Xtra Points: South Allegheny senior showing true grit
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The South Allegheny football team has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in the past 26 years, and maybe no Gladiators player is enjoying the ride to the postseason more than senior running back Brandon Murn.
Murn has to pinch himself, and not just to make sure South Allegheny's success isn't a fantasy. Murn simply likes to remind himself that he is playing football in mid to late October for the first time in his high school career.
If the WPIAL gave a comeback player of the year award, Murn would be a prime candidate. Injuries have forced early endings to Murn's seasons not once, not twice, but three times before. But every time, he has come back for more.
Murn's story is one of surviving -- and now thriving. A 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior, Murn is South Allegheny's leading rusher and also one of the Gladiators' key defensive players at linebacker.
"This is something that I could only dream about," Murn said. "Kids should appreciate playing this game because it can be taken away from you on any play, any snap. I've been there three times already. I'm just fortunate to be having such a good year and having some success."
As a freshman, Murn was seeing considerable varsity playing time, but sustained a fractured wrist in the sixth game and missed the rest of the season.
As a sophomore, a fractured foot in a preseason scrimmage kept him out of action until the sixth game. He came back for two games before a hip fracture ended his season.
Then, last year as a junior, Murn sustained a broken ankle in the first game of the season and didn't play again.
"When that [ankle injury] happened so early last year, I was kind of thinking to myself that maybe I just wasn't meant to play football," Murn said. "But I love the game so much that I had to keep playing. I couldn't just give up. I just kept training and working hard. I put so much work in during the offseason. and everything just came together this year."
A healthy Murn has rushed for a team-high 422 yards on 49 carries (8.6 average) in a balanced offense that doesn't have a big star. But Murn's resiliency has made him a star in the eyes of South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe.
"He's just had the worst luck in the world," Monroe said. "But he's such a great kid. Seeing him hit the weight room and doing everything he could to come back was nice to see."
Now Murn dreams about maybe playing football beyond high school at the small-college level. But first, two games remain in South Allegheny's regular season -- and then the playoffs. This stuff is real.
"Injuries happen. It's football," Murn said. "Every time I step on the field, I just feel fortunate and want to play as long as I can."
Aliquippa and Jeannette have clinched WPIAL playoff spots for a record 36th time. Mt. Lebanon is third on the all-time playoff appearance list. The Blue Devils will be in the postseason for the 33rd time.
Penn Hills has been in the playoffs 31 times, but the Indians have not clinched a spot so far this season.
Aliquippa and Thomas Jefferson will be in the playoffs for the 18th consecutive season, the longest current streak.
Thirty-four teams have clinched WPIAL playoff spots heading into the second-to-last week of the regular season. At least one team in every conference has clinched a playoff spot, except the Class A Tri-County South.
The longest current playoff drought in the WPIAL belongs to Avella, which hasn't made the playoffs since 1976. Technically, one could say the longest drought belongs to Altoona.
The last time Altoona was in the WPIAL playoffs was 1969. The Lions left the WPIAL a few years later, however, and played in District 6 until joining the WPIAL again for football only in 2010.
Clairton's Tyler Boyd surpassed 4,000 yards rushing in the Bears' victory Saturday against Bishop Canevin. With two regular-season games left and the postseason, Boyd seemingly has a decent chance at becoming only the 14th runner in WPIAL history to reach 5,000 yards.
South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh is putting up passing statistics like no WPIAL sophomore has in almost 20 years.
Brumbaugh has thrown for 1,803 yards this season. Barring injury, he will become the first sophomore in the WPIAL to throw for 2,000 yards in the regular season since Penn-Trafford's Tony Zimmerman did it in 1993 with 2,359.
Brumbaugh also might be lining himself up to become the first quarterback in WPIAL history to throw for 2,000 yards in three regular seasons. Over the past 30-plus years, only three WPIAL quarterbacks have thrown for 2,000 yards twice in the regular season. Zimmerman did it in 1993 and '95 (he missed his junior season with a knee injury). Seton-LaSalle's Bill Stull did it in 2003 and '04 and Penn-Trafford's Jeff Palladino in 1988 and '89.
What might be most impressive about Brumbaugh is his accuracy. He is completing 69 percent (92 of 133) of his passes.
The WPIAL boys and girls cross country championships will be next Thursday at Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock, and there will be more races and more champions crowned than ever before.
This is the first year the WPIAL and PIAA has three classifications for both boys and girls cross country (AAA, AA and A). In the past, there were only two. Now, there will be separate races for boys and girls in all three.
The only returning champion from last year is Quaker Valley senior Roy Hadfield in Class AA.
In Class AAA girls, North Hills senior Shannon Malone finished second last year to her sister, Margo, who is now running at Syracuse University. The youngest Malone sister is Mary Malone, a junior who finished fourth last year.
First Published October 19, 2012 12:00 am