It was Tim Sweeney’s kind of football game.
The Derry Area head coach, and a key defensive contributor to Penn State’s 1986 national championship team, saw a defensive showdown materialize between his Trojans and local rival Mount Pleasant.
And the Trojans prevailed.
Pryce Donovan scored the only touchdown of the game on Derry Area’s first offensive possession, and the defense made it stand, as both teams battled extreme wind during a 7-0 WPIAL Class AAA Big East Conference defensive slugfest on Friday at Derry Stadium.
“Both defenses played great,” Sweeney said. “Our defense played great, their defense played great. Our defense didn’t play any better than their defense.”
But they allowed one fewer touchdown. And that was enough.
Derry Area improved to 3-1 overall, and most importantly, a perfect 2-0 in conference play. Mount Pleasant fell to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference.
Derry Area will travel to North Catholic — the talented group the Trojans beat twice last year on their way to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh — next Friday for another conference showdown. Central Valley defeated North Catholic, 35-14, in an exhibition game on Friday.
“We’re going to lick our wounds,” Sweeney said. “We’re going to celebrate, we’re going to watch film, try to get better on Monday and get ready to play North Catholic.”
DA won the opening coin toss and deferred, as the Trojans put a fierce wind at their back. It was key to field position and the Trojans’ victory.
“That wind played a big factor,” Sweeney said. “When we won the toss, we deferred, thinking they were going to take the ball, and they did. We knew with Chance (White) we could kick the ball into the endzone and set them up on the 20.”
The Trojans started the game with a defensive stand that led to the lone points of the game.
The Vikings lost seven yards on their first possession and the Trojans responded by driving 40 yards in nine plays, primarily without star running back Justin Huss, who hurt his knee on the second offensive snap. Huss returned on the next defensive series.
Donovan, Matt McDowell and Mike Kelly led the way on the ground with three first downs during the touchdown drive. Donovan followed Kelly’s nine-yard run with his first career touchdown, a one-yard dive that served as the only points of the game.
“Pryce had some nice carries and McDowell ran tough,” Sweeney said.
Mount Pleasant gained just 42 yards of total offense in the first half, and 121 yards for the game. The Vikings had just four yards on their first four possessions and picked up their initial first down of the game with 7:18 to play in the half.
Derry Area wasn’t much better in the first half with just 114 yards, as there were six total punts on 11 first-half possessions. Three more series between the teams ended in interceptions and another drive closed the half.
“Punting into that wind was brutal,” Sweeney said. “The punts into the winds on both sides were terrible. It was a huge factor. It just seemed like we were lucky to control field position pretty much the entire first half.”
Derry Area drove into the wind in the third quarter and Mount Pleasant Area started to gain momentum. But penalties stalled the Vikings’ series.
A hold on a third-and-three from the Derry Area 23 pushed the Vikings back, and they moved closer to midfield after a personal foul on the ensuing third down.
The Vikings drove to the DA 26 on the next drive, but a false start made it a first-and-15 from the 31. They gained six more yards as the series ended on downs, giving possession back to the Trojans.
Derry Area thought it stopped MP’s next possession, but a muffed punt on fourth-and-six turned into a broken-play first down and the drive continued.
No matter. The Vikings converted a fourth-and-one from the 50, but fumbled the ball away two plays later. It was the last time the Vikings’ offense had the ball as the Derry Area offense controlled the final 7:04 of the game.
“We just went out and played the best football that we could play,” Sweeney said.
Huss led the Trojans’ final drive, an 11-play series that lasted seven minutes and advanced to the 1-yard line. Huss, who ended with 109 yards on 22 carries, helped Derry Area pick up four first downs on that clinching series. Huss has 73 carries for 594 yards and seven total touchdowns the last three weeks.
“It’s hard because he’s by far the best ball-carrier we have,” Sweeney said. “But he’s hurt and he’s playing through a lot of stuff.
“He’s gutting it out. He’s giving us everything he’s got.”
Amari Graham gained six yards on third-and-five from the 15, giving the Trojans a first-and-goal from the 9 on the last series. A hold moved the ball back to the 19, but a facemask brought it back to the 14, and the Trojans were eventually faced with fourth-and-goal from the 8 with time winding down.
A pass from quarterback Paul Koontz fell incomplete, but the drive continued because of a roughing the passer call, as the Trojans were given first-and-goal from the 4. Huss busted off a three-yard gain to the 1, and then the Trojans took two knees to close out the game.
“We should’ve never gotten it to the 1,” Sweeney said. “The first down play, we should’ve taken a knee because they were out of timeouts. I told (our offensive coordinator), let’s take a knee and let’s get out of here.”
And the Trojans certainly escaped with the narrow, one-possession victory. Kelly supported Huss with 29 yards rushing while McDowell had 23 yards and Graham 16 for the Trojans, who finished with 205 yards of total offense.
Jacob Johnson led MP with 61 yards on 16 carries,while Nick Loughner rushed 12 times for 46 yards, as the Trojans shut out a Vikings’ offense that scored at least 48 points in three of their last four games.
“If you shut out a team like Mount Pleasant, you’re doing something right,” Sweeney said. “These kids are tough. It was just a great football game. They battled all game long. This game could’ve gone either way.”
Derry Area 7 Mount Pleasant 0
Score by Quarters
Mt. Pleasant 0 0 0 0 — 0 Derry Area 7 0 0 0 — 7
DA—Donovan 1 run (White kick)