WEXFORD — In two of the past three seasons, Derry Area ended the season of Central Valley in the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs.
Those previous meetings, in 2016 and 2018, took place at Trojans Stadium at Derry Area High School in the quarterfinals.
In Friday’s semifinals contest at North Allegheny High School, the Warriors got their revenge, as they ended Derry Area’s season with a 42-7 mercy-rule outcome.
Top-seeded Central Valley (11-1) wasted little time in establishing command, as the Warriors scored three touchdowns in the opening quarter, and found the endzone on all six of their first-half drives. Conversely, the No. 4 seed Trojans (9-3) were held without a first down in the opening 24 minutes, and didn’t score until midway through the fourth quarter.
Although the Trojans won’t have another opportunity at WPIAL gold after coming up short in the title game against Aliquippa last year, head coach Tim Sweeney acknowledged that the lopsided score shouldn’t taint what his team and his players have accomplished.
“The message is mainly to the seniors,” he said in regard to his discussion with the Trojans following the game. “We’re not going to let the outcome of tonight’s game somehow take away from the four years, the career that they’ve had here. They’ve had a ton of wins, maybe the most in school history over four years.”
To that point, Sweeney called a timeout with 16 seconds remaining in the game, as all of his seniors — even the ones who were injured — walked to midfield and acknowledged the Derry Area fanbase. That’s a tradition that he started years ago, dating back to the 2016 version of the Trojans that also lost in the Class 3A semifinals against Aliquippa.
“It’s allowing the fans, the coaches and the underclassmen to salute our seniors — what they’ve meant to us — with their parents and family and friends sitting in the stands. It’s one last opportunity to see those guys,” he detailed.
Unfortunately, that group consisted of lineman Max Malis on crutches, as well as star running back Justin Huss hobbled. Both players sustained injuries in the second quarter, with Huss suffering an apparent knee injury with a little less than four minutes left in the stanza.
Additionally, sophomore Zack Revoir appeared to be seriously injured on a kick return in the second half, and was taken off on a stretcher, while starting center Cain Latta missed the game with injury, as well.
“I don’t know the extent of the injuries. They were severe enough to where guys couldn’t play,” Sweeney noted.
“Even with Huss, we weren’t doing much. That’s the reality of that.”
To his point, the prolific senior running back compiled just 19 yards on his eight carries. Although he did surpass 2,000 rushing yards on the season with his effort, finishing with 2,014, Huss was never able to break free and use his track speed.
Still, his senior campaign was historic, as Huss twice set the Derry Area single-game rushing record, and ranked among the best in the WPIAL in both rushing yards and touchdowns.
Central Valley’s defense, which has allowed 11.3 points per game, proved to be overwhelming, as the Warriors displayed incredible speed and sound execution. DA produced just 31 yards of total offense on six drives in the first half.
Sweeney was brief in his praise the Warriors’ defensive performance on Friday.
“They did everything. They came out, made plays,” he said of CV.
Derry Area’s lone score came with 5:13 to play on a 41-yard run by Pryce Donovan, who finished with a team-leading 60 yards rushing on six carries.
On the other side of the ball, the Trojans had no answers for the Central Valley offense. CV drove 55 yards in less than three minutes to open the game, capping off the six-play drive with a one-yard run off right tackle by Stephon Hall.
After the Trojans punted on their first drive, Central Valley went 89 yards on eight plays, with Hall again punctuating the drive with nearly an identical run, this time from four yards.
Although Stephon Hall scored his third touchdown midway through the second quarter to make it 28-0, he was far from the only offensive dynamo for the Warriors.
Central Valley junior quarterback Ameer Dudley, who struggled mightily in the quarterfinals loss to Derry Area last year, showed his ability as both a passer and a runner. Through the air, Dudley was nine of 10 passing for 246 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown to Jawon Hall. Additionally, he rushed six times for 51 yards, scoring twice.
Despite playing their reserves with a running clock for the entire second half, the Warriors compiled 293 yards on the ground and 246 through the air.
Central Valley head coach Mark Lyons noted that his array of weapons doesn’t allow opponents to focus on just one or two key players.
“That’s our formula. We don’t showcase one guy. I don’t believe in that,” he said. “Guys want to be a part of our system and have a hand in our offense.”
The Trojans’ defense has been stout all season, but the Warriors presented a different type of challenge, one for which Sweeney had no answers.
“Try to play with 13 guys,” he quipped when speaking of what he could have done different defensively.
At times, it appeared as though the Warriors were relishing the opportunity to provide payback to Derry Area after last year’s outcome. On Jawon Hall’s long score, he broke free past the secondary and then delayed his score by running parallel to the goal-line for several seconds.
Sweeney did not give any credence to hostilities between the programs, however.
“The fact is we can’t concentrate on what other teams do. If we’re giving up touchdowns, we need to focus more on preventing teams from executing and scoring,” he said. “There’s no animosity on my part.”
Sweeney shouldered the blame for the loss, saying that he did not adequately prepare his players for the moment.
In the end, however, he reflected on more than just the outcome of the game, especially for the 11 seniors who donned the Trojans’ jersey for the final time.
“I tell them that life is something that’s precious, and I mean that in every sense of the word,” he detailed. “Who knows tomorrow if something happens to a coach or something happens to a player? You never know the next time this team will be together.”
Central Valley, meanwhile, will face No. 2-seeded Aliquippa next Saturday for the WPIAL Class 3A championship at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh with a scheduled 2 p.m. start.
Central Valley 42 Derry Area 7