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Backup QB Keys Oliver Comeback Over Perry
By Rick Smith, Nauticom Sports Network

The drizzle and gloom created by the remnants of Hurricane Floyd hung over South Stadium Thursday afternoon. The weather, however, could not put a damper on one of Pittsburgh's fiercest high school rivalries. For football fans from the Pittsburgh's North Side, Oliver vs. Perry only comes once a year.

A small but very enthusiastic crowd braved the elements to see these two teams, located only a few miles apart, battle for first place in the Pittsburgh City League (District 8). The intensity level was very high and ferocious hitting was the rule of the afternoon. In the end, it was the Oliver Bears (3-0) that overcame a seemingly endless stream of mistakes to score a come-from-behind 20-13 victory in the game's final minute.

Oliver didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard. The first player to touch the ball was punt returner Mike Wellons who raced 76 yards for a touchdown to put the Bears on top, 6-0, just 71 seconds into the contest.

Perry (2-1) answered immediately as the Commodores caught Oliver in an all-out blitz on a third down and long play during the ensuing drive. Junior quarterback Damien Cornish hit Lamar Griffith on a slant-in pattern that produced a 49 yard touchdown, knotting the score 6-6.

Perry appeared poised to take the lead midway through the second quarter. On third down and goal from the Oliver 7 yard line, Troy Gonzalez stepped in front of a would-be Perry receiver for an interception that ended the Commodores' threat. It would not be the last time that Gonzalez would come up big for the Bears.

Less than two minutes after the Gonzalez pick-off, the previously dormant Oliver offense awoke from hibernation. One play after a 22 yard pass from sophomore quarterback Dennis Robinson to Gonzalez advanced the Bears to midfield, senior tailback Vito Nalls raced 50 yards for a touchdown.

Perry again squandered a scoring opportunity late in the half. Following an Oliver fumble, Perry had the ball at the Oliver 10 yard line. Successive illegal procedure and offensive pass interference penalties, however, stalled the drive.

Despite a mostly lackluster performance on offense and six encroachment penalties on defense, Oliver took a 12-6 lead to the half-time locker room.

In a very sloppy third quarter, the weather no doubt playing a large role, the teams combined for five turnovers. It was the third Oliver miscue, a fumbled punt recovered by Perry's David Venson at the Bears' 1 yard line, that led to Perry's final touchdown. Cornish scored on the following play on a 1 yard sneak. John Haris nailed the extra point to give Perry its only lead of the afternoon with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, 13-12.

With under 5 minutes remaining in the game, Oliver head coach Joe Zeglowitsch elected to go with his back-up quarterback. Senior Henry Wallace, 5 inches taller than the 5'10" Robinson, almost immediately made an impact on his first play from the shot-gun formation. On third down and 20 yards to go from the Perry 40 yard line, Wallace unleashed a bullet into the endzone that was dropped by Gonzalez.

Zeglowitsch then ignored the high percentage play and elected not to punt on fourth down and pin back the Commodores deep in own their territory. Wallace's fourth down pass sailed well over the head of the intended receiver and Perry took over on downs at its own 40 yard line with 4:19 left in the game.

The Oliver defense then came up huge and forced a punt after just three plays from scrimmage gained just one yard for the Commodores.

The Bears began their game-winning drive at their own 46 yard line with 1:55 remaining in the game. Wallace took charge by leading his troops into Perry territory with a 13 yard scramble and a 7 yard pass completion.

Wallace then completed the heroics with a 30 yard touchdown pass. The first-team split end turned QB rifled the ball into the waiting hands of Gonzalez who had cut his pattern off 2 yards deep in the endzone. Nalls converted the two point run after touchdown to stretch the lead to 7 points.

A desperation pass by Cornish was intercepted with 26 seconds remaining and Oliver had a hard-fought 20-13 win over its biggest rival.