MEADVILLE – When you’re figuratively punched in the mouth, you have two choices: quit or fight back. The Sharon Tigers seemed to say: “Is that all you got?”
It pretty much was!
Undefeated Harbor Creek took the opening kickoff in the District 10 Class 3A semifinal game against Sharon and marched 68 yards in 14 plays to take a 6-0 lead against the vaunted Tigers defense. Some teams might have folded. Not the two-time defending D-10 champs Sharon.
Undaunted, the Tigers of Coach Jason McElhaney scored the next 24 points en route to a 24-14 victory to set up a rematch with Grove City for the D-10 title next weekend.
“Sometimes it takes some time to adjust to the speed of the game and they have good speed as well,” said McElhaney. “We had to adjust to their size and physical play. We had a bye and then Girard (which was no test) in the last two weeks, but this was a really good team we were facing.
“We have great senior leadership and that helps when you give up an early score like that. They have been through a lot together, playing in 4 straight district championship games, and that experience helps.”
And while the defense turned up the heat the rest of the way and made some changes to adapt to a potent Huskies attack, on offense it was business as usual – All-State quarterback Lane Voytik passing to a talented group of receivers.
Voytik hit on 24 of 30 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
Even though Slippery Rock ran for more than 300 yards against the Huskies last week, that didn’t affect McElhaney’s game plan.
“We are what we are,” said McElhaney, “But our passes are sort of like runs a lot of times. And our line (Noah Weese, Aaron Allenbaugh, Thomas Dawson, Bryce Carroll and Andrew Price) did a great job giving him time to find the receivers.”
On that first scoring drive, the TD came when Huskies QB Casey Smith fired a 9-yard strike to Ryan Whitman, but the PAT kick went wide. Later in the quarter, HC mounted a push to the Sharon 18, but Marcel Smith-Austin picked off a Smith aerial in the end zone. He had a long runback, but a block-in-the-back call moved the ball back to the Sharon 4.
Then Voytik-and-Co. went to work. The team drove for their first score of the game with Voytik hitting 6 passes en route to a 1-yard touchdown run by Brady Ortiz. Big connections were to Trey Jones (33 yards) and Ty Eilam (39 yards). Jake Auchter hit his first of 3 PAT kicks in the contest.
Late in the quarter, defense came through again. Harbor Creek was punting from deep in its own territory, but Nick Dignall blocked the punt and Sharon took over at the Huskies’ 4 with only 6 seconds left until intermission. After an incomplete pass, Auchter was good on a 21-yard field goal for a 10-6 halftime lead.
Sharon took the second-half kickoff and went 84 yards in 5 plays. Voytik connected with the speedy Smith-Austin for a 53-yard tally and a 17-6 front.
Early in the final frame, Sharon scored again on a 5-yard pass from Voytik to Jones to pretty much ice the contest. Harbor Creek scored with 46 seconds left in the game on a 16-yard pass from Smith to his twin brother Cody. A PAT run by Tyler East made the final, 24-14.
“It was a great showing by the whole team,” said a happy McElhaney. “But my favorite part of the game was when we had a bunch of penalties, but then stopped them on a fourth-down play (at the Sharon 9). From there we overcame penalties and went on to score (the Jones 5-yard TD early in the 4th quarter).”
Eilam caught 9 passes for 101 yards and Smith-Austin 4 for 95.
The Sharon defense shut down the Huskies most of the way after that first score, led by Aidan Buck, Corte Williams, Dawson, Allenbaugh, Doron Johnson, Noah Kubyako, Nick Dignall, Smith-Austin, Eilam, Jones and Ortiz.
Next up is a D-10 finals rematch with Grove City, which eliminated Hickory, 34-13. Last season the Eagles were unbeaten coming into the game, but were downed by Sharon, 23-6.
“Last year they destroyed us at their place (42-9) so we used that as motivation,” said McElhaney. “This year it was 30-23 us, but we can’t take anything for granted. They are well-coached and have a lot of talent.”
Sharon moved to 8-3 on the season, but has been strong since starting the year 0-2. “The kids kept their composure and again our senior leadership helped turn it around,” said McElhaney, in his first year as head coach of the Tigers after serving an assistant.
Harbor Creek finished 10-1.
DISTRICT 10 CLASS 3A
SHARON 0 10 7 7 24
HAR. CREEK 6 0 0 8 14
HC — Ryan Whitman, 9 pass from Ca. Smith (kick failed)
S — Ortiz, 1 run (Auchter kick)
S — Auchter, 21 field goal
S — Smith-Austin, 53 pass from Voytik (Auchter kick)
S — Jones, 5 pass from Voytik (Auchter kick)
HC — Co. Jones, 16 pass from Ca. Jones (East run)
SHARON H. CREEK
14 First downs 12
110 Rushing yards 85
258 Passing yards 53
30-24-0 Att-comp-int 18-9-2
368 Total yards 202
0-0 Fumbles-lost 0-0
11-108 Penalties-yards lost 10-104
Rushing: SHARON — Ortiz 13-58, Richardson 7-52, Voytik 1-1; HARBOR CREEK — East 18-41, Ca. Smith 9-39, Williamson 6-26, Bauer 1-3, Team 2-(-19).
Passing: SHARON — Voytik 24-30-0-258; HARBOR CREEK — Cas. Smith 9-18-2-53.
Receiving: SHARON — Eilam 9-101, Smith-Austin 4-95, Jones 7-65, Phillips 3-3, Ortiz 1-(-6); HARBOR CREEK — Whitman 3-53, Stanyard 2-20, Bauer 1-19, Co. Smith 2-9, Harbursky 1-16.