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NTL FOOTBALL: CANTON HOLDS ON TO BEAT DEFENDING STATE CHAMPS, STEELTON-HIGHSPIRE (2021-11-20)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
TOWANDA — Contrasting styles were on display with Steelton-Highspire’s high octane offense going against Canton’s power run game during the first round of the PIAA, Class A Tournament Saturday. It was back and forth all night, but in the end, the Warriors’ style won out, as they beat the defending state champions 32-27 to advance to the quarterfinals.

“It feels great, all of us are excited,” said Wes Bellows. “It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”


“Coming here, nobody thought we could pull it off,” added quarterback Cooper Kitchen. “But we knew we had to keep our heads, and we got it done.”


Canton wasn't intimidated by the Steamrollers, though they certainly respected their offensive capabilities.


“We knew they did big things last year, but that just made us even more hungry,” said running back Riley Parker. “We knew it was our turn this year, and we wanted to come out and give it to them.”


“We knew we were the better team,” Hayden Ward remarked. “We just had to come out and play our game, and do our best, and we came out on top.”


The game wasn’t just close in the final score, but also in the stats. The Steamrollers had the edge in first downs, 13-11, and in total yards, 363-356, but Canton had fewer penalties, just four for 50 yards, while Steel-High had eight for 60 yards. The Warriors also had the edge in takeaways, 4-2, and scored off all four of them.


“It feels really good to get over that hump, and get our first state win,” said coach Tyler Sechrist. “The kids played together, they played really hard, they never gave up. I told them at the beginning, it’s going to be like a boxing match with four rounds, you might not win every round, you might get knocked down, but you’ve got to get back up, and keep fighting.”


That fight showed as they went into the half losing for the first time this year, down 14-13, with just 50 rushing yards on 19 carries to their name. 


“At halftime we pretty much told them, if we want to win this game, we’ve got to take over up front,” Sechrist said. “And we’ve got to be able to run the ball. They accepted that challenge.”


The Warriors racked up 211 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the second half as they wore down the Steamrollers, who, even when they got their hands on Canton’s backs, struggled to bring them to the ground.


“We just turned the dial,” center Conner Davis said. “That was the best feeling of the night. We just did what we do best, and just ran the ball right down their throats.”


Parker led the charge, with 134 yards rushing and four touchdowns behind 24 carries. Bellows (10 carries, 44 yards), Kitchen (nine carries, 46 yards) and Ward (nine carries, 37 yards) all chipped in, but it was Parker who got the ball when it mattered most.


“We started figuring out what works, their tendencies on defense,” explained Parker. “We started hitting the hole hard, we started wearing them down.”


The Steamrollers had their moments, too, and when they came, they were explosive. Three of their four touchdowns came on plays of 25-yards or more.


Running back Daivin Pryor had touchdown carries for 64 yards and 25 yards as he finished with 125 yards rushing on 16 carries. He proved to be difficult to bring down, seemingly able to spin or juke his way out of trouble, but when Canton was able to get a grip on him, they could get him to the turf, as he had seven carries that were for no gain or negative yardage.


“It was really hard, because he would get behind one of his blockers and shift back and forth,” Ward said. “You had to guess where he was going.”


Sophomore quarterback Alex Erby showed off his arm, going 17-for-26 for 239 yards with two touchdowns, but also two picks. The Warriors’ defensive backs played deep the entire game, which Steelton-Highspire countered by getting the ball out to the receivers on the edge quickly, and let them work in open space.


While they moved the ball like that at times, Canton’s secondary proved to be sure handed tacklers, not letting them break the big one.


“We just wanted to get them low, wrap them up, and take them down,” Ward said. “We kind of were in their playbook a little bit - we watch film - and we knew what they were doing, so, at moments, we knew what to do.”


They did have one big play touchdown - a 44-yard hook up of Erby to Tyrone Moore - but Bellows also had two interceptions on the day, as well, playing in the safety spot.


“We were working on staying deep because they were a big passing team, one of the best we’ve seen,” remarked Bellows. “I think we executed to the best of our ability.”


Even when Steel-High was picking up first downs off quick passes to the outside Canton stayed in their defense, forcing the Steamrollers to drive the ball rather than give up a quick score.


“Their offense is scary,” said Sechrist. “It’s explosive, they can score quick, they’ve got some really good athletes. That was our idea - we need to tackle well, we need to keep everything in front - and I think we did a fairly good job of it.”


It was a battle of field position early, as the Steamrollers took the opening kick-off, and were forced to punt after reaching midfield. Canton then went 3-and-out, punting it back to Steel-High.


On the Steamrollers second drive they got a 14-yard pass play from Erby to Moore on first down to get inside Canton territory. A holding call, and 4-yard loss on a run, pushed them inside their own 40, but they countered with a screen pass to Pryor. He scrambled 31-yards to the Canton 30-yard line to put Steel-High in their best position to score all day.


However, on the ensuing snap, Bellows stepped in front of an Erby throw for his first pick, returning it from the 25 to the 35-yard line.


