Westinghouse welcomes underdog role in PIAA finals against 12-time champion Southern Columbia

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Friday, December 9, 2022 | 3:30 AM


Westinghouse coach Donta Green gathers his football players after each practice and every game for a session he calls highs and shout-outs.

One by one, the players identify an area of team success or praise a teammate, coach or position group that made a difference that day. That’s followed by another quick round where the players suggest ways the team can improve.

“It created a culture of highlighting other people and not really looking at yourself,” Green said. “I think that’s what we’re all about.”

They’ll do it again Friday afternoon at Cumberland Valley’s Chapman Field in Mechanicsburg. City League champion Westinghouse (14-0) faces Southern Columbia (12-3) at 1 p.m. in the PIAA Class 2A championship.

The team identified at least a dozen different “highs” after a state semifinal win over WPIAL champion Steel Valley. They believe they’ll need a similar team-wide effort now to defeat Southern Columbia, a 12-time state champion.

The last team to defeat Southern Columbia in a state final was Steel Valley in 2016. The Tigers have won five titles in a row since.

This will be the eighth consecutive year and the 21st time in 28 seasons that the District 4 champion from near Bloomsburg has reached the state finals. In contrast, Westinghouse will be there for the first time in school history and are the first City League team to reach the state finals in 25 years.

“We’re probably going to have everybody saying Southern Columbia is going to win,” Green said. “I know something about my guys. They play hard, they play with a lot of heart and they play tough football.

“They’re not going to quit.”

Westinghouse is the first City League team in the state finals since Perry was the Class 3A runner-up in 1997 with a team that featured future Pitt and NFL quarterback Rod Rutherford. The only City League team crowned state champions was Perry in 1989.

This year’s Westinghouse team also has a dynamic quarterback in Keyshawn Morsillo. The 6-foot-2 senior has passed for 2,544 yards and 41 touchdowns, while rushing for 810 yards and 18 more scores.

“I like when people doubt us,” Morsillo said. “That gives us the motivation. We always remain humble. I’m cool being underdogs.”

Equally impressive has been Westinghouse’s defense. The Bulldogs have held nine of their past 10 opponents to a touchdown or less. In five PIAA playoff games, they’ve outscored teams 211-43.

They’ll face another good test from Southern Columbia, which lost three times in the regular season, but seems to be peaking at the right time. The Tigers were the No. 3 seed in the District 4 playoffs, but upset the No. 2 Troy, 48-12, and No. 1 Mount Carmel, 48-18.

In the state playoffs, they knocked off District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle, 42-14, and District 3 champion Trinity, 42-7. The team has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in seniors Braeden Wisloski (1,804) and Wes Barnes (1,304), who’ve combined for 40 touchdowns.

As a team, Southern Columbia averages 307 rushing yards per game. In contrast, quarterback Blake Wise has thrown for 714 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games.

“I’m excited for the challenge and for everything that comes with it,” Green said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group than what I have.”

Westinghouse is the smallest of the City League football schools, credited with 149 boys in the latest PIAA enrollment numbers. The Bulldogs have seen their fan following from Homewood strengthen each week, but now they say they’re carrying the hopes of an entire city.

“We’ve got everybody on our back right now,” junior Taymir O’Neal said. “I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, but we like to have it. We like to play with it on our backs because we’re built for it.”

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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