Miracle finish denied

September 4, 2019 Cranberry Local Sports

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Seneca Valley's Cole Mrkonja (15) looks to juke Central Catholic's Liam O'Connor during the Raiders' 10-7 loss Friday night at NexTier Stadium.

JACKSON TWP — Two yards kept Seneca Valley from pulling off a miracle finish.

Trailing Central Catholic, 10-7, with just four seconds left in Friday's Quad County Conference opener, quarterback Gabe Lawson took a shotgun snap from the Viking 47-yard line.

He launched a pass down the middle of the field that was tipped before being caught by Raiders' wide receiver James Sprentz at the 5-yard line, but he was tackled at the 2, preserving the slim triumph for the Vikings at NexTier Stadium.

Despite the result, SV coach Ron Butschle was much more pleased with his team's effort compared to a 35-14 loss at McDowell to begin the season.

“I'm going to be sick to my stomach until Monday when we get back to practice,” he said, “but we grew up tonight. We were a different team.”

The Raiders took a 7-3 lead, thanks to Matt Stanger's 12-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter and subsequent point after from Connor Dague.

Conor Hayes intercepted a Dom Pieto pass on Central's next drive and the Raiders appeared headed for another score. The drive stalled, however, on the Viking 30. On 4th-and-15, Butschle elected to punt and Central took over on its own 14 with 7:56 left in the game.

“In a (low-scoring) game like this, you force a team to drive 86 yards ... I'll take my chances with that,” said Butschle.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, that's exactly what the Vikings (2-0, 1-0) did. Sparked by a reserve running back, Antonio Pitts, Central drove to SV's 2-yard line in 13 plays.

On 4th-and-goal, the Vikings ran a naked bootleg with Pieto, who jogged into the right corner of the end zone with just 28 seconds on the clock.

“That's one of those plays,” said Central coach Terry Totten. “If it works, great. But if it doesn't, you're kicking yourself.”

Pitts, who did not carry the ball prior to his team's final drive, tallied seven carries for 53 yards. The Vikings were in dire need of a catalyst on a night when their running game sputtered and Pieto was intercepted twice and held to 30 yards passing.

“All of their guys are physical specimens,” Butschle said of the Vikings when asked about Pitts' performance off the bench. “Their fourth-stringers are as good as a lot of teams' first string.”

Aside from its one scoring drive, SV's offense misfired much of the night. The Raiders (0-2, 0-1) were held to just 55 yards in the first half and were held scoreless on drives that began at their own 49 and 40-yard line.

SV defensive back Connor Lyczek set his team up at Central's 36 with a 37-yard punt return midway through the third quarter. But that drive ended with a turnover-on-downs at the Viking 29.

Lyczek came up big again, intercepting Pieto on the very next play. The Raiders took over at Central's 45 and Stanger scored six plays later.

“We talk to the kids about toughness and competitiveness and sometimes, you think it's just bouncing off them,” said Butschle. “But you see the way (Lyczek) played tonight and you realize it's starting to sink in.”

The only score in the first half was John Opalko's 42-yard field goal with 7:50 left in the first half.

Totten will take the win, but wants to see better play out of his team.

“I don't think we played especially well tonight,” he said. “There wasn't much emotion. We typically start slow and that needs to change.”

SV's next conference test comes Friday when the Raiders visit Canon-McMillan.

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Derek Pyda

Derek Pyda

- Graduated from Connellsville High School in 1996
- Graduated from Clarion University in 2000 with a Bachelors in Communications
- Have also written for Clarion News (Clarion, PA) and the Herald-Standard (Uniontown, PA)
- Started at the Butler Eagle on April 2, 2002
- Interests include sports, history and geography