| home | about us | search | links | contact

Woodland Hills Backup QB Ignites Comeback Win

by Rick Smith, Nauticom Sports Network

Woodland Hills (9-0) got some help from their backup quarterback that propelled the Wolverines to a 30-22 win at Penn Hills (8-1) last Friday night. With the win, the Wolverines claimed the championship of the WPIAL's Quad East Conference. It is the first time in school history that Woodland Hills has ever completed the regular season with an undefeated mark.

Both teams will host first round playoff games in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs this Friday night. Woodland Hills is expected to get the #1 seed in the bracket.

Penn Hills dominated the football game in the first half of action. The Indians led 10-0 at intermission on the strength of a 3-yard Melvin Kirby touchdown run and a 27 yard field goal by Joe Laubach.

The Indians dominance was even more evident statistically than on the scoreboard. Penn Hills outgained Woodland Hills in total net yards 132-57 during the first half. They ran 33 plays from scrimmage to the Wolverines' 15 plays. Time of possession was 16:56 to 7:04 in favor of the home team.

A move made by Wolverines' head coach George Novak near the end of the first half, however, proved to be the difference. That's when Novak decided to insert backup quarterback Shawntae Spencer into the game for starter Marty Spieler. Spencer and Spieler were platooned at quarterback early in the season for Novak.

"Marty has been hot the last few weeks and we didn't want to mess that up," said Spencer.

Spencer also played extremely well on defense all night. His interception at the Woodland Hills 4-yard line stopped a Penn Hills threat on the first possession of the game.

Spencer, a 6'2" 170 pound senior, got things going for the Wolverines on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter with a 13 yard run. He then handed the ball off to Maurice Walker who blasted his way through the Penn Hills' defense for a 54 yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 10-7. Walker finished the game with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries.

"We made some adjustments up front on the line (during halftime)", said Novak, "We told (the players) that this is when you can see how you handle adversity."

A 10-0 halftime deficit is one thing. The adversity that Woodland Hills would next encounter was quite another.

With the score still 10-7 in favor Penn Hills, Woodland Hills' drive stalled and the Wolverines had to punt the ball away. On the return, starting WR/DB Rafael Smith, a 6'1" 170 pound senior, was severely injured. Smith lay on the field for over 15 minutes and had to be removed on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital in an ambulance. The preliminary report from the hospital was that Smith had suffered broken ribs.

The injury to Smith, who starred in a 21-0 win over McKeesport just one week earlier, appeared to take the wind out of the Wolverines' sails, if only temporarily.

Penn Hills immediately drove 55 yards in six plays to extend the lead on a one yard sneak by quarterback Glenn Hood. The big play of the drive was a 30 yard burst by Kirby that advanced the ball to the Woodland Hills' 5 yard line. The extra point snap was fumbled and the Indians had a 16-7 lead with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter.

With things looking bleak for the Wolverines, Spencer made perhaps the biggest play of the game. Under heavy pressure, he threw a 38 yard touchdown strike to Earl Smith. The hook-up cut the Penn Hills' lead to two points, 16-14, just 51 seconds after the Indians' previous score.

"I saw him open at the last second," said Spencer, "I got hit, but he got it."

Woodland Hills took the lead for the first time in the game early in the fourth quarter. When a 10 play, 55 yard drive stalled at the Penn Hills 15 yard line, the head coach called on his son, Austin Novak, to kick a field goal. The young sophomore did not disappoint his father as he nailed a 32 yarder right between the uprights.

It was the Woodland Hills defense that set the tone of the game the rest of the way. On the ensuing possession, linebacker Tyre Young, back in the lineup after missing six weeks with a broken leg, picked off Hood's pass and returned it to the Penn Hills 26 yard line. Four plays later, Spencer knifed his way into the endzone from seven yards out to extend the Wolverines' lead to 23-16 with 8:43 to go in the game.

Penn Hills fumbled the ball away on its next two possessions. The first one did not hurt. The second one broke the camel's back. Hood and Kirby never completed the handoff, as soon as the ball hit the turf, it was scooped up by senior defensive back Terry Turner who raced 55 yards to paydirt. The Wolverines led 30-16 with 2:48 left on the game clock.

Penn Hills tried to rally as Hood, on a fourth down and 21 yards to go play, completed a 26 yard pass to senior wide receiver Joe Ciccarelli to the Woodland Hills' 5 yard line. Kirby plunged in from a yard out two plays later to cut the Wolverines' lead to eight points. Kirby led all rushers with 194 yards on 37 carriers.

Penn Hills' hopes fizzled as an attempted on-side kick sailed out of bounds. Woodland Hills subsequently ran out the clock.

"We knew we struggled in the first half," said Spencer, "We got hot and things just happened. We just realized we had step it up."

"We wanted this so bad for Coach Novak," said linebacker and defensive captain Charles Cannon, "We worked real hard for this as a team."

"This feels good right now, but we still have a lot to do," added Spencer, "The important stuff starts next week."