O'HARA TWP — On both offense and defense, Seneca Valley's performance early on in Friday's WPIAL playoff game against Central Catholic had a loss written all over it.
The Raiders' proud defense was gashed for two touchdowns in the first quarter and the offense gained just a combined 32 yards on the first three drives of the game.
But SV turned things around — returning to its usual dominant self on defense while becoming very efficient on the other side of the ball — and posted a dramatic 15-14 win over the Vikings in a Class 6A quarterfinal at Fox Chapel's James Burk Stadium.
Despite the team's lackluster effort to start the game, SV coach Ron Butschle said his players never gave up.
“We just had to settle down, get back to doing the things we've done all year, which are playing good defense and running the ball,” said Butschle. “I think early in the game, we did some things that went against our personality.”
SV (8-3) will play at North Allegheny (10-0) Friday in the semifinals.
SV's tide of momentum finally caught up with the Vikings (7-4) early in the fourth quarter when Jake Mineweaser scored on a 12-yard run. Central lineman A.J. Beatty seemingly had Mineweaser wrapped up three yards in the backfield, but the halfback somehow escaped.
For the second time in the game, the Raiders missed the two point conversion, but their edge would hold up.
Mineweaser had 11 carries for 66 yards, all in the second half.
“It was just a matter of being able to read my blocks and cutting back,” he said. “We bounced back tonight.”
Central's final drive began at their own 6-yard line with 3:36 to go. After picking up three first downs, the Vikings faced a 4th-and-4 from SV's 44 with just 20 seconds left.
Gus Sunseri's pass fell incomplete at the 5-yard line and SV's players and fans began to celebrate.
“I played with a lot of these guys since I was 6-years old,” said SV junior safety Conor Hayes, who had two interceptions in the game, including one that set up Mineweaser's decisive score. “We didn't want this to be our last game.
“Being on the field after this game, it was amazing.”
The Vikings were out of timeouts, but would have had a chance to spike the ball to stop the clock had the ball been completed.
“Watching that last pass play, my heart stopped for a second,” said Butschle. “I was just hoping to keep them out of field goal range. We're excited to move on.”
Raiders' backup quarterback Caden Smithco came in for starter Gabe Lawson on SV's fourth drive of the game, which started on the Viking 12 thanks to a pair of sacks by Jake Stebbins and Saige Ley on Central's previous drive, followed by a personal foul penalty on the Vikings.
The Raiders did not pick up a first down, but got on the scoreboard with a 32-yard field goal from Seth Winters.
“We needed a spark on offense, so we went with Caden,” said Butschle. “We regrouped at halftime, though, and decided to put Gabe back in.
Lawson responded by leading his team on an 8-play, 70-yard drive for the Raiders' first touchdown — a 21-yard pass to tight end Jake Stebbins that cut Central's lead to 14-9.
Lawson completed four of his five pass attempts in the second half for 42 yards.