CLARION, Pa. -- Twenty-eight points in a span of 5:19 was all it took for South Fayette to turn a six-point deficit into a 57-21 win against Karns City in a PIAA Class AA quarterfinals Saturday Clarion University's Memorial Stadium.
The WPIAL champion Lions (14-0) trailed, 21-15, midway through the second quarter before scoring four touchdowns in quick succession to take control.
"We just started out a little sluggish," South Fayette junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh, who threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns, said. "That's on me. I didn't come out as focused as I should have."
Roman Denson made two huge plays -- one on special teams and one on defense -- to help turn things around for South Fayette.
Trailing by six after a 3-yard touchdown run by Tristan Rhoades, one of three touchdowns by the Karns City junior, Denson returned a kickoff 36 yards to the Karns City 45. That set up a quick, five-play drive that ended on a 1-yard touchdown run by JJ Walker that gave South Fayette the lead for good at 22-15.
On Karns City's first offensive play after Walker's touchdown, Denson picked off a pass from Gremlins quarterback Tyler Kepple at the South Fayette 44 and returned it 30 yards to the Karns City 26.
One play later, Brumbaugh connected with tight end Logan Sharp to make it 29-15 just 1:54 after Karns City had taken the lead.
"We were fortunate we made some plays in the second quarter and get the game turned around before halftime," South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said.
The offense kept rolling for South Fayette as the Lions went on an eight-play, 83-yard drive on their next possession. Brumbaugh's 18-yard pass to Justin Watson gave South Fayette a three-touchdown lead and proved to one of three consecutive scoring passes from Brumbaugh to Watson.
Connor Beck's interception of another Kepple pass late in the second quarter led to a 10-yard Brumbaugh-to-Watson touchdown pass with just under a minute left in the half to make it 43-21.
"We overcame a lot of adversity in the first quarter and scored 57 points," Brumbaugh said. "That's a testament to how tough we are. We don't get too down on ourselves."
South Fayette put the PIAA's mercy rule (running clock with 35-point second-half lead) into action early in the third quarter when Brumbaugh hit Watson, who finished with five catches for 71 yards, with a 21-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the second half.
A 1-yard Walker touchdown run four minutes later capped the scoring.
Karns City led, 7-0, early after the Gremlins defense forced a three-and-out on South Fayette's first possession, That led to a 4-yard touchdown run by Rhoades.
The Lions answered when Brumbaugh hit Beck with an 80-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10, and a little trickery on the extra point -- a direct snap to kicker Brian Coyne -- led to a 2-point conversion and an 8-7 South Fayette lead.
South Fayette made it 15-7 on a 3-yard Walker touchdown run, one of three for him, late in the first quarter. Rhoades intercepted a Brumbaugh pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown, the first pick-6 against the Lions quarterback, early in the second quarter to pull the Gremlins within two.
The Lions, who will play Hickory in the semifinals next week, outgained Karns City, 499-161.