Brett Brumbaugh and the South Fayette passing game has gotten most of the attention this season.
But the Lions also have a strong running game led by Grant Fetchet, and that’s what carried South Fayette into the PIAA Class AA title game.
Fetchet ran for 160 yards as the Lions rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat Hickory, 23-20, Saturday afternoon in a PIAA semifinal at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on the campus of Slippery Rock University.
“Everybody underestimates our run game,” Fetchet said. “Nobody takes it seriously. We’re always known for having a really strong passing game, but I think we can say we balanced it out this year and people have to be aware of both.”
Hickory almost invited the Lions to run, dropping nine and sometimes 10 players into coverage, but South Fayette still threw 29 times in the first half, as opposed to just 20 runs.
Brumbaugh started out hot, going 7 of 8 on the first drive for 53 yards, helping set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Fetchet to make it 7-0.
But that was the team’s only offensive points in the first 24 minutes, as Brumbaugh completed 10 of his final 21 attempts in the first half and was picked off in the end zone to end a Lions drive. He finished 22 of 37 for 176 yards.
South Fayette’s defense did chip in two points when Ben Berkovitz stripped Hickory quarterback Matt Voytik near the Hornets 10 and the ball rolled into the end zone. Voytik got to it first and fell on it for a safety.
But Voytik, cousin of Pitt redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Voytik, had first-half touchdown runs of 57 and 26 yards to give Hickory a 14-9 lead going into the break. Voytik’s second score came a play after Fetchet fumbled.
“You can put your head in the ground and bury yourself, but [Fetchet] didn’t,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “He kept fighting.”
Fetchet ran 27 yards on his first carry of the third quarter and also had a 24-yard run on the Lions’ next drive. But that drive ended with a Hunter Hayes fumble.
But South Fayette recovered a Chuck Carr fumble on the next play and that led to a 5-yard touchdown run by J.J. Walker. The score moved to 17-14 after Brumbaugh hit Conner Beck on a slant for a 2-point conversion.
Fetchet then gave the Lions some breathing room with a 37-yard touchdown run. He finished with 118 yards rushing in the second half, as the Lions carried the ball 21 times and threw just eight passes in the final 24 minutes.
“We stole their signals, knew when they were going to run it, and they executed,” Hickory coach Bill Brest said.
Meanwhile, the Lions defense forced four punts, a fumble and a turnover on downs on Hickory’s first six possessions in the second half before Voytik had a 1-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds left in the game.
Voytik finished with 198 yards passing and 70 yards rushing, but had only 21 rushing yards on eight carries in the second half.
“We were able to get some numbers to where they wanted to run and they stopped going to that in the third quarter,” Rossi said. “We thought we played pretty well [defensively] outside of that last drive.”
Beck recovered the Hickory onside kick and Brumbaugh kneeled down once to send the Lions to the PIAA title game for the second time in four years, where it will play Imhotep Charter at noon Saturday in Hershey.