University Prep looking to end Westinghouse’s reign in City League football final

Friday, October 27, 2023 | 9:54 AM

It’s become rather routine for the Westinghouse Bulldogs to roll into the City League championship game at Cupples Stadium in recent history.

The Bulldogs are the reigning champs and have won three of the past four City titles, including five straight championship game appearances. Their run of success started against this year’s challenger, the University Prep Wildcats.

A long 23-year championship-less drought stood in Westinghouse’s way before the Bulldogs finally snapped it against those Wildcats in 2019.

That title triggered a newfound dominance in the City League for the Bulldogs.

“It was the kick starter. It made people believe,” Westinghouse coach Donta Green said. “At that point, kids who would normally go to private schools or other schools, that following year, they decided to stay home, which has been a huge contributor to our success.”

Now, Green and his Bulldogs are prepared for a rematch four years in the making for City supremacy against USO.

University Prep and Westinghouse will kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cupples Stadium.

While the stage is set to clash for the crown, Westinghouse (8-0, 4-0) and University Prep (7-2, 5-1) previously met this season for Round 1. The Bulldogs came out on top, 34-18.

The Bulldogs dominated the ground in the first three quarters, amassing 248 yards. Freshman Laimon Bates and senior TyJuane Abram paved their way into the end zone on separate occasions, along with two rushing touchdowns from star sophomore Kyshawn Robinson.

Although the score indicated another victory for Westinghouse, the game was overshadowed by more than 100 penalty yards for the Bulldogs. For Green, he felt it was just the nature of the two programs meeting together and a precursor for what could come in the championship matchup.

“A lot of those kids on USO played football growing up with kids on (Westinghouse),” Green said. “There’s history there. There are relationships there. Even though it’s all love after the game, there’s always some jarring back-and-forth.”

Since the regular season bout, the two programs have been on a collision course to converge again in the championship game.

For University Prep, the loss to Westinghouse was certainly a setback, especially coming off a loss a week earlier to Ohio powerhouse Steubenville. Reeling from two straight losses, Wildcats’ coach Lou Berry needed to make a change.

That adjustment came on defense when Berry switched senior Xair Stevenson, who leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss, from the Star to the Mike linebacker position.

Subsequently, University Prep went on an impressive tear by shutting out three straight City League opponents — Perry, 77-0; Brashear, 46-0; and Allderdice, 8-0 — along with not allowing a touchdown to Perry’s offense in the first round of the playoffs.

Berry, who is in year 13 as USO’s head coach, circles that critical decision as the key turning point in his team’s season.

“He has literally changed the whole complexion of our defense,” Berry said. “It starts with him. I attribute a lot of the success we have had to his performances on a week in, week out basis.”

Stevenson is not alone on that defense as he is surrounded by other significant pieces. The defensive line has been anchored by seniors Dante Duncan and Siaire Gambrell, along with sophomore Nahayo Clavel.

The secondary is locked down by seniors Davonte Jones, Amare Gee and Jaden Duckett, who is Berry’s nephew.

A part of that sensational shutout run the Wildcats have been on saw Duckett contribute with four interceptions in the 8-0 win over Allderdice to finish the regular season.

“He’s been the quarterback of our secondary,” Berry said “He makes big plays on both sides of the ball. As of late, he’s really turned it up as far as getting the ball back for us. I have a lot of trust in him.”

With the Wildcats’ defense showcasing its authority over the second half of the season, it’s exactly what Berry wanted to see from his team.

“That’s where our roots come from with this football program. It was built on defense first,” Berry said. “It feels good to finally start to get back at what we do well. Saturday, we are going to have to be at our best. If we can continue to win on first down, force long yardage situations, try to get the offense in predictable situations, that’s when we are at our best.”

There’s no doubt the USO defense will have to be on at the top of its game once again facing Westinghouse, a team that averages 37.3 points per game and currently ranks as the No. 2 team in Pennsylvania’s 2A classification.

Led by junior quarterback Khalil Green, Westinghouse navigated around a hungry Allderdice team in the first round of the postseason, 42-18.

The win didn’t come easily as the Bulldogs only led 7-6 heading into halftime.

“I think the first half taught our kids that we aren’t good enough to just show up and win football games,” Green said. “They woke up and realized they had to play a football game.”

When Westinghouse’s offense starts rolling, it’s hard to stop it. In the second half, Green connected with junior Lloyd Penn for 17-yard and 3-yard scores. Bates added two short-yardage touchdowns on the ground while Abram tacked on a 27-yard rushing touchdown to seal the victory.

One area that has been largely attributed to the Bulldogs’ offensive success has been the play of its line, and on Saturday, it will once again be a main focal point.

“The game will be decided up front. I think our offensive and defensive line will be lights out,” Green said.

The Bulldogs’ line is loaded with senior talent, including four-year starters Michael Harvey and Raymon Poindexter.

University Prep will be ready for the war in the trenches thanks to its previous experience this season with the Bulldogs.

“The physicality that Westinghouse plays with, you have to meet force with force,” Berry said. “I feel like we are capable of doing that, and we learned a lot in that particular game.”

Entering the championship game, the Wildcats are coming off that aforementioned 32-8 win against Perry.

The Wildcats had to rely on sophomore quarterback Jaquille McIntosh to lead the charge and he did so, tossing three touchdown receptions. Senior Daniel Cain, who leads USO with 13 touchdown receptions and 690 yards, hauled in two of those touchdown passes, while fellow senior Malik McDougal caught a 35-yard touchdown.

“It was a challenge to see how our guys would handle not going into a game at full strength,” Berry said. “It was another opportunity to learn about my team. I was proud of how McIntosh handled himself. For the most part, he did a great job protecting the football and commanding the huddle.”

For its biggest game of the season, University Prep will have its senior starting quarterback Max Qureshi back after dealing with an injury. Qureshi this season has completed 88 of 157 passes for 1,411 yards and 20 touchdowns.

With the Wildcats back at full strength, they will aim to dethrone the defending champions and clinch their first City title since 2016.

“Westinghouse has been very successful over the past four or five years, so we are looking forward to the opportunity to play a great opponent where we can see how good we are. We feel like we are a great team. This weekend, we’ll find out if that’s the case,” Berry said.

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