By Chris Rossetti
CLARION, Pa. – For a quarter and a half things looked pretty good for Karns City in its PIAA Class AA quarterfinal game with WPIAL champion South Fayette.
But things quickly turned south for the District 9 champion Gremlins (12-2), who allowed 28 unanswered points in the final 6:16 of the first half and saw their season end with a 57-21 loss to the Lions at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium.
Karns City led 22-15 following a 3-yard Tristan Rhoades touchdown run with 7:37 left in the first half.
But that was the high-water mark for the Gremlins, as South Fayette scored four touchdowns and 28 points in a span of 5:19 to take a 43-21 halftime lead.
“I’ve coached enough, I’ve had games go like this,” Karns City coach Ed Conto said. “It happens. We had a couple of turnovers, and they got two quick touchdowns. They are very good on both sides of the ball and especially in their line. They have strength and speed up front.”
Three Brett Brumbaugh touchdown passes and a JJ Walker scoring run aided by a pair of Tyler Kepple interceptions were the keys to the South Fayette surge.
Walker gave the Lions (14-0) the lead for good on a 1-yard run at the 6:16 mark that was set up by a 36-yard Roman Denson kickoff return into Gremlin territory.
Denson then picked off a Kepple pass and returned it to the Karns City 26 setting up a 26-yard Brumbaugh to Logan Sharp touchdown pass at the 5:43 mark putting South Fayette ahead 29-15.
The Lions were far from down in the half, as Brumbaugh connected with Justin Watson on an 18-yard scoring strike making it 36-15 with 2:08 to play, and then Brumbaugh hit Watson with a 10-yard scoring pass with 57 seconds left after a Connor Beck interception of Kepple to make it 43-16.
“Their line across the board didn’t give us anything,” Conto said. “We couldn’t get any pressure, and they have great receivers and a great quarterback who can get them the ball. They have a great offense.”
The game became a Mercy Rule contest two minutes into the third quarter when Brumbaugh hit Watson again, this time from 21 yards out, to make it 50-15 before a 1-yard Walker touchdown run midway through the third quarter set the final score.
“We were fortunate we made some plays in the second quarter and get the game turned around before halftime,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “They came out and gave us a great effort. We knew they would. We know they are tired of hearing about the WPIAL.”
Karns City took an early 7-0 lead on a 4-yard Rhoades touchdown run before Brumbaugh hit Beck with an 80-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10, and a little trickery on the extra point – a direct snap to kicker Brian Coyne – led to a 2-point conversion and an 8-7 South Fayette lead.
South Fayette made it 15-7 on a 3-yard Walker touchdown run, one of three on the day for him, late in the first quarter before Rhoades intercepted a Brumbaugh pass and returned it 31 yards for a score, the first pick-six against the Lions quarterback, early in the second quarter to get the Gremlins back within two.
“We just started out a little sluggish,” Brumbaugh, who threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns, said. “That’s on me. I didn’t come out as focused as I should have.”
The Lions, who will play Hickory in the semifinals next week, outgained Karns City 499-161. Brumbaugh, who is already over 6,000 yards career passing as a junior, was 18 of 33 for 340 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Beck had five catches for 146 yards and a score, while Watson had five grabs for 71 yards and three touchdowns and Sharp four for 83 and a touchdown.
Wyatt Everetts led Karns City with nine carries for 48 yards, while KEpple was 2-for-11 for 38 yards and two picks.
South Fayette will face Hickory in the PIAA semifinals next week.
SOUTH FAYETTE 57, KARNS CITY 21
Score by Quarters
South Fayette 15 28 14 0 – 57
Karns City 7 14 0 0 – 21
KC – Tristan Rhoades 4 run (Zach Moore kick), 2:03
SF – Conner Beck 80 pass from Brett Brumbaugh (Brian Coyne run), 4:34
SF – JJ Walker 3 run (Coyne kick), 1:10
KC – Rhoades 31 interception return (Pass failed), 10:10
KC – Rhoades 3 run (Tyler Dunn pass from Zach Moore), 7:37
SF – Walker 1 run (Coyne kick), 6:16
SF – Logan Sharp 26 pass from Brumbaugh (Coyne kick), 5:45
SF – Justin Watson 18 pass from Brumbaugh (Coyne kick), 2:08
SF – Watson 10 pass from Brumbaugh (Coyne kick), 0:57
SF – Watson 21 pass from Brumbaugh (Coyne kick), 9:59
SF – Walker 1 run (Coyne kick), 5:38
First Downs 23 8
Rushes-Yards 30-159 38-123
Passing Yards 340 38
Comp-Att-Int 18-33-1 2-12-2
Total Yards 499 161
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-1
Penalties-Yards 4-40 1-15
Punts-Avg. 4-20.2 5-42.6
Rushing – South Fayette: Grant Fetchet 9-61, JJ Walker 6-36, Conner Beck 3-35, Mikey Speca 4-19, Jasper Wolfe 2-7, Hunter Hayes 3-5, Nick Ponikvar 1-1, Nick Sabo 1-0, Brett Brumbaugh 1-miuns 5.. Karns City: Wyatt Everetts 9-48, Zach Moore 5-23, Dakota Mohney 5-18, Tristan Rhoades 5-17, Tyler Kepple 5-9, Caleb King 2-4, Ethan Conto 1-3, Maverick Kelsea 1-2, Adam Whited 5-minus 1.
Passing – South Fayette: Brett Brumbaugh 18-for- 33, 340 yards, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception. Karns City: Tyler Kepple 2-for-11, 38 yards, 2 interceptions. Caleb King 0-for-1.
Receiving – South Fayette: Conner Beck 5-146, Justin Watson 5-71, Logan Sharp 4-83, Grant Fetcher 2-12, Hayden Orler 1-17, Ryan Schmider 1-11. Karns City: Zach Moore 1-41, Tristan Rhoades 1-minus 3.
Interceptions – South Fayette: Roman Denson, Conner Beck. Karns City: Tristan Rhoades.