McKeesport wins physical game against Erie

September 16, 2018

They don’t call it the Wolvarena for nothing, and the visiting Erie Royals found out why.

Once a physical first half came to an end, the McKeesport Tigers held a slight 24-20 lead in a game that resembled a heavyweight boxing match. When both teams went to their locker rooms for halftime, it was almost like the same two teams didn’t return to the field for the second half.

McKeesport kept bringing the physical play, which created opportunities, and senior fullback Rahmon Powell rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers used a strong second half and rolled past Erie, 45-26, in the Western Pa. vs. Everyone football showcase at Turtle Creek’s Wolvarena Saturday afternoon.

“I thought it would come down to hitting, and I thought we won that battle and I was glad to see it,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “They’re big, and they hit. They were great competition.”

The Erie Royals (0-1), who are in their second season after the recent merger of Central Tech, East and Strong Vincent high schools, made it known early that McKeesport (1-0) was going to have to earn this one. The Royals traveled 55 yards in eight plays before junior running back Danny Blue scored on a 1-yard run to open the scoring.

“Our plan was to do what we did,” Erie coach Rob Matz said. “We knew that we could run the ball on them, and we did that.”

McKeesport came right back on the ensuing kickoff and drove 61 yards in five plays and tied the score at, 7-7, after senior quarterback Konota Gaskins’ 4-yard run.

Once both teams scored, the game turned physical as both defenses flew to the ball forcing both offenses to punt. It was no secret that the Tigers like the run the ball, but McKeesport had to start putting the ball in the air to keep the Erie defense honest.

That’s when Gaskins dropped back to pass and spotted a streaking Thomas Wyatt for a 29-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter. Once McKeesport established the ability to pass, the game was never the same.

“Konota throws it so well and we got guys that can go up and catch it,” Miller said. “We call (passes) based on what we have. Last year, we didn’t throw it as well, and we ran it a lot better. I think it makes it a little bit harder on defensive coordinators. ”

Erie came back to tie the score at 14-14 on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior running back Tony Foster. McKeesport responded when Powell took a handoff and ran straight up the middle and through the Royals defense for a 43-yard touchdown to give the Tigers the lead back at 21-14.

Not be outdone -- and on the next drive -- Erie’s John Woodward did the same thing, but this time he had to run over a few McKeesport players en route to a 56-yard touchdown.

And in a physical game where anything can happen, it was the blocked extra-point attempt after Woodward’s touchdown run that started the Royals unraveling. Anthony Bietko connected on a 22-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 24-20 lead going into halftime.

McKeesport received the second-half kickoff and looked a little sloppy coming out of the half and was forced to punt. Senior Dylan Vaniel pounced on a Royals fumble to set the Tigers up with a fresh set of downs on their own 48-yard line.

Six plays and 52-yards later, Powell scored from 5 yards to give McKeesport some breathing room and a 31-20 lead. Two possessions later misfortune struck the Royals again when McKeesport’s Vernon Andrews returned a punt 56 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers in total control of the game at 38-20.

Gaskins found senior Lance Robinson for a 21-yard scoring strike to complete the Tigers scoring. Erie’s Tay Carr pulled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Trevon Tate late in the game.

“My kids didn’t quit,” Matz said. “We came down and popped in a touchdown late, and you saw McKeesport, obviously, had a lot of respect for us because they didn’t take their (starting) guys out of the game at all.”

Blue led the Erie offense, rushing for 92 yards on 11 carries. McKeesport’s Devin Simms had up 72 yards on 11 carries to share the workload.

“It was pretty physical out there. I’ll give it to them,” Powell said. “They gave us a good look for the rest of the season and made us better as a team.”

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