By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
SLIPPERY ROCK — Through a dozen games this season West Middlesex High’s football team had not trailed once.
So after spotting Sharpsville a 13-point lead approximately 19 minutes into Friday night’s District 10 Class A championship game, there was no reason for the Big Reds to be reduced to panic.
“I told ’em at halftime ... I said, ‘Hey, we need some leaders to step up right now in this lockerroom. The coaches are going outside, so you take control. This is your team,” related West Middlesex mentor Brian Hoffman.
And the Big Reds responded with 28 unanswered second-half points en route to a 35-13 victory at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium. It was the West Middlesex’s program’s third D-10 Class A title in five seasons, and extended the school’s single-season standard for most wins (13).
Josh Brown’s 61-yard punt return and Kolten Hoffman’s subsequent 31-yard option scoring sprint approximately a minute later motivated Middlesex to a 13-all draw with 4:59 remaining in the third quarter. Brown’s conversion kick completed the Big Reds’ rally for a 14-13 lead they never relinquished.
“After (Brown’s punt return) the momentum was in our favor the whole game,” Kolten Hoffman said. “Josh comes to work every day, and when he gets his hands on the ball, you know something big’s going to happen.”
West Middlesex (13-0) then manufactured a trio of fourth-frame touchdowns on Kolt Hoffman’s 1-yard run, Lucas Allen’s 51-yard scoring sprint on a jet sweep, and Hoffman’s 71-yard interception return with 6:02 remaining, staggering Sharpsville.
“What an incredible group of young men I coach; I’m so proud of their effort!” third-year coach Hoffman gushed. “At halftime we kind of challenged them a little bit. It was the first time they had to face adversity. We went in(to the lockerroom) trailing a good Sharpsville football team. We know what we want to do X- and 0-wise ...
“I have eight incredible seniors that have been with me for four years, and tonight it just came to a head and we won the District 10 championship!” headmaster Hoffman added.
In Week 3 the teams battled to a 20-all fourth-quarter draw before the Big Reds rallied in the concluding 3:26, parlaying a muffed Blue Devils’ punt into Hoffman’s game-winning run with 73 ticks to play. In essence, that was the last time West Middlesex was challenged until Friday night.
But Tim Siege’s 3-yard run and Jarryd Summers’ conversion kick staked Sharpsville (9-4) to an early 7-0 edge, capping a 7-play, 51-yard, 3-minute, 16-second drive set up by David Gill’s interception of Hoffman’s 3rd-and-11 pass.
The Big Reds responded with a 13-play drive covering 63 yards; however Hoffman’s 4th-and-2 pass from Sharpsville’s 17, intended for Brown in the end zone, was broken up by Summers and Aaron Reddix.
On the ensuing play Reddix roared 83 yards through the middle of Middlesex’s defense, and although Summers’ PAT attempt was wide right, Sharpsville surged to a 13-0 margin with 6:52 remaining to intermission.
However Hoffman-led Middlesex moved within a TD with 2:04 remaining to intermission. Hoffman’s first-down 59-yard screen pass to Steve Andrusky set up his own 9-yard option keeper to the right on 2nd-and-goal. Brown’s boot drew the Reds within 13-7.
Sharpsville consumed the second half’s first 6:13 before Summers, on 4th-and-9 from West Middlesex’s 38-yard line, was forced to punt, But rather than angle the ball toward the sideline his kick spiralled toward Brown, who fielded it at the 5, then burst through containment to the Blue Devils’ 34.
Kolten Hoffman harvested his 21st rushing TD two plays later, and the Big Reds rode their defense during the game’s final 17 minutes. Reddix, who raced to 157 first-half rushing yards, ended with 175, accumulating only 17 on 8 second-half carries. And Summers was shut out, misfiring on a dozen pass attempts, 11 of which occurred after intermission. Coupled with Hoffman and Brown pilfering passes, the Big Reds relinquished only 64 second-half total yards.
“This whole team is back from last year with all their athletes, and any time you get athletes and the speed they have, that’s a great combination. Unfortunately, we’re a little bit slower than we have been in the past, so we had to do what we do well, which is move the ball on the ground. But it does catch up to you,” summarized Sharpsville skipper Paul Piccirilli.
“Once (the Big Reds) took the lead, even though our guys gave 100 percent effort, I think it gets in the back of your head,” Piccirilli continued. “They’re only kids, and kids make mistakes. But I can’t say enough about them.”
Hoffman hurdled potential tacklers, weaving his way three-quarters of the length of the field for the third of his four TDs on the interception. “I got some great blocks. The guys turned into an offensive team, and I just ran and tried to break some tackles,” an exhausted Hoffman admitted.
Though West Middlesex was on the short end of a 13-7 halftime deficit, Kolten Hoffman related regarding the Big Reds’ resolve, “I think subdued would be a good word. We knew we were starting to get some stops near the end of the half, and we just had to come out and keep hitting people. ... When we shut them down on defense on that first (Blue Devils’) drive, then Josh had the great punt return.”
Sharpsville seniors include Tim and Ryan Siege, Reddix, Summers, Joe Joseph, Andrew Holsopple, Mike Kudelko, Jared Grandy, Aaron Biro, Kyle Sobash, Joe Siguenza, Brandon Santornino, Drew Williams and Charles Seifert.
“It’s a heckava run by this senior class,” Piccirilli said of Sharpsville’s third consecutive D-10 title tilt appearance (defeating Linesville two years ago, then losing to Kennedy Catholic last year). “We were the only team here (in 2006) to be here for three years. That’s a big tribute, not only to our team, but our staff has done an outstanding job in the 11 years we’ve been here. We’ve stuck together.”
CLASS A CHAMPIONSHIP
W.MIDDLESEX 0 7 7 21 35
SHARPSVILLE 7 6 0 0 13
S — T.Siege, 2 run (Summers kick)
S — Reddix, 83 run (kick failed)
WM — Hoffman, 9 run (Brown kick)
WM — Hoffman, 31 run (Brown kick)
WM — Hoffman 1 run (Brown kick)
WM — Allen 51 run (Brown kick)
WM — Hoffman, 71 interception return (Brown kick)
14 First downs 9
254 Rushing yards 231
72 Passing yards 0
10-5-1 Att-comp-int 12-0-2
326 Total yards 231
2-1 Fumbles-lost 0-0
1-5 Penalties-yards lost 3-15
Rushing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Hoffman 7-78, Allen 8-72, Brown 13-66, Andrusky 7-38; SHARPSVILLE — Reddix 19-175, T.Siege 11-28, Summers 10-25, Totin 1-3, Team 1-3, Taylor 1-(-3).
Passing: WEST MIDDLESEX — Hoffman 10-5-1, 72; SHARPSVILLE — Summers 12-0-2.
Receiving: WEST MIDDLESEX — Allen 2-4, Andrusky 1-59, Brown 1-4.
By Ed Farrell