Steel Valley offense shut down in PIAA Class 2A semifinal loss to Wilmington
There are many adjectives that could be used to describe Wilmington’s performance in the PIAA Class 2A semifinal against Steel Valley on Friday night. Dominant, overwhelming and imposing are three that immediately come to mind.
But there was just one word that was most likely on the minds of Steel Valley when the game was over, one of the four-letter variety.
Wilmington dominated WPIAL champion Steel Valley from the start as it advanced to the PIAA title game for the second consecutive season, rolling to a 26-6 victory over the Ironmen Friday night at Ambridge High School.
The Greyhounds rolled up over 300 yards of total offense, while its defense limited Steel Valley, one of the WPIAL’s most potent offenses, to a mere 11 total yards.
Wilmington improved to 13-1 and will meet Southern Columbia in a rematch of last season’s PIAA championship game.
“Offensively, we just couldn’t get anything going,” Steel Valley coach Rod Steele said. “Give them credit; they stacked the box and we couldn’t get anything going in the run game. You’ve got to take your hat off to Wilmington. That’s a great football team. They did what they had to do to win.”
Wilmington imposed its will from the opening whistle, limiting Steel Valley to minus-7 yards on its opening drive and forcing a punt. The Greyhounds then methodically drove 47 yards, capped by a 12-yard TD run on a jet sweep by Ethan Susen and 6-0 lead.
After Steel Valley had its lone bright spot, tying the game on a 69-yard punt return by Eshawn Carter, Wilmington took a lead it would never relinquish when quarterback Robert Pontius hit Jacob Yohman with a 7-yard TD pass.
The TD pass was a microcosm of the night for both teams. On the play, Pontius fielded a low snap from center, and found himself under a furious Steel Valley pass rush. Under pressure, Pontius launched a prayer off his back foot into the end zone, where Yohman pulled it in.
“Their linebacker was right in my face, and I just threw it out there,” Pontius said. “Honestly, I thought it was going to be intercepted. Then I heard the crowd go wild, so I knew something good must have happened.”
Compounding Steel Valley’s offensive woes was the fact that it played without starting quarterback Ronnell Lawrence, who Steele said missed the game for “unspecified reasons.” That put the offense in the hands of freshman NiJay Burt, who didn’t complete a pass and was sacked twice.
Steel Valley often lined up in the wildcat formation, trying to take advantage of its pair of 1,800-yard rushers, Todd Hill and Kam Williams. But the duo was uneffective against Wilmington, as Williams finished with 19 yards and Hill added 9.
“Hill and Williams are crazy-good athletes, but our front seven just shut then down,” Pontius said. “They worked their butts off and made things easy for us. We knew we had to go out and play with one heartbeat.”
While Steel Valley was unable to gets its running game un-tracked, Wilmington had no such issues. The Greyhounds were led by Cameron Marett with 158 rushing yards and a TD, while Pontius added a rushing TD to go along with his touchdown pass.
“Cam was banged up, but man, does he have heart,” Pontius said. “This whole team has heart.”
For Steel Valley, Friday’s game brought to a close a tremendous era for the Ironmen. The senior class has won two WPIAL titles and a state championship in the last three seasons.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Steele said. “These seniors have brought a lot of pride back to this community. Obviously, this one stings, but like I told them, they shall get through this.”
Jim Equels Jr. is a freelance writer.