By Matt Popchock
Last season the Woodland Hills Wolverines showed what it takes to win a championship. On Friday they showed what it takes to defend it.
The seventh-seeded Wolverines (8-3) displayed the heart of a champion and shocked the second-seeded Mount Lebanon Blue Devils (10-1) 29-22 in overtime in the WPIAL Class AAAA Quarterfinals at Baldwin Stadium behind three touchdowns from senior tailback Lafayette Pitts, including the game-winner, and an amazing last-second drive by quarterback Pat Menifee to force the extra session.
Woodland Hills earned a date with No. 3 seed North Hills in the WPIAL Class AAAA Semifinals next Friday at a site to be determined.
Pitts finished with 170 yards on 33 carries to help push the Wolverines to the heart-stopping win, their seventh in a row, while Mount Lebanon junior tailback Luke Hagy ran for 160 yards on 42 carries in the loss, scoring all three of the Blue Devils' touchdowns. Menifee struggled, finishing just 5-for-15 with 92 yards, but his game-tying TD pass was one of several plays he made that saved his team's season.
These are two very reputable programs that have prided themselves on playing meat-and-potatoes football, relying upon their respective tailbacks to carry the load and their offensive lines to clear a path. At the game's outset it was Pitts and his teammates who were able to carry that load a little further.
The Blue Devils went three-and-out, but Pitts, unlike Hagy, didn't go down so easily. Pitts ran an incredible 15 times behind his linemen during Woodland Hills' first drive of the night, a nearly nine-minute affair that began at their own ten-yard line, converting key third and fourth downs deep in Lebo territory. He capped it off with an easy two-yard touchdown run around left end, and Sam Scifo's extra point gave the visiting Wolverines a 7-0 lead with 1:50 left in the opening frame.
Mount Lebanon's defense redeemed itself in the second quarter, and on multiple occasions, in fact. Defensive lineman Connor Minnick recovered a bad snap fumbled by Menifee inside Woody High's 20-yard line, and a facemask penalty against the Wolverines on the ensuing play set the table for Hagy. He powered his way toward the goal line and on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard marker dove to his right to get Lebo on the board with 3:24 to go in the half.
A blocked extra point preserved the Wolverines' lead, but Lebo forced another fumble by Menifee, and on a penalty-filled series that included a near-interception dropped by defensive back Jason Peterson, quarterback Pat Goff found Hagy, who made a beautiful catch in the back left corner of the end zone from 16 yards out as the half expired. Goff then hooked up with Mike Briercheck, and the receiver snuck inside the pylon to complete the two-point play and give Mount Lebanon its first lead, 14-7, at the break.
However, the lead was short-lived, and fittingly, it was Pitts who erased it. On the second-half kickoff Mike Caprara, who played a fine first half shadowing Hagy much of the way, made a nice block to spring Pitts, and he turned on the jets for a 95-yard score on the return. Scifo's kick tied the game at 14, and then the game became a matter of missed opportunities for both schools.
George Novak opened up his playbook and let Pitts turn the pages, as the tailback ran for 32 yards on a fake punt into Mount Lebanon territory, then converted a fourth down, but was stopped on another inside the Blue Devils' five-yard line, albeit after a questionable spot on third down. Woodland Hills' defense held firm, but Pitts fumbled a punt near midfield on the next-to-last play of the third quarter. The fourth quarter began with Goff giving it right back to the Wolverines on an interception by Division I recruit Ejuan Price, and it continued, as did the turnovers, with Lebo's Jake Alberts picking off Menifee with 10:34 left.
As the fourth-quarter clock wound and Hagy and Mount Lebanon marched the ball down the field, Woody High continued beating itself, allowing Lebo to convert a critical third down and 3 with an encroachment penalty. The Blue Devils took advantage of the gift, and head coach Chris Haering continued giving the ball to his prized running back on the game's most critical drive. It led to a fourth-and-goal from inside the one-yard line, at which point Hagy catapulted himself over the right side for his third touchdown of the night and 29th of the season to put Lebo ahead 20-14. With their regular kicker injured, the Blue Devils decided to go for two once again, and Goff found Dylan White wide open just before he was hit to make it an eight-point lead with 1:54 to go.
It looked like Lebo was on its way to the semis, and that's when Menifee engineered a game-tying drive that will likely be talked about by observers and/or Woodland Hills football boosters for years to come. He converted a fourth-and-11 on a 13-yard pass to Ejuan Price and later threw for 18 yards to Shakim Alonzo to give the Wolverines a shot in Mount Lebanon territory. From the Mount Lebanon 32-yard line Menifee heaved one right down the middle of the field that was tipped by two men and caught by Devon White for a touchdown to pull the Wolverines within two. With Menifee about to be sacked on the two-point attempt, he threw up a prayer, and somehow it was answered by an undefended White, who caught the desperation toss to pull the Wolverines even, 22-22, with :16 left in regulation.
On the first play of overtime Pitts swept it to his right and shook off a defender, racing inside the end zone for a ten-yard score, his 20th touchdown of the year, to give Woodland Hills the lead for good. With Lebo facing third-and-goal from the two-yard line Caprara stopped Hagy cold for a two-yard loss before a Goff incompletion under pressure sealed an improbable comeback by the defending Quad-A champs.
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