Burgettstown advances to quarterfinals with win over East Allegheny
Hill Memorial Stadium in Burgettstown had never seen a playoff win by the Burgettstown Blue Devils entering Friday night.
The No. 2-seeded Blue Devils looked to change that, and a year removed from winning their first WPIAL football playoff game in 41 years, did just that, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 33-10 win over No. 15 East Allegheny.
For fourth-year coach Mark Druga, the success on the field has been great, but he was “humbled and honored” after the win to have been a part of history for a program that gets so much community support.
“To be able to have the first playoff victory here for our community is like Christmas coming early,” Druga said. “They’ve been behind us since I’ve been here, and you saw the outpouring tonight. We’re that way everywhere. We’re going to keep on going now to the (quarterfinals).”
It was a game dominated by the third-best scoring defense in the WPIAL during the regular season, as East Allegheny only managed to gain 13 yards on the ground and 120 total yards, and only scored three points on offense.
The Blue Devils (10-0) struck early and often, scoring on three of their first four offensive drives, and may have on the second of those if not for a fumble in Wildcats’ territory.
Junior signal-caller Ryan Lounder scored the first of his two touchdowns from 2 yards out with 9:09 remaining in the first quarter to give Burgettstown an early lead.
Two drives later, Burgettstown punched it in on East Allegheny (6-5) again, this time scoring on the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter on a 10-yard run by junior fullback Cyle Conley.
Conley ended up racking up 94 yards on 15 carries, while his teammate in the backfield, sophomore Shane Kemper, rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries.
Conley credited his offensive line for the duo’s ability to run the football against a big front for East Allegheny.
“We just hit hard and play hard. You have to thank the line, they opened up a ton of holes for us,” Conley said. “Running is our bread and butter, and we can destroy teams with it.”
On the ensuing kickoff, East Allegheny junior Tyler Padezan returned the kickoff 85 yards to pay dirt, before the Wildcats recovered an onside kick, allowing them to seize some momentum.
Mike McAnalley then connected on a 33-yard field goal for the Wildcats.
“Only being able to kick the field goal hurt,” East Allegheny sixth-year coach Dom Pecora said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t get back down there so it didn’t matter. All five linemen can’t lose the battle, and we got beat in the trenches tonight, flat out.”
Lounder added a 11-yard touchdown late in the first half, before Burgetstown scored 22 unanswered second-half points to run away with the contest, including having a sack go for a safety in the third quarter.
The conditions were a factor, according to Pecora, and his team fumbled six times, but only lost one.
“Our receivers got behind their defensive backs a few times, but playing on this field didn’t help us,” Pecora said. “But we got it handed to us up front. Our defense played its butts off in the second half. I commend their effort.”
The Wildcats’ season comes to an end, one Pecora says he is very proud of.
“I wish we could’ve played this team under different circumstances, but that’s a really good team, and they’re going to be a handful for someone,” Pecora said. “We were the smallest team in all of our games. We return a lot on offense and have a lot to build off of, and I’m proud to be the coach of these guys. It’s probably my favorite regular season I’ve ever had.”
The Blue Devils advance to play No. 7 Freedom, which defeated Avonworth Friday night.
“Obviously, we’re going to break down (Freedom). They’re very similar to us in my opinion,” Druga said. “We’re going to prepare and come out ready to play.”
“Anybody who will let us practice on their turf field would be appreciated,” chuckled Druga.
It’s the second playoff win in 41 years for the Blue Devils, who won a conference title for the first time since 1977 and had their first unbeaten season since 1974.
The ride will continue next week for Druga’s team, at a site to be determined.