On the 10th anniversary of the Knoch football team’s last WPIAL playoff appearance, Uniontown could only stand by and watch as the Knights celebrated.
Uniontown had not beaten a team with a winning record all season, and that trend continued Friday night as Knoch improved to 9-1 with a 34-7 victory over the Red Raiders (6-4) in a Class AAA first round playoff game at Knoch Knights Stadium in Saxonburg.
Knoch advances to play Hopewell in the quarterfinals next weekend at a site and time to be determined.
Knoch senior running back Dusty Ziacik rushed 21 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns, as the Knights scored 34 unanswered points after Uniontown scored on the first drive of the game.
It was the first playoff win for Knoch since 1992.
Knoch’s last playoff appearance ended with a loss to Blackhawk in the 1992 AAA championship game. No. 12 seed Uniontown failed to get out of the first round for the third year in a row.
Uniontown did manage to catch the Knights off guard early. The Red Raiders used nine plays to drive 64 yards before quarterback Ryan Guthrie plunged over from the two for a 7-0 lead.
“We got off to a great start, and we needed that against a team like that,” said Uniontown coach John Fortugna. “Our kids played hard. Maybe a couple mistakes here and there and it’s a closer game.”
But Knoch didn’t make many mistakes. Quarterback Mark Rupert, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, guided Knoch to scores on its first four possessions.
“In a playoff game, you have to try some things,” Fortugna said. “Maybe we shouldn’t have attempted (the fake punt), but you never know what might happen.”
Knoch took advantage of a failed fake punt, after Guthrie’s pass sailed just high of receiver James May. Fullback Kit Durrett bolted 22 yards to the Raiders’ 19, and six plays later, Ziacik bulled in from the one to cap a 7-play, 41-yard drive.
Nick Novotny set the Knights up after a kickoff return to the Raiders’ 41.
Then, sure-footed Mark Klabnik kicked one of two field goals, from 31 yards, for a 10-0 advantage. After a Uniontown punt, Rupert capped a 69-yard drive with an 8-yard pass to a slanting Matt Koren.
Novotny’s reverse right gained 22 yards, and a hook-and-lateral play from Rupert, to Wes Briggs to Ziacik made it first and goal from the 2 with 27 seconds left until halftime. Ziack did the rest for his second score, and eclipsed the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season.
“I felt we could move the ball against them,” said Knoch coach Mike King. “It was nice to get our passing game working. Our offensive line did a heck of a job.”
King said the lateral play seemed right at the time.
“We tried it last week in the slop, it looked like a good time to try it,” King said. “We have a senior-laden team, but we felt a little anxiety before the game. It’s nice to get that first playoff win.”
Uniontown did not threaten in the second half, driving into Knoch territory only once.
Knoch came into the game AAA’s third-best defense, allowing only 6.1 points per game. Just Pine-Richland was able to score more than seven points against the Knights during the regular season.
Ace back Billy McLee led the Raiders with 61 yards on 12 carries.