Steel Valley comes alive in 4th quarter, surges past Neshannock in Class 2A semifinals

Friday, November 18, 2022 | 11:08 PM

Sophomore Donald Barksdale rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score on an 80-yarder in the fourth quarter, leading No. 1 Steel Valley to a 32-17 win over No. 4 Neshannock (11-2) in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals Friday night at Thomas J. Birko Memorial Stadium at Montour High School.

The Ironmen (11-0) were up 13-0 but gave up 17 unanswered points after halftime. Steel Valley put the pedal back to the metal in the fourth quarter, taking a 19-17 lead on Barksdale’s long run.

“I had to put the team on my back,” Barksdale said. “It was up to me.”

Wide receiver/defensive back JeSean Wright said that the team was motivated after the Neshannock defense made adjustments against the Ironmen offense.

“We went into halftime and those boys came out fighting, so we had to come out fighting and it was a game,” Wright said. “I’m just glad my dogs fought hard. I got their back and they got my back. It just feels great to play in Acrisure next week.”

Steel Valley will meet No. 2 Beaver Falls in the championship game at 2 p.m. Friday.

Wright added that he knew Neshannock was going to give his team a tough game when the Lancers made adjustments and began to fill gaps. Wright and the Ironmen were prepared for the test of strength, however.

“It’s adversity and you just have to fight it,” Wright said. “Everything isn’t going to go your way all the time, and we knew coming into this game it wasn’t going to be easy in the semifinals. You don’t have an easy run to the to the big day in the big stadium. We just got the job done. I’m just happy we got the job done. I love these boys.”

The Ironmen landed the first punch, scoring on the second play of the game. After being swallowed up in the backfield on the first down, quarterback Cruce Brookins found Del Shields on a 76-yard streak for a touchdown. AJ Karstetter made the extra point, making it 7-0 within the first minute.

After forcing a Lancers punt, Steel Valley manufactured a drive, going right down the field into the Neshannock red zone. Brookins capped off the drive with a 9-yard touchdown. The snap on the extra point was botched and Wright, the holder, was wrestled down, making it 13-0.

Both teams were unable to find the end zone for the rest of the half.

The Lancers had a golden opportunity, getting inside the Steel Valley 10-yard line, but couldn’t muster a score due to multiple holding penalties.

Neshannock wasted no time scoring in the second half. Quarterback Jonny Huff quickly took a 50-yard run on a read option into the end zone. After the Carter DeVivo extra point, it was 13-7.

The Lancers defense buckled down and forced the Ironmen to punt. Neshannock then drove to the Steel Valley 10-yard line, but the Ironmen held their ground, forcing a fourth down. DeVivo nailed a 27-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 13-10.

Neshannock forced a turnover on downs after Steel Valley had a snap that sailed over Carlos Davis’ head on a punt. The Lancers had the ball on the Steel Valley 39-yard line but went three and out.

Steel Valley then had another bad snap on a punt that went into the end zone, but Davis made a play, running it 20 yards out of the shadow of his own goalposts. Nonetheless, he was short of the first down, turning the ball back over to Neshannock.

The Lancers capitalized on the miscue, punching it in for six after a 19-yard touchdown pass from Huff to Ronald DeMase. DeVivo made the extra point, giving the Lancers a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.

That’s when Steel Valley responded with Barksdale’s 80-yard touchdown run on the next play. The PAT failed, but the Ironmen had the lead for good at 19-17.

The Ironmen forced a turnover on downs and extended their lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by Brookins. After a missed extra point, it was 25-17.

Huff was then stripped of the football and Steel Valley’s Greg Smith fell on it at the Neshannock 19.

Steel Valley put the game away with a 3-yard touchdown run by Barksdale, making the score 32-17 and punching its ticket to the to WPIAL championship game.

Steel Valley was led by Brookins and Barksdale. Brookins finished with 75 yards on 16 carries, notching two touchdowns. He also threw for 85 yards and a score.

Neshannock was led by Huff, who threw for 66 yards, completing 7 of 18 passes and passing for a touchdown. He also rushed for 51 yards on 15 carries, scoring a touchdown on the ground.

Neshnanock coach Fred Mozzocio said the Lancers were relentless all year long, and that despite being underdogs, they kept pushing forward all the way into the WPIAL semifinals.

“They just never gave up, and we were behind in games this year and our kids fought back. And they did the same thing tonight, but you’re playing a championship-caliber caliber team,” Mozzocio said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the WPIAL, and they were able to respond to our to our punch.”

Steel Valley now shifts its focus to the WPIAL title game. Wright is pumped up to play on the big stage with his team.

“We’re resilient, man,” Wright said. “We always go and bounce back no matter what we’re going against. We’re the get-back boys and just know that.”

Watch an archived video stream of this broadcast on Trib HSSN.

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