Shenango limits damage done by California’s Jaeden Zuzak, wins Class A quarterfinal

Friday, October 30, 2020 | 10:05 PM

Shenango’s mission in a WPIAL Class A quarterfinal matchup with California on Friday night was pretty clear.

The Wildcats had to stop Jaeden Zuzak, the second-leading rusher in the WPIAL.

Zuzak wasn’t stopped, per se, running for 193 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns, but Shenango controlled him enough to come away with a 28-21 victory, forcing three big turnovers along the way.

“I thought we bottled him (Zuzak) up for most of the game, but big-time players make big-time plays, and he did that tonight,” Shenango coach Jimmy Graham said. “He kept them in the game. We are pretty excited to get out of here with a win. A little bit of a hostile environment here, and it was a long drive.”

California trailed 21-7 with less than four minutes remaining before Zuzak broke free and scored on a 44-yard run for a touchdown at 3:21 of the fourth quarter. Connor Vig added the second of three PATs to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 21-14.

Shenango (7-1) fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, and the Trojans (6-1) recovered.

Zuzak scored his third touchdown, a 41 yarder, to get California within one at 3:09, and Vig tied the game with the extra point.

“This game shows the type of player that Jaeden is,” California coach Ed Woods said. “He will have success wherever he goes in college and plays. I am proud of what the kids accomplished this year, and I was proud of what they did tonight. They didn’t have any quit in them and they fought to the end. I am hoping our underclassmen learn from it, and hopefully we continue to have the success that we’ve had, and I believe that we will.”

The Wildcats didn’t let the tying score affect their play. CJ Miller scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 58 seconds left. The score was set up by Santino Campoli’s 37-yard pass to Dalton Peters.

“We had some guys step up tonight,” Graham said. “I thought our quarterback played well tonight.”

Shenango’s Ryan Lenhart returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown at 4:19 for a 6-0 lead.

“We think our defense usually plays pretty well,” Graham said. “Our defense made some big plays tonight and really stepped up.”

California responded with a 13-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off by Zuzak’s 11-yard touchdown run at 8:18 of the second. The drive took 7:46 off the clock. Vig’s PAT provided the home team with a 7-6 advantage.

The Wildcats regained the lead on their next possession, as Miller scored on a 5-yard run and Peters pulled in the 2-point conversation reception from Campoli at 4:58 of the second for a 14-7 advantage. The key play on the drive was Campoli’s 51-yard pass to Aaron Martin that put the ball at the Trojans’ 18. Miller gained 85 yards on 16 carries.

The Wildcats received the kickoff coming out of halftime and scored on Lenhart’s 11-yard pass from Campoli at 10:05 of the third. Lenhart had the ball bounce from his hands off a California defender and back into his hands for the touchdown. Aidan Johnston added the PAT for a 21-7 lead.

The Trojans had a second turnover on the ensuing drive, as Shenango’s Tyler Kamerer picked off a pass. The Wildcats’ Hunter Lively added a third interception. Preston Schry had a fumble of a muffed punt in the fourth.

“We made some mistakes, and it cost us a ballgame,” Woods said. “The sad thing is, as many turnovers as we had, we were still in the ballgame. This shows signs of a good football team.”

The game featured two of the best running backs in the WPIAL in Zuzak and the Wildcats’ Reis Watkins, who was coming off an injury.

Zuzak came into the contest the second-leading rusher in the district with 1,366 yards on 87 carries and 25 touchdowns. Watkins entered the playoffs fourth in the WPIAL in rushing with 1,226 yards on 108 attempts and 21 trips to the end zone.

Watkins was limited in his return to action, gaining 22 yards on six carries.

“I am not sure the extent of Reis’ injury,” Graham said. “I think he took a helmet on the foot. At that point, we told him that we would transition to some other guys.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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