Steel Valley’s Cruce Brookins follows big blockers in run-heavy win over Sto-Rox

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Saturday, September 3, 2022 | 12:49 AM


Cruce Brookins predicts that he and Steel Valley teammate Greg Smith could be crashing into one another on a college field in a year or two.

Brookins is a Kent State commit and Smith is headed to Miami (Ohio), so they’re future rivals in the Mid-American Conference. But for now, Brookins says he’s thrilled to have the 6-foot-5, 315-pound lineman on his side.

Friday night showed why.

“I love our line,” said Brookins, who followed his big-bodied blockers to 186 rushing yards and four touchdowns as Steel Valley defeated host Sto-Rox, 27-24, in a back-and-forth nonconference win that matched two ranked teams in Class 2A.

Steel Valley (1-0) was ranked second, Sto-Rox (0-1) was fourth and the game came down to the final seconds.

There were four lead changes after halftime, the last on a 1-yard touchdown run by Brookins with less than 3 minutes left. The senior quarterback, who scored on runs of 26, 81, 1 and 1 yards, relied on an experienced offensive line that has four returning starters and averages better than 250 pounds.

“They were opening up so many holes for me,” said Brookins, who carried 20 times. “I might need to go feed them.”

As a team, Steel Valley completed only one pass but ran the ball 34 times for 336 yards. The Ironmen graduated one of the WPIAL’s top running backs — 2,000-yard rusher Nijhay Burt — but they proved their ground game is still elite.

“We can move anybody on that field,” Smith said. “We worked hard all offseason, worked hard in the weight room, and I trust my guys. I think we’ve got the best line ever.”

This was the season opener for both teams, who each reached the WPIAL semifinals last season.

Sto-Rox lived up to its big-play hype with an 85-yard kickoff return by Diego Ellis, and quarterback Josh Jenkins passed for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Jaymont Green-Miller caught two touchdowns including a 59-yarder.

Ellis also scored twice and had a third touchdown — a 75-yard kickoff return — negated by a penalty.

The Vikings tried to pull off a game-winning drive in the final minutes, and reached Steel Valley’s 24-yard line, but Steel Valley’s Antonio Bray made an interception in the end zone with 1.3 seconds left. Sto-Rox had twice kept the drive alive by converting a fourth down, but the team also was penalized four times in the span of nine plays.

“I preach about the little things,” said Sto-Rox coach Marvin Mills, making his Vikings debut. “Penalties and those little things add up, and that’s what happened tonight. We had penalties that we shouldn’t have had, but we’ll fix those mistakes and we’ll be back at it.”

Sto-Rox had led 6-0, 18-14 and 24-21. The Vikings’ final lead came on a 10-yard TD catch by Ellis with 1 minute left in the third.

Eight different Sto-Rox players caught passes from Jenkins, who completed 17 of 28 throws. Green-Miller led with 62 yards on two catches. Dre Miller-Ross had a team-high five catches and 33 yards.

“Their speed is so scary,” Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said. “We have speed, but they have great speed and great speed in their passing game. Their kickoffs, we had no answer for it.”

Steel Valley had led 14-6 and 21-18, but found itself trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Ironmen’s game-winning touchdown came on a nine-play possession that covered 89 yards. Early in the drive they overcame a first-and-30 at their own 11, using Brookins’ legs to pick up the first 18 yards on two carries.

Jesean Wright contributed 51 yards on the drive including a 15-yard catch on third down and a 33-yard run on the next play. Wright, a senior, finished with 108 yards from scrimmage.

Facing first-and-goal at the 1, Steel Valley didn’t waste any time. Brookins followed his linemen into the end zone for a 27-24 lead with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left.

Along with Smith at left tackle, the Ironmen started center Brendan Snyder (6-0, 210), left guard Terrin Beatty (6-0, 230), right guard Rasaun Hough (6-2, 230) and right tackle Michael Crist (6-3, 285).

“If we need a yard, we’re going to get it,” Smith said. “We can get that yard versus anybody.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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