Strong finish provides optimism for future of Burrell football

Monday, November 29, 2021 | 10:53 AM

The Burrell football season changed in a flash — literally.

In the middle of a gusty downpour, Burrell scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2 minutes remaining against rival Deer Lakes. The moment senior kicker Ethan Croushore’s extra point sailed through the uprights, lightning struck and the game went into a 30-minute delay.

Once the delay was over, the Burrell defense played tough and suffocated the Deer Lakes offense. Two minutes later, Burrell notched its first win of the season. The rest, as they say, is history.

“That Deer Lakes game is probably one of the funnest moments, and I’ve been coaching for a long time,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “Our kids just went in there and fought. That was just a gritty win. That was our springboard.

“We believed from the beginning of the game that we were going to win.”

With a challenging nonconference schedule that included eventual Class 4A playoff teams such as Highlands and Indiana, the Bucs set sail and had their sights set for the playoffs.

Burrell (3-8, 3-3) went 2-1 the rest of the way, and the head-to-head win over Deer Lakes gave the Bucs the advantage and a berth in the Class 3A playoffs as the No. 11 seed.

“That (Deer Lakes win) just started the fire underneath of us,” senior running back Caden DiCaprio said. “We just started to get on a roll.”

DiCaprio just didn’t drive the Burrell offense this season; he also was the engine and transmission. Where DiCaprio went, so did the offense. DiCaprio rushed for 1,273 yards and 14 touchdowns on 246 carries. It wasn’t a secret he was gonna get the ball nearly every play, yet he finished the season with a 5.2 average.

“Those were not easy yards,” Liotta said. “All of those runs were hard yards. He was the kind of guy that got better as the game went on. He’s a hard-nosed, tough kid. He’s a mature young man.”

It was not the kind of offense one might expect from Liotta, who normally runs the “Air Raid” passing attack. Burrell quarterbacks dropped back to pass just 37 times all season. Junior quarterback Chase Fenner finished the season completing 11 of 31 passes for 152 yards.

“Our job as coaches is to put our kids in the best position possible,” Liotta said. “We’d like to throw the ball 50 times a game, but that didn’t fit our talent. We ran a ‘Slot-T’ offense from the 1950s. It allowed us to compete in games that we wouldn’t have been competitive in.”

DiCaprio didn’t mind. He prepared himself to shoulder the load.

In another stroke of football irony, Burrell drew rival Mt. Pleasant in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucs lost to Mt. Pleasant, 40-7, to start the season. Although the Bucs were a different team come playoff time, the Bucs’ ranks were thin from injury, and the Vikings got the better of Burrell, 41-7.

“Our problem, early on, when we saw them was that we were really young,” Liotta said. “We were a much better team (the second time), and I would have loved to have played them with our full team.”

DiCaprio led the Burrell defense with 50 tackles. The Bucs defense forced eight fumbles this season, with DiCaprio and senior Mike White leading the team with two recoveries each.

Under Liotta, Burrell has a 7-2 record against Alle-Kiski Valley rivals Valley, Deer Lakes and Freeport, including three in a row against Deer Lakes and Valley. Burrell football enters the offseason hoping to build on a solid finish.

“We lettered 26 kids, lose nine seniors, with six being starters,” Liotta said. “We got a lot coming back. The future of Burrell Bucs football is bright.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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