Riverside High scored only half as many points as it had been averaging when it traveled to Shenango last night.
But coach Ron Sciarro was OK with that.
After all, even though his Panthers were putting up nearly 34 points per game over the first three weeks of the season, they’d given up a combined 85 in getting off to an 0-2 start. At Shenango, they limited their opponent to a single touchdown for the second straight week in posting a 17-7 WPIAL Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference at Glenn “Pop” Johnston Stadium.
“We stepped up defensively,” Sciarro said. “That’s the second week in a row we have, and it’s big, because we can’t just play offense. The first two weeks we were scoring points and losing, and the last two weeks, we’re playing defense. That’s what makes us go.”
The Panthers (2-2 in both conference and overall play) and Shenango (1-2, 3-2) played to a 7-7 tie after one half, with each team relying heavily on its ground game. Riverside scored first when Hunter Nulph, who finished with 182 yards on 27 carries, crossed the goal line on a 12-yard, first quarter run. The Wildcats countered on a 5-yard Reis Watkins run with 2:13 to go before intermission.
Watkins finished with 143 yards on 22 carries, but managed only 20 of those in the second half.
“We weren’t playing great defense,” Sciarro said of his team’s first-half efforts, “and then we stepped up.”
Shenango’s defense also remained stout, allowing just a 26-yard Nathan Sciarro field goal and a 52-yard touchdown pass from Ben Hughes to Sciarro over the final two periods. It also stopped Riverside on fourth-and-goal from the 10 early in the fourth quarter.
But for the ‘Cats’ offense, the third quarter proved to be the undoing. Shenango picked up four holding penalties as opposed to just one first down, and managed a net 7 yards rushing after rolling up 128 on the ground through the first two stanzas.
“We were even at half, and we wanted to come out and continue with our offensive strategy, but there were a lot of self-inflicted issues that came about,” Shenango coach Jimmy Graham said. “A lot of penalties, that just killed us. That’s hard to overcome.
“Really, we just self destructed there in the third quarter and it really put us in a bad position. Then in the fourth, we had to get our of our offense.”
Shenango also let an opportunity go by the boards on its opening drive of the game, when it marched from its own 10 to the Panthers’ 24, only to turn the ball over on downs.
Graham referenced Shenango’s 48-13 loss to Riverside in 2018, and even though “I’m not real big on moral victories,” he still liked what he saw from his defense.
“They’ve scored over 30 points each game,” he said of the Panthers. “To hold them to 17, our defense played well.
“We gave up a play here and there, but offensively, we need to do a better job of controlling the ball and time of possession and scoring when we get inside the 20, eliminating mental mistakes.”