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Dream Match-up Set for WPIAL Class AAA Final

by Rick Smith, Nauticom Sports Network

Photos by Pete Gyrich

WPIAL football fans will be treated to a battle between unbeaten teams this Saturday at Three Rivers stadium. Belle Vernon and West Allegheny, both a perfect 11-0 this season, pitched shutouts in their respective WPIAL Class AAA semi-final games last Saturday to advance to the championship game. Both games were played at Three Rivers Stadium.

Top seeded West Allegheny topped Thomas Jefferson 17-0. Belle Vernon, seeded second, defeated Elizabeth Forward 28-0.

Belle Vernon, champions of the Keystone Conference, took a while to get on track on offense against the Warriors. The Leopards, entering the game averaging nearly 42 points per game, did not score until their last possession of the first half on a 2 yard run by Nick Kalcevic.

Belle Vernon, however, quickly blew open the game in the first four minutes of the second half. On the Leopards' first possession of the third quarter, junior quarterback Josh Cramer hooked up with wideout Ryan Russell for a 61 yard scoring strike.

Less than three minutes later, Russell came up big again with a 75 yard punt return for a touchdown. Russell also contributed a diving pass interception that halted a Warriors' drive in the first quarter.

Kalcevic added a thrilling 98 yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter for the Leopards' final tally. Kalcevic finished the game with 258 yards on 21 carries. The 5'11" 190 pound junior tailback has now rushed for 1,993 yards rushing and has scored 26 touchdowns this season.

Belle Vernon won the battle of net offensive yardage by a wide margin, 428-165.

It was the the third shutout of the season for the Leopards. Elizabeth Forward scored 43 points in a wild, 7-point loss to Belle Vernon earlier this season.

Elizabeth Forward (7-5) played without star running back Pat Risha, out of the game with mononucleosis. Aaron Davis, Risha's replacement, led the Wariors with 139 yards rushing on 27 carries.

NSN's Don Rebel interviews Pat Risha

WPIAL Executive Director Larry Hanley

While Belle Vernon did most of its damage in the second half, West Allegheny came out with guns blazing from the opening whistle in its win over Thomas Jefferson.

On the first play from scrimmage, Allen Miller scored on a 50 yard reverse run around left end that gave the Indians a 7-0 lead with 9:57 left in the first quarter.

With Thomas Jefferson threatening to tie the game, sophomore Tyler Palko made an outstanding interception of a Steve Scott pass at the West Allegheny 3 yard line, barely dragging his toes in bounds as he made the pick. Palko then capped off a 97 yard drive with a 1 yard sneak to make the score 14-0 at haftime.

West Allegheny's defense, aided by a pair of fatal second half errors by the Jaguars, did the rest. Thomas Jefferson had a 38 yard touchdown pass called back on a holding call in the third quarter. Early in the fourth quarter, with a fourth down and 1 yard to go situation inside the West Allegheny 5 yard line, Scott fumbled the snap from center to extinguish any fire left in the Thomas Jefferson comeback bid.

West Allegheny Head Coach Bob Palko

The only scoring of the second half was a 33 yard field goal by West Allegheny's Derek Javarone early in the third quarter.

All the news was not good for West Allegheny. The Indians' top lineman, tackle Mitch Fedorko, suffered a lower leg injury early in the game and did not return to action. It is unclear whether Fedorko will be able to particpate in the title game.

The shutout was West Allegeheny's seventh of the campaign. The Indians, allowing a mere 2.2 points per game, have not allowed more than 7 points in any one game this year. West Allegheny outgained Thomas Jefferson 252-121 in total offense. The Jaguars, featuring the largest offensive line among WPIAL Class AAA teams, were held to 2.4 yards per rushing attempt.

Belle Vernon's high powered, big play offense will meet the stingy West Allegheny defense Saturday at 1pm on the carpet at Three Rivers Stadium. Something will have to give.