That’s when Canton went on their patented long drives, going 65-yards on 10 plays to get the first score of the game on a 7-yard Parker run. Parker ran the ball five times during that drive for 19-yards, none bigger than a 5-yard run on 4th-and-4 to keep the drive going. 


A 3-yard run by Bellows on third-and-2 at the Steel-High 16-yard line was also key, with Parker's scoring run coming on third down as well.


Bailey Ferguson added the point after, and Canton led 7-0 with 2:28 left in the opening quarter.


It didn’t take Steel-High long to answer, as on their first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive Pryor took it 64-yards to the house. He was untouched through the line, then juked his way down the field before hitting pay dirt.


Moore’s extra point was just good, and it was tied 7-7 with 2:09 on the clock.


The ensuing Canton drive ended after two plays when Steelton’s Perry picked up a fumble at the Canton 39-yard line.


The Warrior defense held, though, forcing a turnover on downs after a false start turned a 4th-and-1 into a 4th-and-5 for the Steamrollers. Erby’s fourth down pass fell incomplete.


Canton started off their next drive strong as a pass interference call got them to midfield. However, the Steamrollers stalled out their run game, holding them to just six yards on the next three plays and forcing a punt.


The kick was a beauty - 53-yards to be downed at the Steelton-Highspire 2-yard line.


On the Steamrollers’ ensuing drive they got some breathing room as Pryor ran for 19-yards on the first play from scrimmage. They would then convert a 3rd-and-4 three plays later as Erby hit Moore for a 16-yard gain out to their own 43-yard line.


Two plays later Erby found Perry for a 14-yard pick-up, getting them into Warrior territory at the 45-yard line. That’s when they decided to take their shot down field.


Erby threw it up down the left sideline, but his receiver was looking to run towards the middle, while Bellows broke for the ball near the sideline. He ran underneath it for his second interception, ending the Steel-High drive.


Canton’s own drive started slow as two Parker carries went no where. Facing a third-and-10 at their own 11-yard line, the Warriors went deep into the playbook.


They put four receivers to the left, and Bellows to the right. Kitchen then faked a screen to the left, before hitting Bellows in stride down the middle of the field. 


The receiver then out ran the Steamroller defense to the left corner of the end zone for the go ahead touchdown.


“We haven’t run that formation in a while, and we knew, if we threw it at them, they wouldn’t really know what to do, and they were running around,” explained Kitchen. “We got our 1-on-1 with Wes, and he’s not going to lose those battles.”


The Steamroller defense still wasn’t set when Kitchen snapped the ball and Bellows felt this was their chance for a big play.


“I always trust Cooper,” he remarked. “I knew he was going to get me the ball.”


As for once he got it Bellows laughed as he said he only had one thing on his mind.


“I just got to get moving.”


The extra point was blocked, but the score put the Warriors up 13-7 with 3:55 left in the half.


That left plenty of time for Steelton to strike back, but they would have to do it starting at their own 17-yard line.


The drive began with an 8-yard run from Pryor, followed by a 16-yard pass play as Erby hit Rell Ceaser for a 16-yard pick-up. A personal foul call on Canton saw the Steamrollers start their new set of downs at the Warrior 44-yard line.


Canton would force a third-and-8 after that, but Moore answered, hauling in a juggling catch 22-yards down field to make it first-and-10 at the 20-yard line.


A Jakhai Noss 11-yard run three plays later set up first-and-goal at the three. Steel-High tried running the ball with Pryor, was he was dropped 4-yards deep in the backfield, forcing them to use their final timeout as the clock was at 31 seconds to play in the half.


On the next play Steel-High faked the jet sweep as Erby hit Perry on a 7-yard seam to get into the end zone. Moore hit the point after, and Steel-High led 14-13 with 26.8 seconds to play in the quarter.


The Warriors got the ball to start the second half, but fumbled it away on the second play from scrimmage.


Steel-High took over at the Canton 40-yard line, but only went backwards thanks to a false start, followed by a 10-yard loss on a screen play, which forced them to punt.


On Canton’s ensuing drive a 32-yard gain by Kitchen on the second play got the Warriors to the Steel-High 39-yard line. Their drive didn’t go much further, though, as, on third-and-3, Kitchen was sacked by Pryor, forcing another punt, and the field position game was on.


The Steamrollers took over at their own 6-yard line, and nearly gave up a safety as, on a jet sweep by Moore, Ward came through the line to make the tackle at the 1-yard line.


However, back to back passing plays of 10 and nine yards saw Steel-High get out to the 20-yard. Disaster struck for them on the next snap as the ball ended up on the ground, and got kicked into the arms of Parker, giving it back to the Warriors at the Steamroller 21-yard line.


Canton didn’t do much on their first two plays from scrimmage, but on third-and-4 Parker went over the right side 15-yards to pay dirt. The 2-point conversion was no good, but Canton was back on top 19-14 with 4:17 left in the third quarter.


Things went from bad to worse for Steel-High on their next possession, as they, on the first snap, fumbled it away again, with Canton’s Mason Shultz falling on it.


Two plays later Parker ran 16-yards over the left side to pay dirt, putting Canton up 25-14 with 3:48 on the clock.


