SHEFFIELD — After a flat start on Saturday afternoon at Sheffield Area High School, the Elk County Catholic Crusaders used a strong second half to record an 18-0 win over the Wolverines and improve to 2-0 on the season.
While it rained periodically throughout the contest, the weather did not seem to have much of an impact on the game. ECC coach Travis Skrzypek blamed his squad’s first-half struggles on a lack of motivation throughout the week.
“When you practice flat all week and you’re flat before the game, you normally play flat,” Skrzypek said.
The Crusaders found themselves inside the 10-yard line three times throughout the first quarter but were shut down by Sheffield’s defense on each occasion and unable to make it into the endzone.
“At halftime we really didn’t scream and yell or anything, we just said ‘You guys, we play football games. You get one a week, you practice all week for that purpose, make the best out of it. You’ve got two quarters left, play the best you can for two quarters and see what happens,’” Skrzypek said.
“They did a good job coming back, fixing the things we had to, and making some nice blocks and running hard, and playing some emotional football, which we didn’t that first half at all,” he added.
The Crusaders were led by Brock McCullough with 76 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Hank Cappiello added 53 yards on seven carries, Ben Cortina had 50 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, and Joe McLaughlin had 43 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
For Sheffield, Brandon Johnston had 56 yards on 11 carries.
ECC quarterback Mitchell Vallone was 3-of-11 for 21 yards. Vallone was also picked off twice, both times in the endzone on fourth down.
Clayton Housler and Devin Constable both caught 18-yard passes for the Crusaders.
Sheffield quarterback Shequan Wright was 3-of-12 for 38 yards. The Crusaders intercepted Wright three times, with Housler, Constable, and Vallone each recording a pick.
Dylan Reynolds caught one pass for 9 yards, Brendan Winslow caught one pass for 14 yards, and Brandon Johnston caught one pass for 15 yards.
The Crusaders won the coin toss and elected to receive. After about a 13-yard return by McCullough, ECC started their opening drive at their own 33-yard line. Eight plays later, they had made it all the way to Sheffield’s 20-yard line, but that is as far as they got. Vallone ran the ball on every play during that final set of downs and was ultimately sacked for an 11-yard loss on fourth down, turning the ball over to the Wolverines at their own 31-yard line.
Sheffield made it as far as their own 41-yard line before they were hit with a holding penalty and backed up to the 30. After a pair of incomplete passes by Wright, he attempted to punt on fourth down but ended up chasing down the ball after a bad snap, ultimately setting the Crusaders up with excellent field position as they took over at Sheffield’s 6-yard line.
ECC was unable to capitalize on the situation, though. McLaughlin was unable to gain any ground on first down and McCullough lost four yards after receiving the handoff on second down. A 10-yard holding penalty negated what would have been a touchdown by McCullough and backed ECC up to the 17-yard line. After an incomplete pass on third down, Vallone’s fourth-down pass was picked off in the endzone by Wright for a touchback, resulting in Sheffield getting the ball back at their own 20-yard line.
The Wolverines began their drive as the first quarter ended and were able to pick up about 10 yards before Wright fumbled and the ball was recovered by Cappiello for ECC.
This time the Crusaders’ offense took over at Sheffield’s 24-yard line and made it as close as the 6-yard line before Vallone was again intercepted in the endzone on fourth down for a touchback, this time by Winslow.
On the first play of Sheffield’s final drive of the half, Wright had a pass intercepted by Clayton Housler, giving the ball back to ECC with about 20 seconds remaining on the clock, and Vallone took a knee, sending the game into halftime.
Wright was again picked off on Sheffield’s opening drive of the second half, this time by Devin Constable. The Crusaders were again unable to capitalize, though, and both teams ended up trading punts.
Starting their drive at their own 19-yard line following a penalty on the return, the Crusaders finally came alive and put together a six-play drive to score their first touchdown on a 46-yard run by McCullough. The PAT attempt was no good, leaving ECC with a 6-0 advantage with 2:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Sheffield fumbled the ball away on their ensuing drive, setting the Crusaders up with the ball at the Wolverines' 45-yard line. This time it took the Elk Catholic squad seven plays to get back into the endzone on a six-yard run by McLaughlin. The try for two failed, making ECC’s lead 12-0 with 9:39 left in the game.
Wright was picked off again on Sheffield’s next drive, this time by Vallone, but the Crusaders ended up punting the ball away after losing ground and getting held up at their own 43-yard line. Sheffield also did not get far on their next possession and Wright was once again prepared to punt when a fumble on the snap again sent him chasing after the ball. While Wright was able to recover the fumble at Sheffield’s 23-yard line, the Wolverines still turned the ball over on downs, giving ECC excellent field position. Five plays later, Ben Cortina fought his way into the endzone for the Crusaders’ final touchdown of the contest. The PAT failed, giving ECC an 18-0 lead with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
Starting their final drive at their own 37-yard line, Wright completed a 15-yard pass to Brandon Johnston before time ran out and the Crusaders recorded the 18-0 victory.
The Crusaders are now 2-0 on the season and 2-0 in the Allegheny Mountain League.
ECC will be back in action on Friday evening as they travel to Cameron County to take on the Red Raiders in a 7 p.m. contest at Emporium.