By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
Two-time defending District 10 Class A champion Sharpsville is returning to the D-10 title game for a third straight year and Coach Paul Piccirilli has a simple explanation for the team’s success:
“We believe. Kids in Sharpsville believe.”
A lot of people are believing as well after watching the Blue Devils dismantle West Middlesex, 40-3, Friday night at Hickory High Hornets Stadium.
Sharpsville defeated the Big Reds in the D-10 finals the last two years and now ousted the Reds in the semis.
“It’s not the way we wanted to go out,” said first-year West Middlesex head coach Ed Roberson. “But I told the kids to remember all the great things we did this year. They did things no other West Middlesex team has done, making the playoffs for three straight years and winning a game every year.”
Sharpsville edged the Big Reds, 20-12, earlier in the season and it was shaping up to be the same kind of game early on Friday. Sharpsville scored early on a 5-yard run by Greg Popatak, but West Middlesex (7-5) countered with a 32-yard field goal by Ethan Thompson and the 6-3 score stood until the end of the first quarter.
The Blue Devils, hampered with the loss of leading running back Tyler Wansack a couple of weeks ago, saw another player go down when senior running back Ben BuCher suffered a knee injury in the opening drive and was taken to the hospital.
“After BuCher went down, the team gathered together,” said Piccirilli, “And they said, ‘We’re not going to let his season finish like that (with a loss).’ It’s the next man up at Sharpsville. I give the coaching staff a lot of credit because the back-ups get a lot of practice time.”
The rest of the game belonged to the Blue Devils as they dominated on both sides of the ball.
On defense, the linemen Chris Mueller, P.J. Campoli, Dayne Smith and Jacob Llewellyn, as well as inside linebackers Popatak and Derrek Smith, shut down the Big Reds running game and controlled talented quarterback Trey Staunch as well.
On offense, Brady Hogue, Llewellyn, Campoli, Adam Grimm, Mitchell Swartz and Derrick Smith blew open holes for the running backs, especially George Keck who has come on strong in recent games.
Keck finished with 147 yards on 13 carries and scored touchdowns on runs of 6 and 54 yards.
Popatak added a score on a 40-yard pass from Luke Henwood; Tyrin Peavy hit paydirt on a 22-yard run; and Jacob McCall tallied on a 20-yard interception return.
The interception TD with 8:31 to go in the fourth quarter, put the “mercy rule” into effect.
Nathan Lutz made four PAT kicks.
Sharpsville (8-4) will take on Lakeview in the District 10 title game and ironically, it was Lakeview that Piccirilli said turned the season around for the sputtering Blue Devils who at times had a difficult time on offense earlier in the year.
“Since the start of the year I picked Lakeview as the team to beat because of the kids they have back,” said Piccirilli. “But even though we lost the game, when we were down only 19-13 against Lakeview back in Week 8 and had the ball with a minute to go and a chance to win, we knew we were a better team than we had been showing.
“That’s when the kids started to believe.”
And you know they believe they can win a third straight D-10 title as well!
NOTES: BuCher is reportedly done for the season and the talented wrestler may also miss that season as well with the knee injury ... West Middlesex’s top receiver Dillon Fair was ejected in the second quarter after a personal foul and running back Eric Lucich left the game early in the third period with an injury while making a tackle. ... Prior to the game both teams intermingled in a line at the 50-yard line for the playing of the National Anthem. “It was a show of unity and support for the tragic deaths (of two Sharon players and a Brookfield man) last Friday,” said Piccirilli. “We wanted to show that there is more than a football game in real life. Football is just a game; it’s fun. Sharpsville and West Middlesex is a rivalry, but after the game we shake hands and the kids will see each other during the year off the field. Our thoughts and prayers to out to all the families of people involved in that tragedy.” ... Roberson thanked his seniors — Thompson, Todd Fabian, Fair, Chandler Tyillian, Chris Rust, Mike Cunningham, Jared George, Davey Cox, and Marcus Bailey — for their contributions this year. “I’m very thankful for their efforts and very appreciative of the community support this season,” Roberson said.
DISTRICT 10 CLASS A
MIDDLESEX 3 0 0 0 3
SHARPSVILLE 6 14 13 7 40
S — Popatak, 5 run (pass failed)
WM — Thompson, 32 field goal
S — Keck, 6 run (Lutz kick)
S — Popatak, 40 pass from L. Henwood (Lutz kick)
S — Keck, 54 run (Lutz kick)
S — Peavy, 22 run (kick failed)
S — McCall, 20 int. ret. (Lutz kick)
8 First downs 16
116 Rushing yards 216
41 Passing yards 57
12-5-1 Att-comp-int 2-2-0
157 Total yards 273
3-3 Fumbles-lost 4-1
7-47 Penalties-yards lost 2-15
Rushing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Lucich 11-62, Staunch 7-42, Tyillian 7-(-12), Trippy 3-29, Team -5. SHARPSVILLE — Keck 13-147, Popatak 9-46, L. Henwood 4-15, BuCher 1-6, Eckles 3-10, Peavy 1-(-6), Tedrow 3-1, N. Henwood 1-(-3), Laird 2-0.
Passing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Staunch 12-5-1-41; SHARPSVILLE — L. Henwood 2-2-0-57.
Receiving: WEST MIDDLESEX — Murray 2-8, Lucich 1-8, Patton 1-15, Bender 1-10. SHARPSVILLE — Popatak 1-57.