Spartans' struggles continue in loss to OLSH

Laurel's Daniel Blank runs with the ball while teammate Dom Wade (36) blocks during against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart on Friday night.

A blazing start has turned into a frigid slide for Laurel’s football team.

Four shutouts to open the campaign had the Spartans atop the WPIAL Class A rankings. However, after a 33-7 loss at Clairton last week and a 41-33 setback to OLSH on Friday night, Laurel is reeling a bit.

“We have to do a better job. We can’t allow the big plays to happen,” Laurel coach Brian Cooper said. “We just have to do better the whole way around — coaching them up, getting them ready to go.”

The loss to the Chargers (4-1 conference, 5-1 overall) hurts the Spartans (2-1, 4-2) the most since it came in Big Seven Conference play. It puts them in fourth place in the conference behind Sto-Rox (4-0), OLSH and Cornell (3-1). While Laurel faces Cornell and Sto-Rox in consecutive weeks after next Friday’s rivalry clash with Union, the margin for error is gone. The top two teams from the conference qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.

“We have to get better each week,” Cooper said. “There are no excuses. We have to get better.”

Big plays doomed the Spartans. OLSH quarterback Jay Pearson broke free for two long touchdown runs — a 63-yard scamper on the first play of the game and a 76-yard TD sprint in the second quarter. He finished the game with 178 yard rushing.

“He made a lot of big plays for them. Hat’s off to him. He put them out in the lead and put them in position to win it,” Cooper said. “We have a long season ahead of us and we have to get better to win these types of games.”

The Chargers scored a couple more long touchdowns. Pearson found Bobby Brazell for a 41-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. After Laurel fumbled away the ball on the opening possession of the third quarter, Stephen Greer broke free for a 26-yard touchdown run.

“We gave up too many big plays on defense,” Cooper said. “We gave up a couple of big plays and we had a couple costly turnovers at the wrong time and that took us out of position. The bottom line is, everyone has to get better and that’s all we can focus on.”

Forced to play catch-up all night, the Spartans stared at a 41-19 deficit after three quarters. They made a late charge when Will Shaffer found Dylan Aquaro for a 23-yard TD pass with 6:37 to go. Shaffer and Aquaro hooked up for a 6-yard scoring strike with 49.8 seconds left, but OLSH recovered the onside kick to seal the win.

“It’s a good win. We’ll take it,” OLSH coach Dan Bradley said. “Fortunately, we were good enough to hold on for the win.”

Both teams were heavily penalized in the game. OLSH committed 23 penalties for 197 yards, while the Spartans were flagged 10 times for 105 yards.

Shaffer paced Laurel with 129 passing yards and two scores. Dom Wade rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. 

Joe Sager is a former full-time sports writer for the New Castle News and currently freelances for the News and other Western Pennsylvania newspapers.

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