RENNINGERS, Pa. — Both teams came in with junior running backs touting more than 1,800 yards rushing on the season. Both of those backs left having neared or eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark.
Just one of those halfbacks reached the end zone six times in Bristol's PIAA Class A opener last night at Blue Mountain High School and that was Schuylkill Haven RB Will Casella. The scoring leader on the season for the Hurricanes with 34 touchdowns, Casella reached paydirt four times in the first half, putting the District 11 champions on top, 35-21, at the break.
Casella reached paydirt twice more after the intermission and Haven's QB Ryan Fink scored his second touchdown of the night, this one a 42-yard scoring jaunt and the ' Canes took the playoff going away, winning by a 56-27 score.
Schuylkill Haven (10-3) advances to the state quarterfinals where it will face District 2 Champion Old Forge (12-1), a 19-14 upset winner over District 4 Champion Southern Columbia (12-1) in a duel that took place last night at Kemp Memorial Stadium in Shamokin, Pa.
Bristol's season comes to a halt at 9-2 while its postseason run ends at 1-1 after last week's District 1 Class A championship win, the school's second in as many campaigns.
Midway through the first period, the Warriors answered Casella's first TD of the game with a 6-yard scoring run by junior RB Donte Simmons, set up by an electrifying 80-yard kick return by senior Tyriq Wilson. But Bristol failed to answer the bell on three occasions in the first half and three more after the break. The Warriors also didn't capitalize on a game-opening fumble by its opponent.
Holding a 14-point edge, Schuylkill Haven began the second half much the same way it started — with a sustained scoring run. The ' Canes capped a 10-play, 71-yard possession with a 4-yard TD jaunt by who else — Casella.
The fifth touchdown of the game by the SH junior back put his team on top, 42-21 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter.
Now trailing by 21 points, the Warriors went to the air, with senior QB Trevor Leone getting a couple of passes off to junior WR Kyle Slivka-Fralin and another off to senior Aiden Coughlin. While the 12th-grader dropped the ball at the 5 yard line, senior lineman Adair Mustafa fell on the ball in the end zone drawing Bristol within 15 points of their upstate foes.
With good position after an on-sides kick, however, it only took the ' Canes a couple of plays to reach paydirt yet again, this one a 42-yard scamper by Fink, putting Haven on top 49-27 with just 7:20 to go in the game.
When Bristol went 4-and-out on its next possession, conversely, it took Haven the same number of plays to reach the end zone yet again. The ' Canes drive from midfield was capped by a 33-yard scoring jaunt by Casella, his sixth TD of the night.
While Haven began the first half with a fumble, it was the Warriors — already trailing 14-7 — turning the ball over with a minute to go in the first quarter. The ' Canes made Bristol pay for the gaffe, scoring on Casella's third TD of the game, a 5-yard scamper in which the junior back went into the end zone untouched, putting the D-11 champs on top 21-7.
Simmons got the Warriors right back into the game however, electrifying the Bristol faithful with a 73-yard TD scamper in which no one came close to tackling the elusive back.
The ' Canes kept coming though, putting together a sustained drive the length of the field capped by another TD by Casella, this one a 3-yard scoring run. Haven's fourth TD was set up by a 32-yard jaunt by Fink.
On the Warriors' next possession, the red and white mishandled a squib kick and was subsequently hemmed in at their own 8 yard line. Bristol went nowhere on the drive and was forced to punt from its own end zone.
Taking over inside Bristol's 25 yard line, it didn't take long for Haven to reach the end zone again, this time reaching paydirt on a 2-yard run by Fink, going up 35-14.
Now, the Warriors weren't going to quit, putting together a 75-yard TD drive of their own, capped off with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Slivka Fralin, a perfect strike from Leone with 2:07 to go in the half. It took Bristol exactly 30 seconds to reach the end zone on the possession.
But the Warriors turned the ball over on downs twice in the second half and punted the ball away on its last possession enabling the victors to run out the clock with just 2:44 left to play.
Bristol got to the playoff with a 19-6 win over DelCo Christian last Saturday in the D-1 Championship. Simmons set a new career rushing record in the title game with 171 yards on 24 carries, bringing him to 4,394 yards overall, surpassing the previous mark of 4,330 held by 2010 graduate Woodrow Vorters.
Schuylkill Haven took the District 11 crown with a 42-16 triumph over Williams Valley, the team the Warriors beat in their PIAA opener last season.
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Bristol, Schuylkill Haven
(Nov. 22 at Blue Mountain HS)
Schuylkill Haven 14 21 7 14 — 56
Bristol 7 14 0 6 — 27
SH: Casella 1 run (Trumbo kick)
B: Simmons 6 run (Santana kick)
SH: Casella 5 run (Trumbo kick)
SH: Casella 4 run (Trumbo kick)
B: Simmons 73 run (Santana kick)
SH: Casella 5 run (kick blocked)
SH: Fink 6 run (Casella run)
B: Slivka-Fralin 35 pass from Leone (Santana kick)
SH: Casella 6 run (Trumbo kick)
B: fumble rec. by Mustafa (kick blocked)
SH: Fink 42 run (Trumbo kick)
SH: Casella 33 run (Trumbo kick)