Even in hindsight, after seeing the long touchdown that resulted, Conneaut’s coach still considered it the ideal defense to stop that short toss play.
A defender was spying on Jordan Whitehead, yet the Central Valley star still scored.
“He just out-ran him; he was just gone,” Conneaut coach Pat Gould said with a little amazement in his voice after Whitehead scored four touchdowns Friday night in Central Valley’s 52-23 victory in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals.
The Warriors scored on all seven of their first-half possessions.
Whitehead rushed for 205 yards on seven carries with touchdown runs of 17, 63, 41 and 60 yards — all in the first half. The well-defended 63-yarder was after a short toss from Johnny George.
“We had the call correct,” Gould said. “It just didn’t work out correct.”
Whitehead has had that affect lately.
A senior committed to Pitt, Whitehead has scored 16 touchdowns in five playoff games. He had three in last week’s WPIAL championship victory at Heinz Field. With these four Friday, he guaranteed there would be no letdown.
Only once in the previous four years had a WPIAL team reached the Class AAA semifinals.
Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt awaits Central Valley in the semifinals. McDevitt (14-0) won the District 3 title with a 41-0 victory over Cocalico on Friday.
“It feels great coming off Heinz Field,” Whitehead said. “Most people were saying we’d have that hangover.”
This late-season stretch has been the best of Whitehead’s career, CV coach Mark Lyons said.
“He’s enjoying the last month of being a high school football player,” Lyons said of Whitehead, who plans to enroll early at Pitt. “That’s how he’s playing.”
Conneaut played much of Friday’s game without its star. A penalized hit to the head forced junior Hunter Merritt to the sideline in the second quarter. A dual-threat quarterback, Merritt entered Friday as a 1,500-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard passer.
Without Merritt, Conneaut wasn’t the same team.
“I guess it’s part of the game,” Gould said. “That didn’t help us at all (offensively), but we were having trouble stopping them. They’ve got a great team.”
CV was penalized for roughing the passer on the play that sidelined Conneaut’s quarterback.
Merritt had shown his ability on a 28-yard touchdown run that forced a 7-7 tie. He carried on 12 of Conneaut’s first 21 plays. Merritt returned briefly after halftime, with Central Valley leading 52-14.
Conneaut scored one play after Merritt was hurt, a 14-yard touchdown run by backup Connor Mattera. It cut Central Valley’s lead to 21-14, but without Merritt, the Eagles couldn’t reach midfield on any of their next five possessions.
Whitehead’s 17-yard touchdown run started Central Valley’s scoring spree on the team’s first possession. A 36-yard run by wideout Kurt Reinstadtler and the 63-yarder by Whitehead quickly built a 21-7 lead.
In the second quarter, Preston Johnson caught a 29-yard touchdown before Whitehead added touchdown runs of 41 and 60 yards. Central Valley led 45-14 at halftime after a 34-yard field goal by Brendan Jugan with 1:05 left.
Lyons pulled many of his starters at halftime.
Three minutes into the third quarter, a 22-yard touchdown pass from Central Valley’s Chris Callaghan to Reinstadtler enacted the mercy rule. The Warriors led 52-14.
Gould said Conneaut hadn’t seen a runner of Whitehead’s caliber.
“Cathedral Prep’s running back was good but not a shifty open-field runner like he is,” Gould said, “or as explosive as he is.”