The New Castle High football team has proven through the first half of the season that its offense can make the big play and score quickly.
The Red Hurricane, however, didn't give itself enough opportunities last night against West Mifflin, falling to the visiting Titans, 35-27, in a non-conference game despite the two teams gaining an identical 296 yards of total offense. The difference in the game for West Mifflin?
Running back Laronday Wilder bulldozed his way for 130 yards, adding three scores on the ground and another through the air, while the Titans offense scored on short drives of 39, 21, 26 and 42 yards.
Both teams are now 3-2.
“That’s a quality team and we knew that going in," New Castle coach Joe Cowart said. "That's the way it goes when you play a quality opponent, there are going to be a couple plays here and there. We just kept digging ourselves holes there as the game went on. I’m proud of the guys. We just missed some plays down the stretch there and got ourselves behind the eight ball and they just made more plays than we did tonight.”
Wilder took a 33-yard screen pass for touchdown with just under four minutes remaining giving West Mifflin a 35-19 lead, it appeared the game was all but wrapped up for the Titans. New Castle, however, had other plans. Demetris McKnight, who ran 20 times for 100 yards on the night, shifted to quarterback for a drive starting at their own 40. The 'Canes quickly went down the field as McKnight found receiver Donny Cade for an acrobatic 33-yard touchdown and McKnight ran in the conversion to close the gap to eight with 2:31 remaining in the game.
The ensuing onside kick attempt failed to go the required 10 yards, giving West Mifflin the ball at midfield where a first-down run and a few kneel downs ended the game.
"We know we can make plays when we need to," Cowart said. "We just let some opportunities slip throughout the course of the game. The field was tilted throughout the course of the game, but we’ll get better and our guys will keep going. The sun will come up tomorrow. There’s no doubt about that. The sun will rise tomorrow and we’ll go back to the drawing board and get after it.”
Wilder, who gained 115 of his yards in the first half, scored on runs of one and 17 in the first half while teammate and former New Castle student Nikeese Dimery caught a 17-yard pass for a touchdown to take a 21-13 lead into halftime. New Castle responded, scoring on their opening drive of the second half on a nine-yard McKnight run, but the two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete.
The 'Canes forced a West Mifflin punt and took over at their own 22, but had two large gains wiped out by penalties. That resulted in a punt of their own from the goal line, setting up the Titans on an eventual scoring drive originating from the 26.
McKnight, who started the game at running back but moved to quarterback in a goal line package and then was used on the final drive, was 3 for 5 passing for 66 yards. His 11-yard strike to Jaylan Cox nearly evened the scoring in the second quarter, but the 'Canes missed the extra point to trail 14-13. Michael Wells completed just 3 of his 10 attempts for 79 yards and ran for 51 yards.
New Castle plays its second non-league game in a row next week at Class 3A South Park (2-2).
“We want to get better on Monday, get better on Tuesday, get better on Wednesday and play better football next Friday," Cowart said. "That’s the beauty of this deal here that all the ills we had tonight, we have five, six days to try and fix it up and get better next Friday. That’s exciting that we have the opportunity to do that.”