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Dorian Brown rushed for 227 yards on 27 carries to give him exactly 1,200 rushing yards this year, but Brown’s effort wasn’t enough to get into the playoffs, as the host Highlanders fell, 17-14, to Bethel Park High School in a WPIAL AAAA Great Southern Conference football game on Friday night.
The Baldwin loss, combined with ’s 46-27 loss at on Friday, officially excluded Baldwin from the WPIAL’s 2011 postseason. It also prevented Baldwin (4-5, 1-4 Great Southern) from having its first winning season since 2003.
Bethel Park (4-5, 3-2) will enter the playoffs as the Great Southern’s No. 3 seed. Peters Township (4-5, 2-3), thanks largely in part to its , is the conference’s fourth and final seed.
For a while, it looked like the Highlanders might cloud the playoffs picture by upsetting Bethel Park, but Bethel’s sophomore placekicker Dan Christenson booted a 29-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points.
Christenson’s kick finished off a 10-play, 58-yard drive for the Black Hawks and took an important 5:40 off of the board.
That drive was typical of Bethel’s game all night. The Hawks held a clear advantage in time of possession, 26:02-21:58. The Highlanders, though, held the edge in total yards, 303-288, and first downs were even at 13 apiece.
All of the game’s 31 points were scored in the second half, as turnovers kept both teams off-track in the early going. Indeed, each team lost two fumbles in the second quarter, the last of which coming during a Brown rush with 7 seconds left at the Baldwin 24-yard line.
Bethel couldn’t capitalize, though, as Christenson’s ensuing 41-yard field goal try fell just short.
Baldwin looked like it would score first when Bethel punted away the first possession of the second half. The Highlanders then went 44 yards over six plays, but that drive ended when a pass by freshman quarterback Doug Altavilla was intercepted by Bethel’s senior running back/defensive back Eric Malle at the Bethel 32.
Malle, who also rushed eight times for 39 yards against Baldwin, then returned the pick to the Bethel 48, and three plays later, Bethel’s senior quarterback Anthony Cinello connected with senior wide receiver Jonathan Kobel on a 49-yard touchdown catch.
Kobel reached behind himself across the middle of the field and batted the ball over his shoulder with one hand before racing away untouched for the score.
Baldwin immediately responded, going 74 yards over five plays on the next drive to tie the score at 7. Brown rushed for 62 of those yards on three carries, including a 57-yard run. The drive ended on fourth down when Altavilla found senior wide receiver/defensive back Zack Denardo in the end zone on a nine-yard pass.
During the ensuing possession, Bethel faced an important fourth-down-and-3 from the Baldwin 34 and came through with an 18-yard reverse carry by Malle.
“The reverse crushed us,” Baldwin’s Head Coach Jim Wehner said. “We practiced that all week … All week, we must have ran that thing 10 times, and we had a bust on it.”
Two plays later, Bethel’s senior running back Nick Marshall, who ran for 116 yards on 29 carries for the game, found the end zone on an 11-yard rush to help make it 14-7.
“The (offensive) line knew what we had to,” Marshall said. “We just came out and blocked hard, got a few yards and dragged it down.
“We’ve had problems blocking in the past, and they (the line) came out and did what they needed to do to win.”
Baldwin continued the seesaw battle by coming right back in the fourth quarter with a nine-play, 63-yard drive—all Brown carries from mostly the wildcat formation—ended by Brown’s one-yard TD plunge.
Christenson’s game-winning field goal came on the next drive, but Baldwin had enough time to twice try to comeback.
After a false start, Brown started the ensuing possession with a 13-yard run, followed by a one-yard pass from Altavilla to senior wide receiver Malon Howell. Altavilla’s third-down pass to Denardo was broken up by Bethel’s senior wide receiver/defensive back Evan Schweitzer, and on fourth-and-1, Altavilla tried another pass to Denardo. That time, Malle broke up the pass to basically seal the win.
“We had the kid open,” Wehner said. “(Altavilla) was a second late. Shoulda-coulda-woulda—I look at it that way. I think we had the right play called … Maybe we could have (ran the ball), but I think we had the right play called because he (Denardo) was open.”
Baldwin did get the ball back with 11 seconds left at its own 39, and after a hook-and-ladder play from Altavilla to Howell to Brown put the ball at the Bethel 49, Altavilla tried Howell for one last Hail Mary down the sideline. That pass fell incomplete, though, and Baldwin’s season ended.
Altavilla finished 10-for-18 passing for 68 yards. Cinello went 9-for-12 for 140 yards.
Schweitzer led all players with four catches (for 57 yards). Kobel had two grabs for a game-high 66 yards. Denardo (25 yards) and Howell (13 yards) both caught three passes.
Bethel’s senior linebacker Connor Wilson and Baldwin’s sophomore linebacker Douglass Coburn both had a game-high nine tackles (all solo). Wilson registered the game’s only sack as part of three tackles for losses totaling nine yards. Coburn notched four tackles for losses totaling seven yards.
Not to be outdone, Bethel’s senior defensive lineman Galega Atte and Baldwin’s senior defensive lineman Joe Persichetti both made eight tackles (all solo). Atte also broke up a pass, and Persichetti was credited with a tackle that went for a loss of four yards.
Bethel will find out on Monday whom it will play in the first round of the playoffs.
“We haven’t played our best football at times … ,” Bethel’s Head Coach Jeff Metheny said, “but we just wanted the kids to play together and rally around one another. And we thought they did that this game … If we’re able to do that (play like they did against Baldwin), we’ll stay close to people in the playoffs.
“ … I’m real proud of the way the kids played. The seniors that have been in our program for a while have worked hard, so they deserve this (playoffs berth).”
“We got effort from everybody (on Friday),” Wehner said. “All the way down the line, we got effort. We play like this (against Peters), we’re in the playoffs …
“We’re getting better. We hit our goal of winning more games than we did every year to this point (during Wehner’s tenure as Head Coach), and next year’s our year. We gotta get big in the offseason and keep working.”
Wehner pointed out that Baldwin’s junior varsity football team is 5-2-1 this season with one game left.
Brown looked forward to 2012, as well, even sharing that he wanted to win the WPIAL rushing title next year, not to mention a few other championships.
“Absolutely, that’s my goal (rushing title),” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of learning experience from this year and the past year, and I’m ready to lead it now.
“Next year, championships, not just playoffs, championships. Win every game next year.”