Steel Valley captures Allegheny Conference by beating Serra Catholic

Friday, October 27, 2023 | 11:54 PM

Steel Valley’s Donald Barksdale has been a star all year, and Friday night was no exception as he willed the Ironmen to a huge 54-14 win over Serra Catholic to claim the Class 2A Allegheny Conference title outright.

Barksdale, who came into the game as the third-leading rusher in the WPIAL with 1,253 yards, finished with 208 yards and four rushing touchdowns. To top it all off, he also had a 56-yard punt return that he took to the house.

“He’s a great back, obviously. He makes us go,” Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said. “We can keep going to him, and we have a few weapons around him now that can take some off of him too. He’s just a great running back. He makes it happen. He did the same thing last year. He comes up big in big games. He’s a hard runner, and he loves to be big time.”

Barksdale was indeed big time, but don’t take away from the performances of quarterback Tyson Barron and Delmario Shields for the Ironmen (8-1, 7-0). Barron finished 8 of 11 for 168 yards and three touchdowns, including one to Shields. The 6-foot-2 junior receiver/corner finished with four receptions for 81 yards and the score, and he picked off a pass from Serra Catholic’s Quadir Stribling.

The interception was one of two for Stribling, who went 14 for 26 and put up 145 yards and a touchdown. De’reon Washington caught his touchdown pass and posted 54 yards on four receptions in a modest offensive showing for the Eagles (4-5, 4-2).

“All we can do now is put that behind us,” Serra Catholic coach Jose Regus said. “It’s playoff time now. We have to move forward with that.”

Despite the lopsided scoreline, the Eagles battled for a half and twice brought their deficit to one possession, including with 46.5 seconds remaining in the first half as Washington ultimately ended their scoring when he made it 20-14.

But after a squib kick gave the Ironmen decent field position, they took advantage in just 30 seconds. Shields caught a screen pass and took it 37 yards before Barksdale scored his third touchdown of the night with a 3-yard run.

Then, Serra’s Isiah Petty muffed the second-half kickoff and ceded possession to Steel Valley. Less than three minutes into the third half, Barksdale plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to open up a 20-point lead at 34-14.

So, what could have been a 14-point swing for the Eagles in scoring before halftime and potentially out of the break turned into a swing in momentum for the Ironmen. In 3 minutes, 50 seconds of gametime, Steel Valley pushed its lead from 20-14 to 41-14.

Both coaches agreed that pivotal stretch decided the game.

“Momentum is so big in football,” Braszo said. “It’s kind of cliche, but it’s kind of true. They scored to get right there with us, so you figured the whole game would be like that. Then, we got that quick score and we came out and got a fumble and a quick score, and it kind of deflated them. They were playing really well, and they’re a good football team. They only had one (conference) loss, too.”

Said Regus: “We caught a couple bad breaks in the middle of the game. They were crucial. But we’ve just gotta take this all in. It shows us that we can compete because they’re one of the top teams in the conference, and we played half a game with them. We’ve got to get ourselves together to play a full game.”

Barksdale wasted no time opening the scoring, finding paydirt on a 57-yard run a minute into the contest. AJ Karstetter, who made every subsequent extra point he attempted, had his try blocked, so the Ironmen immediately held a 6-0 lead.

Three and a half minutes later, after Shields picked off Stribling, Barksdale scored on a 52-yard rush to make the score 13-0.

Serra Catholic put together its best drive of the night in response as Mason Jones punched it in from the 1-yard line after a methodical combination of Petty and Jones on the ground. Caden Bauer’s extra point made the scoreline 13-7 with 11:45 remaining in the first half.

But the Eagles couldn’t manage a stop defensively as the Ironmen quickly regained a 13-point lead. Barron connected with Shields two minutes later for a 37-yard touchdown that pushed the score to 20-7.

From there, Washington scored his touchdown but left too much time for Steel Valley to respond, and the muffed kick added to the wound. In fact, less than a minute after Barksdale capitalized on the muff to make the score 34-14, he had his 56-yard punt-return touchdown to make the score 41-14.

Two more Steel Valley players found the end zone before the contest ended as Tyrell Breland caught a 22-yard touchdown just before the third quarter expired and Dominic Brannon hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass with 4:32 left in the game to make the final score 54-14.

While the Ironmen were able to capture another conference title, both teams agree that a new season starts now. Steel Valley figures to be among the very best seeds in Class 2A, and Serra Catholic had a strong conference showing that will bolster its resume.

“A lot of the guys went through it last year, and they know how it goes,” Braszo said, referring to his WPIAL Class 2A champion team last season. “It’s like a brand new season. You have to get prepared for whoever you’re going to play next. They realize what’s on the line, just like they did tonight. Everybody’s good right now, so you just take it one game at a time.”

Said Regus: “We just have to play whoever they put in front of us. They do the predictions and all that, but we’ve just got to wait and see who they give us and then we have to do what we have to do.”

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