Turnovers fuel Shenango in victory over Western Beaver

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Sunday, September 8, 2019 | 12:36 AM


Points off turnovers proved to be the difference in Shenango’s home opener Saturday at Glenn “Pop” John Stadium.

The Wildcats took advantage of two second-half interceptions that led to points and held on to beat Western Beaver, 21-14, in a Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference game.

Leading 7-0 at halftime, Shenango (2-1, 1-1) kicked off to begin the second half. Reis Watkins intercepted a Thad Gray pass and returned it to the Golden Beavers 20-yard line. Six plays later, after converting on a fourth-and-14, quarterback Tino Campoli scored on a 1-yard bootleg to extend the lead.

Later in the quarter, Maddox Smiley stepped in front of a Xander LeFebvre pass to give the Wildcats another short field. Smiley then caught a third-down pass from Campoli and ran down the sideline 24 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown with 8 minutes, 48 seconds remaining.

“The defense played tremendous,” Shenango coach Jimmy Graham said. “They gave our offense opportunities to capitalize and score.”

On the ensuing kickoff, a late hit out of bounds by Western Beaver (2-1, 0-1) led to two personal foul penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and an ejection of Shenango’s Reis Watkins. The senior running back had rushed 18 times for 79 yards and a first-half score before being ejected.

Watkins’ absence on defense was noticed immediately. After struggling on offense for the first three quarters, Western Beaver drove right down the field and scored on a 24-yard pass from Gray to Elias Bishop to end the shutout.

After a failed onside kick attempt, Shenango took over near midfield with a chance to essentially run out the clock. However, on the next play, Western Beaver’s Zach Altenbaugh blitzed up the middle and hit Campoli before he could hand the ball off to his running back. Lonnie Craft scooped up the ball and returned it to the Shenango 7.

Three plays later, Gray found LeFebvre on a crossing route from 6 yards to cut the lead to 21-14 with 1:38 remaining..

However, the ensuing onside kick failed, and Shenango ran out the clock.

“I was pleased with the way (Gray) looked on the last couple of drives there. That’s something to build off of,” Western Beaver first-year coach Derek Moye said of his quarterback. “We can’t wait until the fourth quarter in order to get it going.”

“All of our goals are still right in front of us. A loss is part of playing football. It’s part of being a competitor. We just can’t let it hold us back.”

Gray was 9 of 14 for 98 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Do-it-all freshman LeFebvre finished with 36 passing yards, a team-high 41 rushing yards and a touchdown reception.

Shenango’s Tino Campoli finished 12 for 17 for 134 yards with a touchdown passing and rushing.

“He’s maturing daily,” Graham said of his sophomore quarterback. “He played a great game, managed the game pretty well. He had a couple of miscues with some center exchanges, but he’s in 10th grade. Last year he got thrown into the fire a little bit as a freshman in a senior-heavy conference.”

Graham was pleased with his defense, which held the Golden Beavers to fewer than 100 yards of offense through three quarters.

“Western’s a great team,” he said. “They put up 48 points the first game and 30 last week. Our defense really came to play tonight.”

After getting its first conference victory in two years, Shenango sits a game out of first place behind Neshannock, Freedom, and New Brighton. All three teams are 2-0 to start the MAC season.

“The conference seems to be pretty wide open right now,” Graham said. “It’s anybody’s game. So we’re just going to take it one game at a time. That’s all we can really do.”

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