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Looking very much like the quarterback whom his head coach says that he is, Baldwin High School sophomore Doug Altavilla threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns to lead his team to a 31-7 win over Canon-McMillan High School in a WPIAL AAAA Southeastern Conference football game on Friday night.
In the first half alone, Altavilla completed eight of nine passes for 240 yards and both TDs. He finished the game going 9-for-13 against the host Big Macs (1-7 overall, 1-6 Southeastern), even though one of his passes was dropped and another was fairly catchable.
"That was Doug's best game of his high school career right there," Baldwin's Head Coach Jim Wehner said. "He was controlling the game, reading what they (Canon-McMillan) were doing. I think that was the best game he's played in two years."
The Highlanders (3-5 overall, 2-5 Southeastern) stayed alive in the chase for a WPIAL playoffs spot, but Canon-Mac will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year. (CORRECTION: Baldwin was actually eliminated from postseason contention, as well.)
It's been very tough sledding for the Big Macs over that time, as they have gone just 5-31 since bowing out of the postseason in the first round in 2008.
Baldwin will play at home on Friday night, Oct. 26, at 7:30 against conference foe Bethel Park High School (5-3, 5-2). Just like in 2011, Baldwin will have to defeat Bethel Park for a shot at the playoffs.
The Highlanders cannot earn one of the Southeastern's five guaranteed playoffs spots, but a single wild card is available for the next best WPIAL AAAA team. Since some of AAAA's non-top-five teams could end up with four section wins, Baldwin will not only have to beat Bethel next Friday but rely on some other teams failing.
"Everybody's excited that we have this opportunity to make it to the playoffs," Altavilla said. "At one time, we thought, we might not, but we got a chance now.
"Leadership's all good and everything—good, hard practices—and we're just rolling right now. I think we're turning it up here at the end of the season."
But for Canon-Mac, which finishes its 2012 season by hosting conference opponent Peters Township High School (4-4, 3-4) also at 7:30 on Oct. 26, its next game will feel a lot different than Baldwin's.
"You gotta have pride," C-M's Head Coach Tim Sohyda said about his team's motivation for that game, "and we'll depend on having enough pride to work all week (to prepare for Peters Township).
"I know my staff will put the time in and make sure we prepare and practice as hard as we can to give it our best shot."
As for this Friday, despite a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession, the Big Macs never truly threatened the Highlanders.
Baldwin scored first and never trailed, taking the lead for good at 14-7 with 8 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first half after Altavilla found junior running back Stephon Harris with an innocent-looking screen pass down the right sideline on third-and-long. But Harris made what seemed like 11 Big Macs miss him and ended up reversing field during a 67-yard TD reception.
That play typified how the game went. Baldwin made big play after big play, and no Highlanders TD drive took longer than three plays.
"We have a lot of young kids on the back end of the defense," Sohyda said. "That's what young kids are gonna do (give up big plays)."
The other Baldwin TD came when, on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter, junior utilityman Luke Smorey intercepted a pass from junior quarterback Alec Hutchin at the goal line and returned it 100 yards to put the contest away.
"The turnovers don't help," Sohyda said. "A hundred yards for a touchdown after (our) drive—we shoot ourselves in the foot.
Smorey easily led all players with 196 all-purpose yards. He netted the other 96 on three receptions, including a 50-yarder during the game's opening drive to set up a 16-yard rushing TD by senior running back Dorian Brown.
The Big Macs, who relied more on a running game than Baldwin did—they outrushed the Highlanders, 189-78—came back to tie the score early in the second quarter when junior running back Deonte Kelley finished a nine-play, 63-yard drive with a four-yard TD carry.
But Baldwin needed just three plays from scrimmage after that to take the lead back on Harris' long screen play.
Baldwin scored 10 more points in the second quarter, getting a 25-yard field goal from junior placekicker Yahya Badjie with 2:50 left and a 59-yard TD catch by junior utilityman Nick Barca with 1:03 to play.
As meaningful as Altavilla's performance was for the Highlanders, Barca's was perhaps just as impressive.
To go with his TD catch, Barca racked up a game-high 17 tackles, including a game-high nine solo stops, and made two interceptions.
"Jay (Morrison, injured Baldwin defender) was our guy, and everybody saw that," Wehner said. "Nick's just doing what Jay (did). I think Jay proved to these guys that you can be a big-time player at the free safety spot. Nick just picked up where Jay left off."
Other defensive leaders included Baldwin's junior defensive back/wide receiver Gary Jackson (six tackles, three solo, one pass breakup) and senior defensive lineman Brandon Marshall (five tackles, four solo, 3.5 tackles for losses, one sack) and Canon-McMillan's senior tight end/defensive end Alex Campbell (10 tackles, six solo) and senior defensive lineman Angelo Broglia (four tackles, two solo, one sack).
Jackson also had three catches for 30 yards, and Campbell had three catches for 44 yards, plus a 31-yard kickoff return late in the first half.
"He's one of the leaders of our team," Sohyda said of the hulking, 6-foot-4, 232-pound Campbell. "He's a great football player. He'll open a lot of eyes. His future's real bright somewhere."
Hutchin finished the game 7-for-15 passing for 84 yards and two interceptions. The Big Macs' other pick was thrown by junior running back Jules Gdovic on a gadget play.
Gdovic did run the ball 14 times for 71 yards (a game-high 5.1-yard average), and Kelley rushed 20 times for a game-high 76 yards.
Canon-Mac was able to hold one of the WPIAL's best running backs in check, limiting Brown to 58 yards on 18 carries (a 3.2-yard average). Harris had five carries for 21 yards.
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