Unbeaten McGuffey crashes Southmoreland’s party

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Friday, September 27, 2019 | 10:59 PM


One of the most anticipated and hyped games in Southmoreland football history came with all the grandeur and set dressing befitting such an event.

Hundreds of fans showed up, many of them hours before kickoff. Parking lots filled to capacity. Hundreds of pom poms were handed out at the gate.

But then the needle slid off the record.

The Scotties, on the verge of a WPIAL playoff appearance for the first time in 40 years, went score-for-score with visiting McGuffey until it all unraveled in the fourth quarter. The third-ranked Highlanders spoiled all the fun, undercutting the Scotties, 55-28, on Friday night before more than 2,500 at Russ Grimm Field at Southmoreland Stadium.

“The kids are upset,” Scotties coach Dave Keefer said. “We have expectations here now. It’s far from over, but this was tough. We’ll regroup.”

Southmoreland came in averaging 51 points and McGuffey 46, so many expected a shootout in the Class 2A Interstate clash.

It was headed that way, but McGuffey (6-0, 4-0) pulled away, establishing its veer-option running attack and taking advantage of Southmoreland mistakes to post a 27-point fourth quarter and hand the Scotties (5-1, 4-1) their first loss of the season.

“When it was 28-28, we were pleased with that,” Keefer said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot. You can’t make those kind of mistakes against good teams. They run that offense so well.”

McGuffey, aware of Southmoreland’s turnaround — 5-0 was the Scotties’ best start since 1964 — was confident in its own right. The motivation was fueled by the attention Southmoreland has been getting.

“Look at us. We come in 5-0. We’re eighth in the state,” McGuffey coach Ed Dalton said. “We want to give (Southmoreland) credit, but what about us? It’s like we’re looking at them like they’re the Browns. Again, what about us?”

Four rushers scored touchdowns for the Highlanders, including Jared Johnson, who scored four times in the second half. He ran for a game-high 102 yards.

In the fourth, it fell apart for the Scotties after Johnson scored on a 24-yard run. The Scotties muffed the kick return, and McGuffey recovered.

Johnson then raced 28 yards for his third score of the second half to make it 41-28.

A series of penalties against the Scotties, including an unsportsmanlike call and a personal foul, led to a fourth-and-31 and the Scotties had to punt.

“We gave them way too many short fields,” Keefer said.

With their chances fading, the Scotties tried a hook-and-lateral play but were flagged for a forward pass.

McGuffey went on to add two more scores to run away and hide. Johnson added a 57-yard touchdown and Jordan Wallace ran in a 51-yard burst to put it out of reach.

Southmoreland is known for its passing game, but the Scotties and quarterback Zach Cernuto were held in check. Cernuto threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns but faced immense pressure in the second half.

In addition, standout receiver Riley Comforti was limited to three catches for 18 yards, a credit to multiple defenders, including 6-foot-5 CJ Cole.

“They did a nice job on Riley,” Keefer said. “They triple-covered him at times. And we didn’t protect Zach like we should have. We didn’t give him enough time.”

Dalton and his players did not go into the locker room at halftime, instead talking on a hillside near the scoreboard.

“I had to be Ghandi of halftime,” Dalton said. “We talked about Cernuto. If you don’t knock him down, he can beat you in coverage. So, we knocked him down.”

None of the teams’ previous opponents this season had a winning record, so Friday presented a new challenge for both the Scotties and the Highlanders.

They went into the half knotted at 21-21.

The Scotties, content to run the ball, took a 14-0 lead on a pair of Colt Harper touchdown runs. But the Highlanders scored 21 unanswered points.

Nathan Yagle took a counter handoff and busted up the middle for a 66-yard score for the Highlanders to make it 14-7. After McKinley Whipkey blocked a punt, quarterback Marshall Whipkey dashed untouched 15 yards for a score to tie it 14-14.

After a long kick return by Yagle, the Highlanders put together another short drive with Whipkey finding Tyler Smith for a 20-yard score. Smith tiptoed just inside the front-right corner of the end zone to finish the play.

Yagle ran for 90 yards on six attempts and McKinley Whipkey added 61 on 10 carries.

A lengthy scoring drive late in the second quarter allowed the Scotties to take momentum into the half. A 14-play drive covering 80 yards was finally capped by a 10-yard hookup from Cernuto to Brandon Peterson to tie it 21-21.

A fourth-down hold and a personal foul on McGuffey kept the drive alive. Cernuto rolled right and waited until Peterson scrambled across the end zone to get wide open.

The team exchanged scores in the third quarter.

Marshall Whipkey turned an option play into a forward pass to Johnson for a 20-yard touchdown.

The Scotties answered the 13-play drive with a big play. Peterson caught a short pass, was sprung by a block by Anthony Govern and raced 68 yards to make it 28-28.

Harper ran for 65 yards for the Scotties on as many carries (14) as Cernuto.

McGuffey won last year’s game, 56-28.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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