Freshman carries Wolverines to semis

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As a freshman, little is often given and little is often expected.

Playing high school football -- often against older players much further along in growth, development and experience -- freshmen usually are expected to sit, learn and bide their time.

What they are certainly not expected to do is carry the weight of expectations on their small shoulders, the pressure that comes from a playoff game against a heated rival.

Somewhere along the line, Miles Sanders didn't get the memo. And even when he wasn't there to assert his will on the game, he could count on his defense to come through.

With his Woodland Hills team facing Gateway, one of the most talented squads in WPIAL Class AAAA, Sanders rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns to carry the Wolverines to a 17-14 victory and a spot in the semifinals.

"We were fortunate -- our kids played hard, they practiced hard all week and they played hard [Friday night]," Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. "It was one of those games where it came down to the last play."

As Novak noted, it did come down to a final play for the Wolverines (9-2), as they intercepted a desperation pass from Gateway quarterback Thomas Woodson, falling to the turf as time expired, with the players rushing the field at a fever pitch with their helmets hoisted in the air.

Sanders was one part of a strong ground-based rushing game for Woodland Hills that totaled 201 rushing yards. The Wolverines were without Sanders for much of the second half, as he was out with a minor injury, and the team's offense stalled, totaling 80 yards and no points after getting 178 yards and 17 points in the first half.

With the offense stagnant for many of the game's final 24 minutes, the Woodland Hills defense stepped up just as it had for the entire game against a Gateway offense that averaged 37.3 points per game, holding the Gators to 14 points, none of which came in the second half.

"It's funny -- first half everybody was scoring and the second half, nobody scored at all," Novak said. "We'll take it."

In what many expected to be a high-scoring affair between two potent offenses, Sanders got the scoring started for Woodland Hills with a 22-yard touchdown run on the Wolverines' second play from scrimmage. He would add a 1-yard plunge in the second quarter that not only extended Woodland Hills' lead to double digits, but also proved to be the winning score.

In his final game, Woodson passed for two touchdowns and 280 yards, over half of which went to wide receiver Delvon Randall, who finished with 166 yards on 11 catches.

Overall, the Wolverines forced the Gators into two turnovers and 14 penalties for 73 yards, as well as holding the versatile Woodson and the Gateway offense to minus-25 rushing yards.

Now, fresh off a season-defining win, Woodland Hills lives to play another week, with an Upper St. Clair team standing between them and a date at Heinz Field.

"It was a very physical game up front," Novak said. "Our offensive and defensive lines, they did a lot of banging against bigger guys tonight. I'm really proud of the effort they gave."


Craig Meyer: and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.


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