mark of the second quarter when Rocco hit Booth for a 29-yard score.

Two plays into the fourth quarter, McGuffey took a 14-7 lead after a 3-yard rushing score by McKinley Whipkey, but the two-point pass was unsuccessful.

Rocco finished with 283 yards on 18 of 31 passing with three touchdowns and no turnovers. Booth hauled in six for 134 yards, and Holt added six catches for 110 yards.

“We have great, skilled players,” Rocco said. “Our backs and receivers make my job a lot easier. We spread the offense, and everyone can make a play. Our offense is dynamic and the defense can’t focus on one guy. We wanted to pull out this win and advance to the next round.”

Serra will play Sto-Rox in the semifinals.

The Eagles’ defense was stout against the run-heavy McGuffey team, and that proved to be the key difference-maker.

“It was assignment football for us and we had to be in the right gaps,” Ragus said. “We had to gang-tackle and be aggressive. I think that aggressiveness on defense bleed into our offense. We were aggressive late in the game and got that big score. Our quarterback is a pure passer and we have a lot of weapons. My offensive coordinator made the right calls and we executed late in the game.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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