Wilmington stops Beaver Falls in battle of unbeatens

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Friday, November 20, 2020 | 10:33 PM


Quarterback/safety Caelan Bender made some big plays Friday night for the Wilmington Greyhounds.

But the biggest were two second-half plays that lifted Wilmington to a 20-18 victory over Beaver Falls in a PIAA semifinal at Geneva College’s Reeves Stadium.

With the Greyhounds leading 13-12, Bender eluded a sack by Tigers defensive end Josh Hough on third-and-11 at the Beaver Falls 31. Bender barely got a screen pass to Ethan Susen, who barreled his way to the 3.

Bender scored on a keeper two plays later to put Wilmington ahead, 20-12.

With 4:25 left in the game, Beaver Falls scored on a 16-yard pass from Jaren Brickner to Tyler Cain. Cain spiked the ball in the end zone and, after a penalty call, the Tigers had to make a 2-point attempt from the 18 to tie the game.

The pass was completed to Quadir Thomas, but Bender bumped Thomas enough inside the 5 and the Tigers receiver fell a yard short of the goal line.

Wilmington was able to run out the clock after that to secure the victory and a trip to Hershey for the state finals Nov. 28. The Greyhounds will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Southern Columbia and Bishop McDevitt.

Wilmington, which has won 13 District 10 titles since leaving the WPIAL in 1992, is 11-0 on the season. WPIAL champion Beaver Falls finished at 10-1.

“We practice that play a lot,” Bender said of the roll out that nearly failed. “I rolled out right and saw (Hough) coming and I said, ‘I’ve got to find Ethan.’ I turned around and barely got it off to him.”

“We go into ballgames with certain plays for certain situations,” Greyhounds coach Brandon Phillian said. “On third and long, we use that particular screen pass to Ethan. Somehow, like a magician, Caelan got out and almost sidearmed the ball.”

Said Bender of the 2-point conversion stop: “I got him with my left shoulder, but our defensive line made a great pass rush. It wasn’t just me.”

Hough became the all-time rusher for Beaver Falls during the third quarter, passing Cody Cook’s 4,277 yards with a 12-yard run in the third period. Cook’s senior season was 2007.

On the following play, Hough got loose on a sweep and ran 76 yards for a touchdown that brought the Tigers to within 13-12.

“It was a tough one,” Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone said of the loss. “They’re very stout inside. They have three of the best defensive linemen I’ve ever seen at this level. They took away our inside run and forced us outside.”

Beaver Falls took the opening kickoff and attempted a fourth-down conversion at its 36, but Hough was stopped by the middle of the Greyhounds line led by Weston Phanco.

Two plays later, Darren Miller broke through the middle and scored from 27 yards out.

The Tigers then drove to the Wilmington 16 and appeared to lose the ball on downs again, but a pass interference call on the Greyhounds gave the Tigers a first down at the 8, and Shileak Livingston scored two plays later. Beaver Falls, however, couldn’t convert a 2-point try and Wilmington led, 7-6.

With 9:44 to go in the half, Miller scored again for the Greyhounds on a 13-yard burst.

Livingston was held to 22 net rushing yards and Brickner threw for 97 yards.

“This one’s on me,” Nardone said. “I should have opened up the playbook more. I didn’t give our playmakers enough chances.”

Nardone said that he didn’t see the unsportsmanlike call in the end zone on the final Beaver Falls touchdown.

Bender led Wilmington with 17 carries, many slithering through the Tigers line in short-yardage situations.

After Wilmington had 617 rushing yards against Chestnut Ridge last week, the Tigers held the Greyhounds to 263 yards on the ground.

Hough, a Syracuse recruit, finished his career with 4,377 yards.

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