Last week against Franklin Regional, red zone struggles sunk the Greater Latrobe football team.
On Friday against Woodland Hills, the Wildcats were doomed by turnovers and momentum-shifting big-play touchdowns.
Head coach Jason Marucco felt his Wildcats were the better team, and the numbers certainly backed up his claim, but Woodland Hills ultimately emerged with a 34-31 victory against Greater Latrobe during a WPIAL Class 5A Big East Conference game played Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“Any time you’re playing a team as skilled and talented as Woodland Hills, they have the ability to change the game on big plays and unfortunately, we let that happen,” Marucco said.
The loss ended any hope the Wildcats (1-3, 2-4) had of qualifying for the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.
Franklin Regional defeated Greater Latrobe last week, but lost against Penn-Trafford on Friday. Had Greater Latrobe defeated Woodland Hills, the Wildcats, Wolverines and Panthers would all be tied for third place with two conference wins, potentially opening the door for one of two wild-card spots in the classification.
“As much as all the prognosticators say you’re not getting in, you don’t know in that situation,” Marucco said. “We were close, and we could’ve put ourselves in the postseason. That’s the reality in a year like this.”
Greater Latrobe nearly doubled up the Wolverines offensively. The Wildcats rolled to 416 yards of total offense, while Woodland Hills managed just 238 yards, including 103 in the first half.
Big plays and turnovers were the ultimate equalizer.
Greater Latrobe held a 24-20 halftime lead, but Woodland Hills opened the second half with a 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to jump ahead for good. The Wolverines also had a 55-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the first quarter and forced three Greater Latrobe turnovers, turning two giveaways into scores.
“It tells you a lot about the stats,” Marucco said. “The only stat you’re truly worried about in the end is what the scoreboard says.
“Their skill and talent on the field... that’s what you worry about. You can outplay them for 45 minutes and for three minutes, they have the ability to get 14 points on the board like that, and to their credit, that’s what they did.”
The Wildcats rushed 47 times for 359 yards. Dylan Gustafson led the charge with 26 carries for 209 yards and two touchdowns, while Landan Carns also rushed for two scores. Kyle Brewer contributed 76 yards rushing on nine carries, while Drake Clayton had six touches for 73 yards.
“We saw some things that we felt we could take advantage of,” Marucco said. “Our focus was to be ready for whatever look (Woodland Hills) brought to us, and once we got them in a consistent look, we found a home with our run game.
“All year, our offensive line has done a great job of adjusting and Dylan does a great job of seeing the hole. He’s done it all year.”
Gustafson had three carries for 65 yards during a game-opening, five-play, 67-yard series. Carns capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown to give Greater Latrobe an early 7-0 lead.
The Wildcats looked to increase their lead following a defensive stop, but the Woodland Hills’ defense put the Wolverines on the board. Carns passed short to Nate Stemmerich, who fumbled on the play. Angello Reddix returned the fumble 55 yards to give the Wolverines their first points. Deontae Williams gave Woodland Hills an 8-7 lead with a two-point run.
The Wildcats responded with a touchdown to jump back in front. Gustafson led the way with 28 yards rushing on the 57-yard series, including a 13-yard score to give Greater Latrobe a 14-8 lead.
Eshawn Carter’s 58-yard kickoff return to the Greater Latrobe 27 yard line set the stage for another Woodland Hills touchdown. Williams connected with T’Rek Scipio for a 2-yard touchdown, as the score was tied, 14-14, after the two-point run failed.
The Wildcats regained the lead, 21-14, midway through the second quarter. Gustafson left the game briefly on the series, but Clayton and Brewer did the heavy lifting on the 65-yard series that ended with Carns’ 6-yard keeper.
Woodland Hills scored with 47 seconds left in the half, as Williams hooked up with Carter for a 40-yard touchdown, making it 21-20 after a failed two-point try. But the Wildcats drove to the 9-yard line in 33 seconds where John McHenry’s 26-yard field goal gave Greater Latrobe a 24-20 halftime lead.
The Wolverines immediately took control in the second half on Carter’s 75-yard kick return for a touchdown. A two-point run fail gave Woodland Hills a 26-24 lead.
The Wildcats gained one first down on their ensuing drive before a false start stalled the series. After a defensive stand, Carns threw an interception three plays into the next series, giving possession back to the Wolverines, who capitalized with the eventual winning score.
Brandon Jones broke free for a 42-yard rush and Williams connected with Scipio for a 23-yard touchdown later in the series. A Williams two-point run gave Woodland Hills a 34-24 lead late in the third quarter. Williams finished 10 of 18 for 121 yards passing and three touchdowns. Scipio caught seven passes for 70 yards and two scores.
“We got the start we wanted,” Marucco said. “It came down to three or four plays.”
The Greater Latrobe offense immediately answered, as Gustafson scored a 5-yard touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, capping a six-play, 62-yard drive.
The Wildcats’ defense forced a three-and-out, but Carns tossed his second interception of the game seven plays into the next series.
Greater Latrobe forced another three-and-out and took the ball back with 4:56 left in the game. The Wildcats overcame a false start and Luke Zylka converted a fourth-and-7 with 2:53 to play. But after a 14-yard run, the Wildcats lost five yards on first down, gained five yards on third-and-15 and tossed an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9 from the Woodland Hills’ 41-yard line, sealing the victory for the Wolverines.
“I thought we rallied on both sides of the ball,” Marucco said. “Any time we come out on Friday night, we want to play the best game we play all year and I think we did that.”
The Wildcats will have an opportunity to close the regular season with a win, as Greater Latrobe is scheduled to play a non-conference game at Uniontown Area on Friday.
“I was very proud of our football team (against Woodland Hills), and they should keep their heads up after the way they played,” Marucco said.
Woodland Hills 34 Greater Latrobe 31