Shady Side Academy upsets Elizabeth Forward to advance to semifinals

Friday, November 11, 2022 | 11:40 PM

For the first time in more than a decade, Shady Side Academy is heading to the WPIAL semifinals.

The No. 6 Bulldogs played stout defense and made big plays when they needed to en route to a 31-17 upset victory over No. 3 Elizabeth Forward in the Class 3A quarterfinals at Warrior Stadium Friday night.

Shady Side (7-4) advances to take on second-seeded Avonworth, a 28-7 winner over Beaver, next week at a site to be determined.

The semifinal trip is the Bulldogs’ first since 2008.

“It started with a great week of work and great preparation,” Shady Side Academy coach Chick DiNardo said. “I’m gonna put this one on our seniors for making sure we were ready to roll and doing everything to keep everybody in check. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

After allowing 42 points in a 21-point defeat at the hands of Elizabeth Forward (9-2) in mid-September, Shady Side (7-4) held the Warriors’ high-powered offense in check.

EF benefited from an 18-yard field goal from Logan Beedle in the second quarter before adding a long 47-yard touchdown strike from Zion White to Isaiah Turner in the same frame.

The Warriors went into halftime trailing 14-10 but were limited to a singular fourth-quarter score on a 9-yard run by Jace Brown in the second half. They turned the ball over on downs twice and punted on two other occasions in the final 24 minutes. Their first possession of the second half ended with an interception on the opening play.

“I take my hat off to Shady Side because they did a heck of a job and came ready to play,” EF coach Mike Collodi said. “They came back after losing to us earlier in the year, and they had a great gameplan. We made some mistakes tonight, and I take responsibility for that. You can’t win games when mistakes are made.”

White, who threw for more than 200 yards and four touchdowns in the last meeting, was limited to 100 yards through the air with a touchdown pass and two interceptions.

SSA’s defensive unit held Zach Boyd at bay, too.

One of the top wide receivers in the WPIAL, Boyd had two catches for 53 yards after compiling 205 yards and four touchdowns earlier this season.

“Zach is a phenomenal wide receiver, and you see him doing big things week in and week out,” DiNardo said. “It’s a huge testament to Nate Mallory, who did the job and covered him all over the field.”

Shady Side’s strong defensive performance didn’t come out of nowhere.

The Bulldogs, led by defensive coordinator Dave Szlachetka, field the fourth-best defense in 3A, allowing fewer than 14 points per game.

“I’d like to say it’s out of the ordinary, but this is what our defense does,” DiNardo said. “This is what Dave continues to do with these guys.”

Shady Side excelled from an offensive standpoint as well.

The Bulldogs’ big-play ability was on display after Beedle’s second-quarter field goal put EF ahead 3-0.

On the ensuing kickoff, Naiziim Daniels went 80 yards to give the visitors a 7-3 advantage.

EF responded on its next possession with its longest play of the game.

White found Turner wide open over the middle for their 47-yard touchdown that made it 10-7 with more than eight minutes to go.

SSA didn’t waver, though.

A 37-yard run by Eddie DeBruce on the first play of the ensuing possession helped lead to an 11-yard touchdown on a shovel pass from DeBruce to Joey Bellinotti to make it 14-10 heading into halftime.

In the second half, another big play helped set the table for another Bulldogs score.

Delon Evans completed a 33-yard pass to James Bernier, and Bellinotti used a 13-yard scamper to help SSA get closer.

DeBruce followed with a 3-yard run but fumbled on the play. Patrick Bryan was there to scoop it up before running the extra 3 yards for the touchdown and a 21-10 lead.

SSA added to its advantage in the final frame on a 28-yard field goal by Harran Zureikat and a 20-yard touchdown run by Darren Haynes.

“Our offensive line did an awesome job of blowing holes open for our running backs,” DiNardo said. “We had a couple huge splash plays that really made a difference.”

The weather conditions forced EF to switch its usual gameplan by relying on the running game rather than airing it out more often.

Still, Collodi didn’t make any excuses.

“They had to play in the same elements as us,” Collodi said. “We do pass the ball a lot and it made it difficult, but I won’t take anything away from them. We just needed to find other ways to score, and we just weren’t able to. It just wasn’t our night.”

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