West Allegheny pulls off special victory over Woodland Hills

Friday, September 28, 2018 | 10:45 PM

West Allegheny coach Bob Palko continually preaches the importance of special teams.

On Friday night in Imperial, it was a pair of special teams plays that made the difference as the Indians upended the visiting Woodland Hills Wolverines, 14-13, in Class 5A Allegheny Eight Conference action.

Drevon Baldwin returned a kickoff 90 yards to break a 7-7 tie early in the fourth quarter to give West Allegheny the lead for good. But it took a bad snap on a Woodland Hills’ point-after attempt to seal the victory.

“It came down to execution and timing, and special teams,” Palko said. “You never know what phase is going to be able to help you. We’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time on (special) teams, and it worked out.”

The Indians (4-1, 4-1) remain atop the conference standings. Woodland Hills fell to 1-4 in conference play and 1-5 overall.

The game looked like it was headed to overtime when Woodland Hills’ Michael Coleman hauled in a 43-yard touchdown catch with 1:25 to play to draw the Wolverines within a point at 14-13. But the PAT snap was high, and holder Jayden Lucas took off with the ball and was tackled short of the goal line.

“(Lucas) turned around and made a heads-up play,” Woodland Hills coach Tim Bostard said. “He didn’t try to put it down and get it blocked. From the side it looked like he had a chance to get in, but unfortunately he just got caught a little short.”

The dramatic final minutes perhaps overshadowed Baldwin’s kickoff return. It came immediately following a 2-yard touchdown run by Woodland Hills’ William Clark that tied the game at 7-7 at 10:19 in the fourth quarter.

“It was a great feeling,” said Baldwin, who spent his freshman and sophomore years at Woodland Hills before transferring to West Allegheny prior to last season. “Before the kickoff they told me to make a play. I knew I was getting it. I saw the hole, and I just hit it and took off.”

West Allegheny never trailed as the Indians opened the scoring on the game’s opening possession.

The Indians chose to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the Woodland Hills 2-yard line on their opening possession. Kam Kruze rolled to his right and found John Rink in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead at 6:26 in the opening quarter.

But the ease with which West Allegheny drove down the field belied the defensive slugfest that ensued.

Both teams missed field goals before the Wolverines finally drew even at 10:19 in the fourth quarter on Clark’s 2-yard touchdown run.

That set up the late-game special teams heroics.

“You take them any way you can get them; I’m not going to sit here and complain about it,” Palko said. “You work so hard on all these things, and it came down to special teams.”

Jesse Geleynse is a freelance writer.

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