By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
SLIPPERY ROCK — Besting the Big Reds in the District 10 Class A semifinals was difficult enough, but the Kennedy Catholic High football team ultimately helped beat itself Friday night.
The Golden Eagles were coerced into a half-dozen errors, including a trio accounted for by Kolten Hoffman, as West Middlesex whipped Kennedy 38-19 at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium.
By virtue of the victory West Middlesex (12-0) will renew its rivalry with Sharpsville — a 20-17 double-overtime winner over Mercyhurst Prep — next weekend at a site and time to be announced for the D-10 title. The Big Reds recorded a 27-20 Week-3 win at Sharpsville’s McCracken Field.
Hoffman harassed Kennedy quarterback Ross Gargano by pilfering a pair of his passes, the first of which he returned 28 yards for the game-opening score 2:51 into the contest. He also recovered a fumble, while Lucas Allen added another pair of picks and Kyle Wimer was credited with another fumble recovery. Hoffman and Josh Brown batted down attempted PATs, also.
“If you look at the game in perspective, Kolten Hoffman made a big play with the interception to start the game, that really got us rolling,” acknowledged third-year West Middlesex mentor Brian Hoffman.
In addition to his defensive demonics Hoffman had a hand in 190 total offensive yards, completing 8 of 16 passes for 141 and rushing for 49, including 1- and 9-yard 1st- and 4th-quarter TDs.
The Big Reds built a bulge of 23-13 by the break on Hoffman’s 1st-period scores, Steve Andrusky’s 34-yard 2nd-stanza scoring sprint, and Brown’s 21-yard field goal at the buzzer. That offset Gargano’s game 49-yard 1st-quarter scoring sprint and Lee Plotts’ 4-yard 2nd-quarter touchdown.
“That’s been our ‘MO’ all year, digging ourselves a hole. We just can’t stand prosperity,” lamented 4th-year Kennedy Catholic head coach Mike Donato. “At times I thought we showed how well we could play, and at times we just didn’t perform. It’s blocking and tackling, and we didn’t block and tackle for 48 minutes.”
However Hoffman’s lone miscue set up Kennedy’s comeback midway through the 3rd period.
On a 1st-and-10 from his own 45-yard line Hoffman fumbled forward and KC’s Jason Wolinsky recovered. Four plays later, highlighed by Gargano’s 52-yard 1st-down run, Plotts produced his 2nd score with 6:10 remaining in the period. Although Hoffman blocked Danny D’Onofrio’s attempted PAT, the Golden Eagles eased within 23-19.
That score stood by the quarter’s close, but on the 4th frame’s 1st play Gargano fumbled when hit while returning Chachi Ruffo’s punt, and Wimer covered at the Big Reds’ 48. Andrusky’s 26-yard 1st-down run coupled with Brown’s back-to-back 5- and 12-yard jaunts set up the Reds goal-to-go at the 9, and Hoffman hammered in on 2nd down. Brown’s subsequent 2-point conversion run extended Middlesex’s margin to 31-19 with 9:52 remaining.
Kennedy never recovered, as the Golden Eagles’ last pair of drives ended, respectively, when Gargano was stopped by Brandon Benson 3 yards shy on a 4th-and-5 from KC’s 47-yard line with 8:10 left, then as Allen intercepted Gargano’s 4th-and-13 pass from the Golden Eagles’ 33 with 2:59 remaining. Allen added a 1-yard TD plunge with 10.6 ticks to play.
Coach Hoffman praised, “The (defensive) pressure helped tremendously. Gargano is a tremendous athlete. He kind of kept them in this football game, especially in the second half. He made some key runs.”
Gargano garnered a game-high 156 yards on 16 totes for Kennedy (7-5), and he and Plotts unofficially concluded their scholastic careers with 4,451 and 4,447 yards rushing, respectively. Plotts produced a 2,074-yard, 27-TD senior season.
Last season Kennedy claimed regular-season and D-10 semifinal wins over West Middlesex en route to the championship, and head coach Hoffman said West Middlesex’s win Friday was retribution.
“They didn’t show us very much mercy last year (in the 29-6 playoff game), and we remebered and we used that as motivation the last 365 days to motivate the kids. Yeah, it’s bigger than one game, but obviously, we used that energy throughout the offseason, and I’m proud of the way the kids played (Friday) night.”
“What they do is their business,” Donato said regarding Hoffman’s remark. “I thought at the end of last year’s game, at the time, what was the score, 18-6? It’s not over. This game (Friday night) was long out or reach. But they can justify that any way they want to.”
In addition to Gargano and Plotts, Donato bids adieu to seniors Rob Homer, Gabe Fry, Wade Savage, J.T. Armstrong, Jason Lane, Patrick O’Malley, Robert Ryhal, Dan Connelly, Billy Sundy, Pete Polesnak and Rickey Fraley.
“This class came in with me and I’m extremely proud of what they accomplished and I’m sure they’ll be successes at the next level,” Donato said. “These kids have accomplished quite a bit. You’ve got a couple kids who gained more than 4,000 yards in their career, but they didn’t gain those yards by themselves — those kids up front have been there. They had a lot to do with the success of the running backs.”
W.MIDDLESEX 14 9 0 15 38
KENNEDY 7 6 6 0 19
WM — Hoffman, 28 interception return (Brown kick)
WM — Hoffman, 1 run (Brown kick)
KC — Gargano, 49 run (D’Onofrio kick)
WM — Andrusky, 34 run (kick failed)
KC — Plotts, 4 run (kick failed)
WM — Brown, 21 field goal
KC — Plotts, 3 run (kick failed)
WM — Hoffman, 9 run (Brown run)
WM — Allen, 1 run (Ruffo kick)
13 First downs 13
195 Rushing yards 224
141 Passing yards 71
16-8-0 Att-comp-int 14-4-4
336 Total yards 295
2-1 Fumbles-lost 3-2
10-90 Penalties-yards lost 10-61è
Rushing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Andrusky 11-81, Brown 8-52, Hoffman 11-49, Allen 913; KENNEDY CATHOLIC — Gargano 16-156, Plotts 17-68.
Passing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Hoffman 16-8-0, 141; KENNEDY CATHOLIC — Gargano 13-4-3, 71; Plotts 1-0-1.
Receiving: WEST MIDDLESEX — Allen 3-78, Andrusky 2-22, Skarica 1-13, Ruffo 1-25, Brown 1-3; KENNEDY CATHOLIC — Phillips 1-36, Hartman 1-19, Homer 1-12, Wolinsky 1-4.
By Ed Farrell