Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The Big Seven Conference will be on display in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
Conference foes Union High and Sto-Rox won last week in the opening round of the district’s playoffs, earning a matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mars High School.
“It’s a testament to our conference,” Scotties coach Stacy Robinson said about the strength of the conference. “That’s been commonplace though over the years for the Big Seven for teams to play each other in the playoffs.”
Tenth-seeded Union (7-3) knocked off Beth-Center last week in the opening round, 21-7. It was the Scotties’ first playoff win since 1979, Robinson’s junior year. Union lost the next week in the semifinals to Knoch.
“The kids are excited, but I don’t want them to get too nervous,” said Robinson, who is in his 16th season at the helm. “You have to win. There’s no next week. Everyone is at that stage of the season where your season could end at any time.”
The second-seeded Vikings (9-1) advanced last week with a 40-7 win over Carmichaels. Sto-Rox is ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Vikings also check in at No. 5 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.
“Sto-Rox is a very talented football team,” Robinson said. “They’re good on both sides of the ball and dangerous on special teams.”
Dan Bradley is in his first season as the Vikings coach. He took over for Ron Butschle, who resigned in July because of family reasons. Bradley was the team’s offensive coordinator.
“We had a pretty good feeling we’d see Union in the quarterfinals,” Bradley said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Stacy as a coach and as a person.
“This matchup is a good representation of our conference.”
The winner moves on to battle the survivor of the Rochester-North Catholic matchup Nov. 16 at a time and site to be determined.
Union and Sto-Rox met Oct. 5 on the Scotties’ home field and the Vikings pulled away for a 48-21 decision. Union trailed just 20-14 in the third quarter before the Vikings tacked on 14 points in 2:43 to take control.
“The advantage with the rematch for them would be the simple fact that they beat us,” Robinson said. “For us, there’s no advantage to it. It gives us the advantage to rework the gameplan I guess. We’ll study things and be ready.”
Lenny Williams, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior quarterback, paces the Sto-Rox offense. Williams is 89 of 154 for 1,662 yards with 19 touchdowns. He has 701 rushing yards as well on 92 attempts with nine scores.
“He’ll go down as one of the better players I’ll coach against,” Robinson said of Williams. “He’s dangerous from the time the ball is snapped until the whistle blows; he does just about everything for them and does it all very well.
“He has a strong arm. A stronger arm than most kids have. He gets it out quickly. The way he gets it out with such velocity, the ball is in the receivers hands so quickly.”
Bradley said some Mid-American Conference schools have shown interest in Williams.
Brendan Blair, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior running back, leads Sto-Rox in rushing with 628 yards on 86 attempts and 16 touchdowns.
“He’s a good, physical football player,” Robinson said of Blair. “He’s just another cog in the wheel for them.”
Ben Shackelford, a 5-9, 165-pound senior wide receiver, leads the Vikings with 32 receptions for 600 yards and eight touchdowns. Javelle Kirkland, a 5-6, 140-pound sophomore wide receiver, is next with 14 catches for 445 yards and seven scores.
“They’ve got a talented group of guys throughout their lineup; they can stretch the defense,” Robinson said. “If they see Lenny is in trouble and scrambling, they’re coached well enough to do the scramble drill and get open.
“Shackelford is a talented kid with speed. Kirkland is another piece of the puzzle. You can’t focus on just one guy.”
Both teams committed three turnovers in the first matchup. But Robinson knows his team will have to clean that up to have a shot at moving on.
“We’ll have to play mistake-free football and capitalize on each opportunity,” Robinson said. “We can’t have missed assignments.”
Joe Salmen, a 6-0, 170-pound senior quarterback/defensive back, engineers the Union attack. Salmen has completed 67 passes in 142 attempts for 1,089 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He ranks second in the county in passing yards behind Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (1,346).
“Salmen is a playmaker,” Bradley said. “He’s had some outstanding runs this year and he throws the deep ball well.
“We need to take that away. He can take it the distance, too, when he runs. He’s a good athlete and a good decision maker.”
Drew Robinson, the coach’s son, paces the Scotties’ ground game with 1,129 rushing yards on 130 carries. The senior running back leads the team in touchdowns with 15 and stands third in the county in scoring with 92 points.
Bradley was particularly impressed by Drew’s 75-yard touchdown run in the regular season finale at Neshannock. Drew took a direct snap in the shotgun with Salmen faking like the snap went over his head. The Lancers seemed to have Drew pinned in, but he reversed his field, got a couple of blocks and dashed in for the long scoring run.
“Drew Robinson is a home run hitter,” Bradley said. “He gets to the outside and he can be gone.
“We’ll have to stay in our pursuit lanes. He can sure take it the distance like he did against Neshannock; he’s got that big-play potential.”
Union’s Benjamin Young, a 6-1, 175-pound wide receiver/defensive back, ranks fourth in the county in receiving with 13 catches for 322 yards.
NO TIME FOR NERVES
The Scotties started slow last week before Drew Robinson recovered a fumble and raced 24 yards for a score in the second quarter. Salmen’s conversion kick tied the score to help get Union going.
“We were able to capitalize on a big play and stem the tide so to speak,” Stacy Robinson said. “It was the first playoff game, the lights are on, the pressure is on. But I don’t think those type of jitters will be the case this week.
“I think we got the playoff jitters out last week. Time becomes more precious when there’s less of it to waste. We want to make sure we come out playing to the best of our ability. That will give us the best chance to win.”