McDONALD — New Castle High football coach Joe Cowart calls them “winnable moments.”
A play here or there that can turn a ballgame in a team’s favor.
South Fayette had more of them last night, as the Lions knocked off the Red Hurricane, 37-21, in a WPIAL Class 4 A Northwest Eight game at South Fayette High School.
“You can look at most games where there are four or five plays that change the tenor of the game,” the ’Canes coach said. “They took advantage of those clutch moment plays tonight and we didn’t. There were certainly a handful of moments in that game if they go a little differently, it’s a much closer ballgame.”
Many of those moments for South Fayette (2-0 conference, 2-1 overall) last night belonged to quarterback Naman Alemada. The 6-5 junior signal caller completed 22 of 29 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns.
“He just continues to get better,” Lions coach Joe Rossi said. “The game’s starting to slow down a little bit for him. He made a lot of good throws, and he’s got a lot of receivers out there. Our quarterback position is so valuable, and Naman’s worked hard to earn that position.”
Alemada got the Lions on the scoreboard less than three minutes into the game, as he connected with Ryan McGuire on an 18-yard TD pass.
New Castle (1-1, 2-1) answered later in the opening stanza as Jason Williams capped an 11-play, 51-yard drive by scoring on a 2-yard run. Donny Cade’s kick knotted the game a 7-7 with 3:27 remaining in the first quarter.
South Fayette took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter as Joe Audia grabbed an Alemada pass and raced into the end zone for a 48-yard scoring strike with 57.8 seconds left in the quarter.
The Lions added to their lead late in the second quarter as Luke Pschirer hauled in an 11-yard TD pass for Alemada, who completed his first 10 passes.
“They’re a team that makes plays,” Cowart said. “When you’re playing in a big-time football game, your focus and attention to detail have to be razor-sharp. We were just dull in the first half.”
Shay Aitken closed out the first-half scoring as he tackled New Castle punter Michael Wells in the end zone for a safety to give the hosts a 23-7 edge.
Alemada’s fourth TD pass of the night came with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter as he connected with Audia again, this time for a 12-yarder to give the Lions a 30-7 lead.
“He was spectacular tonight,” Cowart said of Alemada. “It’s nearly impossible to defend a perfect throw. He had a couple of those tonight.”
The ‘Canes finally got a big play of their own as Demetris McKnight took a pitch from Wells and rambled 59 yards for the score. The point-after kick was blocked, making the score 30-13.
“Demetris is a big play waiting to happen,” Cowart said. “It was certainly fun to see him make some plays for us down the stretch.”
Williams recovered the ensuing onside kick to give New Castle the football at the South Fayette 43-yard line. Four plays later, McKnight trotted into the end zone from 2 yards out before adding the conversion run to cut the deficit to 30-21 with 11:24 remaining in the contest.
“We didn’t adjust anything, we just played Red Hurricane football in the second half,” Cowart said. “We didn’t play our style of football in the first half. We only played a 24-minute game.”
McKnight led all rushers with 133 yards on 20 carries. He also caught a team-high three passes for 60 yards.
“Demetris is a tremendous athlete,” Rossi said. “We had some (college) coaches in today recruiting some of our kids, and I told them all about Demetris. He’s a special kid.”
New Castle would get no closer as Alemada’s TD pass to Nolan Lutz with 9:17 remaining set the final.
“We’ve got to get better as coaches and we’ve got to get better as players,” Cowart said. “We’ve got a long way to go. You don’t take a ton of good things from a loss. You learn from it, keep your head up and get better.”