PIAA Football Playoffs: Lions doing some fancy passing


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Understandably, the quarterback is the player on a football team who gets the bulk of the attention and credit. In spread offenses such as the one that Joe Rossi has successfully implemented at South Fayette, that fact is especially true.

This season, Lions quarterback Brett Brumbaugh has thrown for 3,096 yards and 33 touchdowns in a breakout junior season that has established him as one of the top quarterbacks in the state.

But for all of the accolades that Brumbaugh has deservedly received this season, a pair of players he has thrown the ball to have been just as responsible for the success of an explosive offense.

Senior wide receivers Justin Watson and Conner Beck have put up big numbers in banner seasons and, most importantly, have played critical roles for a team that has moved on to the PIAA quarterfinals against Karns City after winning the WPIAL Class AA championship.

Working under the parameters of Rossi's proven offensive scheme, the pair have been successful cogs in an offense that has averaged 46 points per game and has not been held below 31 points this season.

"What makes them special is their ability to run routes and make plays in the biggest of times," Rossi said. "That's [Brumbaugh's] blanket when you have a couple of guys who you can throw the football to."

Many coaches praise their top players' ability to come through when it matters, but after last weekend, both Watson and Beck proved it.

In a tightly contested 34-28 victory against Aliquippa last Saturday at Heinz Field, both players logged more than 100 receiving yards (Watson had 130 while Beck had 112) and each scored a touchdown. Beck's 19-yard touchdown catch from Brumbaugh in the final minutes of the fourth quarter proved to be the game winner.

This season, Watson has caught 57 passes for 1,335 yards (averaging 23.4 yards per reception) and 16 touchdowns while Beck has 65 catches for 864 yards and 10 touchdowns. Overall, the pair has accounted for 67.2 percent of the Lions' receiving yards and 61 percent of the team's receptions.

That kind of production has come in a season in which both players had to be counted upon more following the graduation of Zach Challingsworth, who led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns last season. The work at filling that void began early in the offseason, as it would not be uncommon for them to catch 40 to 50 passes out of a "JUGS" machine on cold February days.

Many months later, that work has truly started to show, but the end result has actually been a several-year process, one that the Lions are hoping will end with their first state championship in football.

"They've made plays for us since their sophomore year," Rossi said. "We just knew they were both going to be special players."

Class A

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic made history by winning the first WPIAL football championship in school history last Saturday, defeating Sto-Rox, 14-0. With one historical barrier overcome, the Trojans will look to overtake some more as they continue their postseason march with a PIAA Class A quarterfinal game against Tussey Mountain Friday at Hampton.

North Catholic has been without starting quarterback Adam Sharlow, who was injured in an Oct. 18 victory against Neshannock, but the offense has not stalled too much with P.J. Fulmore making the transition from running back to quarterback. Fulmore rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in the WPIAL championship.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Trojans' victory was their defensive performance, one in which they held the Vikings scoreless and forced them into three turnovers. The loss marked the first time Sto-Rox had been shut out since 2005. North Catholic will need a similar performance to contain a Titans team that has averaged 38.1 points per game, 305.8 rushing yards per game and has two 1,000-yard rushers in Daniel Taylor and Darren Sipes.

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