Steel Valley stomps Ligonier Valley to stay undefeated

Friday, September 23, 2022 | 11:19 PM

Top-ranked Steel Valley kept rolling in Class 2A on Friday night, earning its first shutout of the high school football season and scoring another mercy-rule victory, its third in a row.

Cruce Brookins passed for 122 yards and a touchdown and rushed for two more scores — all in the first half — to lead the visiting Ironmen to a 48-0 rout of Ligonier Valley in an Allegheny Conference game.

Donald Barksdale was efficient with his seven carries, gaining 162 yards and scoring on two long first-half runs for Steel Valley (4-0, 2-0), which has defeated Seton La Salle, Imani Christian and Ligonier Valley by a combined score of 166-16 over the past three weeks after opening with a nail-biting 27-24 victory over No. 5 Sto-Rox.

“The playmakers are making the plays, and our line’s doing a good job of making holes for them,” Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said. “They’re running hard.”

Steel Valley managed to set up a running clock in the second half by building a 35-0 lead just before the end of the first half. Brookins’ 2-yard run and AJ Karstetter’s extra point provided the required 35-point margin to enable a mercy rule to go into effect.

“The quarterback is our leader,” Braszo said of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Brookins, who has a Division I offer from Kent State to play as a defensive back. “He’s the guy you’ve got to stop. He had a good night. We used everybody tonight. So far, so good for us.”

Steel Valley, which completed an 11-1 record with a loss to Beaver Falls in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals in 2021, preserved its first shutout in the final minute.

With both teams’ reserves playing out the game, Steel Valley’s Ameer Berry recovered a fumble in the Ligonier Valley end zone with time winding down, denying the Rams a chance to get on the board.

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said his team will “wash (the night) down the drain and get ready to play Yough next week.

“That is a great football team we just played,” Beitel said, preparing to deliver a tongue-in-cheek punchline. “They beat us in all phases. They beat us at the dinner table in the offseason, they beat us in the weight room and then, they beat us in every phase of the game. They’re bigger and faster and stronger than us. What are you going to do?”

Braszo’s observation, while more subtle, mirrored Beitel’s.

“It was a big game, a conference game,” he said. “They were 3-1. They’re well-coached. They’re a good team. They play hard at home. We’re just a little stronger than they are right now. Our kids played good, kind of stayed focused, didn’t have too many penalties tonight. It was good.”

The Ironmen scored on their first four possessions before Ligonier Valley (3-2, 1-1) could get a defensive stop.

Barksdale raced 57 yards on the game’s second play to put Steel Valley in front 7-0.

Markhai Valentine’s 55-yard touchdown pass from Brookins on the Ironmen’s second possession made it 14-0 with 6 minutes, 7 seconds to go in the first quarter.

On the next drive, Brookins moved Steel Valley’s offense with ease to the 3, from where he scored on a keeper with 1:55 to go in the first to up the lead to 21-0.

Ligonier Valley’s best chance to score followed, when the Rams drove inside the Steel Valley red zone midway through the second quarter. But, Haden Sierocky’s pass was intercepted by Brookins at the SV 5.

Steel Valley wasted little time tacking onto its lead, driving 95 yards on five plays with Barksdale slicing his way 53 yards into the end zone for a 28-0 advantage.

“At least it wasn’t a 50-spot at halftime,” Beitel joked. “We saw some of their other games on film, and they put 50 on (nearly) everyone in the first half. Our kids hung in there, but ultimately, the big difference was whenever you play a great football team, you’ve got to be perfect.”

Steel Valley, which next entertains Apollo-Ridge, scored twice in the second half on JeSean Wright’s 20-yard run in the third quarter and Da-ron Barksdale’s 1-yard run in the fourth.

His team’s latest lopsided victory made Friday night’s long travel for Braszo much easier to take. The veteran coach, who also has led another Allegheny County program as a former coach at West Mifflin, lives in nearby Latrobe, just 12 miles from Ligonier’s Weller Field.

“Yeah, it’s too bad I can’t just drive home now,” he said, with a chuckle. “I have to go back and then come back home again.”

Munhall-based Steel Valley and Braszo faced a 50-mile return bus trip to the school, from where Braszo then drove back 39 miles to his home in Latrobe.

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