“It felt really good,” Parker said about the stretch. “Our line was opening up holes, our backs were leading them up through great for me, and just feeling the momentum coming to our side - it feels amazing.”


The Steamrollers responded the next time out, beginning with a 28-yard pass play from Erby to Ceaser to get inside Canton territory at the 36-yard line.


Three plays later Pryor was able to juke his way 25-yards to the house. The 2-point conversion was no good, but the Steamrollers cut it to 25-20 with 2:12 left in the third quarter.


Canton would answer on their next drive, this one another patented Warrior possession. Starting at their own 35-yard line they would go 65-yards on eight plays - all runs - ending with a 15-yard Parker run over the right side into the end zone.


Ward (four carries, 27-yards) and Parker (four carries, 33-yards) alternated carries, and they were aided by a facemask penalty. 


Ferguson hit the point after and it was Canton back up by two scores, 32-20, with 10:35 left to play.


Once again, though, the Steamrollers proved resilient. On their ensuing drive they were able finally get a big pass play downfield as, on the fifth play of the possession Erby found Moore down the right side for 44-yards for the score. Moore’s kick was good, and Canton’s lead was down to 32-26 with 8:59 left to play.


The Warriors went on a time killing drive in their next possession, starting at their own 33-yard line, and getting down to the Steel-High 19.


However, a chop block call pushed them back to the 27, for a first-and-25. The drive fizzled out, as Kitchen’s pass on 4th-and-14 was incomplete, turning it over on downs.


Steel-High, though, had no timeouts left with under two minutes to play, and needed to go 85-yards to get the go ahead score.


“We knew they were going deep,” Parker said. “We all played back deep, just to make sure to keep it in front of us.”


Erby’s first two passes were short, but didn’t connect. They then tried going downfield on the next two throws, but both fell incomplete, giving Canton the ball back. They went victory formation, and kneeled twice to run out the clock.


“We knew they were going to have a high powered offense, and they were going to get their points,” said Kitchen. “We just had to keep our heads, power through, and wear them down to win the game.”


It helped that Canton was able to stay ahead of the Steamrollers for much of the contest. Even though they were behind at the half, they scored first, and never let Steel-High get a touchdown ahead of them.


“That’s always a good feeling, when you get to play ahead,” said Kitchen. “Slow the clock down, do what you want to do, and they don’t get to dictate what you get to do.”


Now Canton will face Old Forge, 26-7 winners over Williams Valley, at a place, day, and time to be determined.


“It’s going to be another tough game, one of the top teams in the state,” said Ward. “None of the games are going to be easy after this, they’re all going to be tough games. We just have to keep after it, and play our best.”


This will be a different test for Canton, as Old Forge has more in common with the Warriors than they do Steel-High.


“For us, it’s like looking in a mirror,” said Sechrist. “They’re kind of the same kind of football team. We’re just going to need to be physical, we’re just going to need to do what we we do, and get another good week of practice in.”


Both teams will be going in undefeated, but don’t expect Canton to be intimidated, or trying anything fancy.


Davis said it best.


“We’re not going to change what’s not broken.”



PHOTO CAPTION: Canton’s Riley Parker runs in for a touchdown…PHOTOS BY LANCE LARCOM/VIDEO BY EDDIE LARCOM


CANTON 32, STEELTON-HIGHSPIRE 27


Scoring Summary

First Quarter

C - Riley Parker 7-yard run (Bailey Ferguson kick), 2:28

S - Daivin Pryor 64-yard run (Tyrone Moore kick), 2:09

Second Quarter

C - Cooper Kitchen 89-yard pass to Wes Bellows (kick blocked), 3:55

S - Alex Erby 7-yard pass to Jaieon Perry (Tyrone Moore kick), :26.8

Third Quarter

C - Riley Parker 15-yard run (run failed), 4:17

C - Riley Parker 16-yard run (run failed), 3:48

S - Daivin Pryor 25-yard run (pass failed), 2:12

Fourth Quarter

C - Riley Parker 15-yard run (Bailey Ferguson kick), 10:35

S - Alex Erby 44-yard pass to Tyrone Moore (Tyrone Moore kick), 8:59


Individual Stats

Steelton-Highspire

Passing

Alex Erby 17-26-239-2-2

Rushing

Daivin Pryor 16-125-2, Jakhai Noss 3-6, Tyrone Moore 3-15, Jaieon Perry 1-(-5), Team 2-(-1)

Receiving

Tyrone Moore 7-109-1, Jaieon Perry 3-28-1, Rell Ceaser 6-71, Daivin Pryor 1-31

Canton

Passing

Cooper Kitchen 2-4-95-1-0

Rushing

Riley Parker 24-134-4, Wes Bellows 10-44, Hayden Ward 9-37, Cooper Kitchen 9-46

Receiving

Wes Bellows 1-89-1, Hayden Ward 1-6


Team Stats

Steel-High Canton

Rushes/Yards 25/124 52/261

Passing Yards 239 95

First Downs 13 11

Penalties/Yards 8/60 4/50

Fumbles/Lost 3/2 2/2

Interceptions: Canton-Wes Bellows (2)



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