South Park dispatches Knoch in WPIAL 1st round

Friday, November 3, 2023 | 10:23 PM

South Park came to Saxonburg Friday night with a clear objective to run the ball and got a special performance from running back Eric Doerue.

The Eagles also took advantage of a litany of mistakes by Knoch and walked out with a lopsided upset.

Doerue rushed for 159 yards and four scores, and the 12th seeded Eagles forced three second-half turnovers in a 37-20 win over No. 5 Knoch in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.

It was the Eagles’ first playoff win since 2019.

“Winning a playoff game is a difficult task,” South Park coach Brian Abbey said. “We’ve gone many years without having one. It was great to see them band together, and it’s a memory they’ll have forever.”

The Eagles (7-4) advanced to play at No. 4 East Allegheny in next Friday’s quarterfinals. It’s a rematch of a Week Zero game that South Park won 22-16. Knoch, which was searching for its first playoff win since 2011, finished 8-3 a year after winning only one game.

A turning point came in the third quarter when South Park stripped Codi Mullen on a punt return with the score tied 14-14. Jake Arbuckle recovered the fumble for the Eagles at Knoch’s 24.

Four plays later AJ D’Agostino scored from 19 yards on a fourth-down play to give South Park a 21-14 lead.

On Knoch’s next two possessions, South Park intercepted Mullen.

The first one was by Kenyan Brown at the South Park 25, and he returned it all the way to Knoch’s 23. That led to a 34-yard field goal by Kaden Kostelnik.

Kostelnik picked off Mullen in Knoch territory on the next drive and set up Doerue for a 4-yard touchdown that made it 31-14.

Knoch also had a huge missed opportunity just before halftime. Trailing 14-6 in the final minute they had the ball at the foot of South Park’s goal line, but a false start moved them back 5 yards. Two plays later, Jack Depra batted down a Mullen pass on fourth-and-goal, preserving South Park’s lead going into halftime.

“The moment was too big for us tonight, and it showed,” Knoch coach Tim Burchett said. “We made mistakes we never make. Turn the ball over, have a false start on the one-yard line going into score before the half, those are critical mistakes that kill you.”

Knoch came out of halftime and drove down the field. Mullen hit Jackson Bauman in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. Kaden Spencer caught a 2-point pass, and the game was tied 14-14.

But mistakes and a strong night by Doerue were too much to overcome.

Doerue scored from 54 yards to open the scoring. He also had touchdown runs of 5, 4 and 18 yards.

South Park ran the ball 36 times for 232 yards and attempted only five passes.

“We’re built to run the ball with Eric, Zach (Ludwig) and (AJ) D’Agostino,” Abbey said. “We try to build each year on the strength of our team, and with our backfield and offensive line that’s a group of juniors that have played together for a long time. Their experience really showed tonight.”

Knoch returns the majority of its starters for next season and will try to build off its first playoff appearance since 2014.

“I’m proud of the kids, but I’m not satisfied in any way,” Burchett said. “It’s still a disappointment anytime we lose. We’re not going to be a program of moral victories. We think we’re a good football team, and we’re going to act like it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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