Benedek shines as Elizabeth Forward shuts out Yough in Big East Conference
Elizabeth Forward coach Mike Collodi raved all season about quarterback Zach Benedek’s athleticism.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior can do it all on the football field and showed off his talents in the regular-season finale Friday night.
Benedek returned an interception for a touchdown, ran for a score and threw for two more as the Warriors shut out Yough, 44-0, to earn a share of the Big East Conference title at Warrior Stadium.
EF (8-1, 7-1) will share the conference crown with Derry and North Catholic.
“Whatever we need, Zach can do,” Collodi said. “He can punt, he can throw, he can run and he can play defense. He does it all for us and he makes our team go.”
On its first drive of the contest, Yough (3-7, 3-5) looked destined to make EF work for a win at home.
The Cougars started the drive at their own 16-yard line but quickly moved down field thanks to the efforts of Dustin Shoaf, the WPIAL’s leading rusher. Shoaf ran for 31 yards on the opening drive, helping Yough get down to the EF 37.
On the 11th play of the drive, quarterback Jake Sever stepped back for his second pass of the game and was picked off by Benedek, who returned the interception 75 yards to make it 6-0 EF and thus setting the tone for the rest of the game.
“My mind is set on going out and visualizing myself making plays,” Benedek said. “I go out and try to make a play for my team no matter what. I’m determined whenever I get that ball to not go down.”
After a pair of unsuccessful drives for both teams, Yough again went on a lengthy drive toward the end of the first quarter.
However, the 10-play drive ended with another turnover by the Cougars as Nico Mrvos sacked Sever, who fumbled the ball in opposing territory.
A.J. Ackerman recovered it to give EF possession at its own 33-yard line.
The Warriors wasted little time, extending their lead as a 2-yard gain by Chris Makosey was followed by a 65-yard touchdown run by Benedek, making it 12-0 after a failed two-point conversion.
In addition to having an impact on defense, Benedek finished with 130 rushing yards on 12 carries. He also completed 4 of 12 passes for 73 yards and two scores.
″(The Benedek interception) definitely took the sails out of what we had going on,” Yough coach Scott Wood said. “We had the ball for six minutes and anytime they can get an interception and return it for a touchdown, it’s going to kill you.”
On its next possession, Yough was forced to turn the ball over on downs for the first time, giving EF the ball at the Yough 24.
The Cougars turned the ball over on downs five times.
One play into the Warriors’ drive, Benedek found Chase Whatton wide open in the end zone for a 24-yard score, pushing the lead to 18-0.
EF took advantage of solid field position on its next two drives.
A blocked punt put the Warriors on Yough’s 20-yard line and led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Evan Lewis that vaulted EF’s edge to 24-0.
Sever threw another interception on the Cougars’ next drive, this time to Nate Alberts, and EF turned it into six more points on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Benedek to Alberts.
Yough got the ball back and, again, turned the ball over on downs. That led to EF’s final score of the first half on a 2-yard scamper by Makosey that made it 37-0 going into the halftime break.
EF forced three of its four turnovers in the first half.
“We had a great game plan the last few weeks,” said Collodi, whose team has scored 40-plus points in each of its last three games while allowing a total of 13. “The kids have been executing the game plan and playing really hard.”
Despite keeping him out of the end zone, the Warriors weren’t entirely able to shut down Shoaf.
In his final career high school game, the senior running back carried the ball 37 times for 160 yards, amassing over 5,000 career yards with a short 3-yarder right before the end of the third quarter.
“I have used all the words about him,” Wood said of Shoaf, who has offers from California (Pa.), Slippery Rock and Lake Erie College, but has yet to decide on a school.
“Dustin is a phenomenal kid, and I love him to death. We’re definitely going to miss him, but I can’t wait to see him in the future.”
Yough showed promise in the second half, forcing a pair of EF fumbles and picking up a late interception.
However, the Cougars weren’t able to muster up enough to find the end zone.
“The one thing I can say about these guys is they really never quit,” Wood said. “They just want to make things happen for themselves and try to help the team. Any opportunity we can get to make things happen, we try to do it.”
The Warriors scored the lone second half touchdown on a 4-yard touchdown run by Dontae Gilbert.
The entire second half was played under a running clock.
“Playing a great game and pitching a shutout on a great running back in a rivalry game is always a great way to finish out the season and gain some momentum going into the playoffs,” Collodi said. “We just really played hard tonight.”