Maybe the guys blowing all the whistles should have been lifeguards.

Not that Shenango and Union didn’t keep the officials busy during their Week Zero opener last night at Socs Roussos Stadium — between them, the Wildcats and Scotties were flagged for 25 penalties and 172 yards.

In the end, though, each team also found time to make their share of splash plays, with Shenango riding the wave of quick strikes to a 24-13 victory.

The Wildcats’ scoring plays sound mundane enough. Quarterback Santino Campoli scored on a 1-yard run in the second quarter, Aidan Johnston booted a 28-yard field goal in the third and Reis Watkins added touchdown runs of 2 and 9 yards in the fourth.

But wait — Campoli’s TD was set up five plays earlier when he hit Xavier Gumpp on a 37-yard pass. Moreover, the 11-play, 58-yard scoring drive was launched after a blocked Union punt.

Later, a 47-yard run by Reis Watkins preceded Johnston’s field goal by four plays, and Campoli found Adam Bryant on a 55-yard hookup to set the table for the first of Watkins’ touchdowns two plays later.

Tyler Staub

Union's Tyler Staub makes a one-handed catch for a touchdown late in the second quarter.

While waiting for such plays to materialize, the ‘Cats offense simply moved the ball in workman-like fashion. Watkins was given the ball 30 times and he carried it for 224 yards. Campoli put the pigskin in the air 21 times and completed 14 of his attempts for 203 yards.

“One of our goals this year was to try to control the game a little more than last year, where it got out of hand pretty early (resulting in a 35-20 Union victory),” Shenango head coach Jimmy Graham said. “I felt like we really outplayed them the first half, and that we should have been up at half but we gave up that long pass (a 30-yard scoring strike from Tyler Benedict to Tyler Staub that tied the score at 7-7 with nine seconds left) and we kind of felt like the wind came out of our sails.

“The second half, we really wanted to come out and play a good second half. We felt we did that and controlled the ball, no turnovers, and we got big play here and there and that’s what happens.”

Still, more problems arose for Shenango in the third quarter when an apparent Campoli-to-Gumpp touchdown pass was negated by a lineman downfield penalty on the ‘Cats opening possession. On the Wildcats' next drive, Union’s Jackson Clark stepped in front of a Campoli pass and returned it 63 yards for a pick-six.

“That interception with Jackson Clark, that’s something we rep’d all week," Union coach Stacy Robinson said. “I’m proud of him, he did what he was coached to do and took it in for six. We told him he could get one if he played his cards right and it worked out for him.

“We’re a big-play team. We don’t think we can come out and grind it a lot of the time so we try to strike quick, and we’ve got people who can do it. We just didn’t get it done tonight.”

Indeed, Union managed just 43 yards on the ground to Shenango’s 225, but Benedict kept the Scotties close by completing 20 of 31 passes for 192 yards.

Clark’s interception gave Union a 13-7 lead, but Johnston’s field goal with 18 seconds left in the quarter put the ‘Cats just three points back going into the final frame.

That’s when Watkins picked up 102 of his yards on seven totes to go with his two fourth-quarter touchdowns and clinch the win.

“That’s the name of the game, Graham said, “you get one big play and the momentum changes. We blocked a punt, we did a lot of good things tonight, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, some things to fix up.”

d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com


SHENANGO AT UNION

SHENANGO     0     7     3         14 — 24

UNION         0     7      6         0 — 13

Scoring plays

SHENANGO — Santino Campoli, 1-yard run (Aidan Johnston kick).

UNION — Tyler Staub, 30-yard pass from Tyler Benedict (Jackson Clark kick).

UNION — Clark, 63-yard interception return (kick failed).

SHENANGO — Johnston, 28-yard field goal.

SHENANGO — Reis Watkins, 2-yard run (Johnston kick).

SHENANGO — Watkins, 9-yard run (Johnston kick).

Editor

Dan, editor, started with The News in 1978 and spent 10 years as a sports writer. He's been a general assignment reporter, copy editor, paginator and Lifestyle editor. He's a '78 Slippery Rock University graduate with a B.A. in English.

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