Pilots Grab Tigers By The Tail, 39-7
There were more than a handful of doubters as to how good River really was, despite its spotless 5-0 mark at the halfway point of the regular season. Pilots head coach Mike Flannery wasn’t one of them.
“I think we answered some doubters. I would hope so, but I’ve never doubted these guys because I know what they are made out of,” Flannery said after watching the Pilots navigate their way to 6-0 with a 39-7 shell-shocking of visiting Shadyside (5-1) on Friday night before a standing-room-only crowd at Martin Flannery Field.
“This is a fun bunch of kids. They don’t really get too excited about anything They show up Monday (for practice). They’re blue-collar guys. I’ve got blue-collar kids and it shows on Friday night.”
The two riverfront rivals who hadn’t met since 2007 when they clashed twice, lived up to the all the hype leading up to the contest as Shadyside held a 7-6 lead at the half on Alex Krupa’s 8-yard romp and Billy Johnson’s extra point.
However, River exploded for 33 points in the third quarter – including 19 in a 3-minute span – to institute the 30-point mercy rule.
Junior quarterback Lukas Isaly was again the focal point of the River flurry of points. On the Pilots second play of the third quarter, Isaly went off the left side of his line and made a terrific cutback at the Shadyside 25 en route to a 55-yard scoring jaunt. His attempt for 2 was stopped, but the hosts were on top for good at 12-7.
Shadyside, which was held to 146 yards of total offense, picked up a first down on a 48-yard hookup from Johnson to Krupa. However the drive stalled and Johnson punted the ball to the River 14. It took one play to find the end zone as Isaly faked into the line before lofting the ball down field where Parker Caretti caught it in stride behind the Tigers secondary. The fleet-footed senior outraced everyone to paydirt. Once again the 2-point conversion failed, leaving the Pilots on top, 18-7.
“That was a big one,” Flannery said. “We knew it was there. It was just a matter of executing.”
River’s Hunter Dennis recovered a fumble at the Tigers 9 on their second play on the next series. One play later, Isaly galloped up the middle for a touchdown and a 25-7 advantage after Grant Williams connected on the point-after.
Things didn’t get any better for Shadyside as Isaly picked off a pass and returned it 44 yards to set the Pilots up at the Tigers 26. This time it took five plays to go the distance as Dakota Smith finished it off from 3 yards out. Williams again split the uprights as the margin ballooned to 32-7 with 2:22 on the third-quarter clock.
Disaster struck Shadyside on the ensuing kickoff as Tucker Boggs came up with a loose ball at the 32. Isaly covered that distance on the next snap with an athletic move at the 15 in which he completely turned a defender around.
“I felt in the first half that we left some scores on the field,” Flannery said of three failed fourth-down conversions deep in Shadyside territory. “We really made some special teams errors, and it was a field-position game in the first half. We kept fighting to get out of there but we didn’t have any success, so we knew some things were there (offensively).”
“We made some adjustments at halftime. We had to get our special teams working, and I’m really, really proud of my kids to show the resiliency to come back after being down 7-6.”
“We just started clicking in the second half, but we were playing on a short field because our defense really rose to the occasion. You can?t just single one of them out. You have to single them all out.”
The veteran Pilots head coach was talking about the front four of Drew Dietz, Collin Huffman, Mason Ladyga and Luke Matusik, along with linebackers Cody Saksa and Drew Wagnild.
“It’s a collective thing because several times we got sacks, but they were coverage sacks,” Flannery said. “Our defensive backs sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve.”
Those would be Caretti, Smith and Isaly.
Veteran Shadyside coach Mark Holenka, a very good friend of Flannery’s, agreed that the game was won and lost in the trenches.
“We were winning the game at halftime on the scoreboard, but they were winning the battle in the trenches in the first, second, third and fourth quarters,” he admitted. “That’s what it came down to. It’s nice to be able to stay in the pocket, ride the reads out and being able to take your time and throw the ball, but we didn’t have the time to do that.
“Don’t get me wrong. Not only did our offensive line not do their jobs, but they (River) held up our receivers and that?s a testament to what they do in the off-season.”
Isaly combined for 272 yards of total offense, with 235 of that coming halftime. He finished with 170 yards and four scores on the ground, while completing three passes – all in the second half – for 106 yards.
“This is a great feeling,” he said. “I can’t do what I do without my guys up front. They played great on both sides of the ball.”
Shadyside mustered 51 yards on 31 carries as Krupa managed 31 on nine carries. Johnson was 7-for-17 for 95 yards and two picks.
Besides Isaly’s stats, Wagnild tacked on 29 yards, Whetsell 23, Caretti 21 and Smith 11 yards and a score, all on the ground.
In the receiving end, Caretti had 93 yards on two catches, while Wagnild added 13 yards on one catch.
Defensively, 19 different Pilots made tackles, with Luke Matusik leading the charge with 10 tackles, three quarterback sacks, and two tackles for loss of yardage. Coday Saska contributed eight tackles, two sacks and made two tackles for loss of yardage.
In addition, Mason Ladyga stopped seven Tigers, and made a fumble recovery, while Smith dropped seven and Wagnild six. Kane McCloud had two tackles and forced a fumble, while Tucker Boggs recovered a fumble.
Friday night the Pilots looks to extend its unbeaten streak to 7-0 when they host the Bridgeport Bulldogs at 7 p.m.