South Allegheny’s Antonio Epps steps on Yough

Friday, September 25, 2020 | 11:29 PM

For the third consecutive week, Antonio Epps made his presence felt in a big way for South Allegheny.

The senior standout had four first-half touchdowns, rushing for three and catching another, in the Gladiators’ 41-9 victory over Yough in Class 3A Interstate Conference play Friday on Cougar Mountain.

Epps, who entered the game sixth on the WPIAL rushing leaderboard, racked up 125 rushing yards by halftime and finished with 166 en route to his third straight multi-touchdown game. He had two rushing scores in a Week 1 loss to Mt. Pleasant and three touchdowns — two on the ground — in last week’s defeat at the hands of Southmoreland.

“He is truly the glue that has held us all together and kept us going each week,” SA coach Frank Cortazzo said. “He is a great young man outside of football, and he’s a leader in the locker room. You can’t ask for a better player. His athletic ability is top notch, and that comes from his work ethic and everything he does off the field.”

Epps’ first touchdown of the night came on South Allegheny’s second drive as he found his way into the end zone for a 1-yard score.

After SA regained possession on a fumble, Epps added touchdown No. 2 as he capped off a 13-play, 56-yard drive with a 2-yard scamper.

The Cougars (1-2, 0-2) were forced to punt on their next drive and Epps quickly made them pay, rushing for 55 yards on two plays. The second was a 43-yard touchdown run that put SA (1-2, 1-2) ahead 27-0.

Epps’ fourth TD of the night came on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Eric Wehrer, who scored on a 7-yard run to open the night’s scoring.

“We had to clean up some things. The last few weeks, we had penalties and we were undisciplined, so we had to clean up things like that,” Cortazzo said. “We had to fix the mental aspect of it because we have a good team here and I feel very confident in what we have going forward.”

Yough’s offense struggled to get anything going in the first half as three of its six possessions ended with a punt. Two concluded with fumbles and only one resulted in a score on a 71-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Terek Crosby late in the second quarter.

It didn’t help that the Cougars dealt with a number of injuries as well.

“We came out a little nervous because this was a big game for us,” Yough coach Chris Chunko said. “When the injuries happened, though, that was deflating for us.”

SA did a commendable job of keeping Yough running back Gamal Marballie in check.

The senior, who came in as the WPIAL’s second-leading rusher with 427 yards through two games, was limited to just five yards on six carries in the first half. He finished with 11 carries for 20 yards. As a team, Yough had just 44 rushing yards and 93 total yards.

“Yough has a very good team. We watched them on film and they had dynamic players,” Cortazzo said. “We told our kids that this was probably one of the most athletic teams that we’ve seen so far.”

Marballie spent some time at quarterback as well when starter Tristan Waldier was forced to the sidelines with an apparent right knee injury sustained late in the first quarter.

Waldier returned in the second half, but was injured again on the third play of Yough’s first drive.

With Marballie having to step under center, the running game wasn’t the same.

“That took away from the running game a lot,” Chunko said. “It took away from what we gameplanned for all week. We have to hit it hard next week and come up with a gameplan.”

Yough scored its only other points on a safety in the second half, while South Allegheny extended its lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by Kavan Markwood, who ran for 73 of his 75 yards in the second half.

Markwood was part of an SA rushing attack that totaled 297 yards on the ground. The Gladiators finished with 394 total yards as Wehrer completed 4 of 10 passes for 97 yards.

Yough will look to bounce back next week at Mt. Pleasant, while South Allegheny hosts Brownsville.

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