JACKSON TWP — At 6-foot and 200 pounds, Matt Stanger does not resemble a wrecking ball, but he played like one Friday night.
The senior running back knocked Norwin defenders off their feet all night long, chewing up 232 yards in the process as the Raiders avoided a three-game losing streak with a 28-7 victory over Norwin at NexTier Stadium.
The icing on the cake for Stanger was that his effort came on Senior Recognition Night.
“I just wanted to come out, get a win and celebrate with my teammates,” said Stanger, who had rushed for 239 in the first nine games combined, but became the focal point of SV's ground attack when teammate Ethan West was unable to play due to injury. “The offensive line did a great job blocking. Everything was clicking tonight.”
The Knights (2-8, 1-7) began the game by recovering a pooch kick, but turned the ball over on downs at SV's 23-yard line.
Stanger and Co. then set the tone for the game, driving 77 yards in nine plays. Stanger carried the ball five times for 36 yards on the drive, including a five-yard scoring run.
Stanger's 16-yard run helped set up SV's second touchdown, a 20-yard run by quarterback Gabe Lawson late in the first quarter. The former had 121 yards on 14 carries by halftime.
“Our guys battle up front,” said Norwin coach Dave Brozeski, “but you have to get to the ball carrier and bring him down. We've struggled to do that all year.”
Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek was intercepted by Conor Hayes near midfield in the final minute of the first half. The Raiders turned to their passing game to get in scoring position. Lawson hooked up with three different receivers, including a 16-yard pass to Mehki Gay.
On the last play of the first half, Lawson scored on a short run for a 21-0 lead at the break.
“Not finishing drives at critical times and not getting big stops, it was like our whole season in one game,” said Brozeski.
Salopek, Norwin's all-time leading passer, was victimized by a number of dropped passes in the first two quarters, after which he had just 80 yards through the air.
That changed in the second half when the Western Michigan commit completed 18 of 32 passes for 239 yards. But the Knights managed just one scoring drive.
Early in the fourth quarter, Salopek connected with running back Hayden O'Bryon on a 17-yard touchdown. The play cut SV's lead to 21-7 with just under 10 minutes left and the Knights recovered the ensuing onside kick to give them even more hope.
Norwin drove to SV's 13, but four straight incompletions turned the ball over to the Raiders.
Nolan Dworek capped the scoring with a four-yard run with 3:26 left.
Lawson intercepted Salopek's last pass of the game in the end zone with 1:30 remaining in the game.
“(Salopek) is a force to be reckoned with,” said Butschle. “He gives them a chance on every down, but our defense came up with turnovers and big stops.”
The Raiders (4-6, 4-4) will travel to Mt. Lebanon next Friday for a WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinal playoff game.
“This win was huge,” said Stanger. “We hadn't played all that well this year and we needed some kind of momentum.”
“We told the kids at the start of the year, just get in (the playoffs),” said Butschle. “Anything can happen.”
Norwin 0 0 0 7 — 7
Seneca Valley 14 7 0 7 — 28
SV — Matt Stanger 5 run (Adam Davies kick), 6:35
SV — Gabe Lawson 20 run (Davies kick), 1:14
SV — Lawson 1 run (Davies kick), :00
N — Hayden O'Bryon 17 pass from Jack Salopek (Joey Castle kick), 9:59
SV — Nolan Dworek 4 run (Davies kick), 3:26
Rushing:Norwin, Hayden O'Bryon 9-16, Jack Salopek 7-33, TEAM 1-(-8). Seneca Valley, Matt Stanger 25-232, Gabe Lawson 8-50, Nolan Dworek 10-66, TEAM 2-(-4).
Passing:Norwin, Salopek 26-50-319-2. Seneca Valley, Lawson 14-17-139-0.
Receiving:Norwin, Tanner Krevokuch 4-30, O'Bryon 10-110, Connor Chrisman 5-72, Sean Pavlic 3-33, Tyler Bilinsky 3-54, Declan O'Brien 1-20. Seneca Valley, Connor Lyczek 2-21, Dworek 2-31, Seth Baic 3-21, Marciano McCowan 1-10, Evan Smith 1-4, Stanger 3-35, Mehki Gay 2-17.