Week 1 clash between Sto-Rox, Steel Valley comes 10 months later than they’d hoped

Thursday, September 1, 2022 | 8:15 PM

Steel Valley’s Cruce Brookins watched maybe a few minutes of last year’s WPIAL Class 2A final. Sto-Rox’s Josh Jenkins couldn’t stomach watching any.

That’s understandable because their teams were the favorites to face one another in that championship game. Steel Valley was the No. 1 seed. Sto-Rox was No. 2. Yet, both were upset in the semifinals, one win short of Heinz Field.

The final instead featured Serra Catholic and Beaver Falls.

“The game came on and I couldn’t watch it,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to watch it because a good friend of mine plays for Serra Catholic. I wanted to see him play, but it just hurt too much to see it, knowing that should have been us.”

Serra Catholic topped Beaver Falls, 35-12.

“I couldn’t watch too much,” Brookins said. “I was getting mad. … We were definitely trying to get there. When we lost that game, that was the only thing I was thinking about.”

Now, they say their teams can finally put last year behind them with a head-to-head Week 1 matchup at 7 p.m. Friday in McKees Rocks. This is the season opener for both as No. 2 ranked Steel Valley visits No. 4 Sto-Rox — and both teams still hold WPIAL championship hopes.

Of the six WPIAL classifications, Class 2A might be the most balanced at the top with No. 1 Beaver Falls, No. 3 Washington and No. 5 Serra Catholic considered contenders as well. No one would be surprised to see any of the five at newly named Acrisure Stadium this fall.

So, it’s possible Sto-Rox vs. Steel Valley is a championship preview.

“Possibly,” said Jenkins, without making any predictions. “We’re two good teams.”

This was a matchup created by the WPIAL. The league in recent years has handpicked nonconference pairings in an effort to create competitive matchups.

“It’s definitely going to get us ready for the season, coming out with a strong game against a great team,” Brookins said. “It should be a good one.”

Brookins and Jenkins, both seniors, are two of the best playmaking quarterbacks in the WPIAL. Brookins, a Kent State defensive back recruit, rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 15 touchdowns last season. Jenkins, who drew his first D1 offer this summer, passed for nearly 1,500 yards and threw 21 TDs.

But both teams have changed.

Steel Valley graduated running back Nijhay Burt, who rushed for 2,044 yards and scored 35 touchdowns. He was a giant part of the Ironmen’s offense and his leg injury in the quarterfinals played a part in their playoff loss.

That could mean more yards for Brookins.

What Steel Valley does bring back is a big offensive line led by Miami (Ohio) commit Gregory Smith, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior. Also back is 6-3, 285-pound junior tackle Mike Crist.

The Ironmen (11-1) were undefeated last year before losing to Beaver Falls, 21-8, in the semifinals. Sto-Rox (12-1) also was undefeated before losing to Serra Catholic, 13-12.

Sto-Rox returns its leading passer in Jenkins and three of its top playmakers in Zay Davis, Jaymont Green-Miller and Dre Miller-Ross. But the Vikings changed coaches since last season, with Marvin Mills replacing LaRoi Johnson.

Gone is a pass-heavy approach, replaced by a more balanced attack under Mills.

“We still throw the ball, but we’re not much of an air raid offense like we were with Coach Johnson,” Jenkins said. “We’re more multiple. We’ll go under center.”

The majority of WPIAL teams held a game in Week Zero, an option allowed under PIAA rules. Sto-Rox and Steel Valley each went with the traditional route and held a second scrimmage.

Sto-Rox scrimmaged Burgettstown. Steel Valley scrimmaged Charleroi.

“Right after Burgettstown, I turned on Steel Valley film,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been watching film since six that night. I can’t wait.”

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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