Mohawk advances with victory over Seton LaSalle
Having a home playoff game can be a lot of pressure on a senior-laden team only making the postseason for the sixth time in program history.
Tim McCutcheon hoped that the pressure would not be too much for his seniors in their first-round game against Seton LaSalle. The fourth-year coach was not disappointed, as seniors accounted for six of his team’s seven touchdowns as Mohawk was victorious 48-0 in the first round of the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs.
“I didn’t see that coming,” McCutcheon said after the game. “If I had seen that coming, I would have had a much more peaceful week.”
Mohawk scored touchdowns on the ground, through the air, on defense, and on special teams, and the defense forced four turnovers and held Seton LaSalle to negative yards rushing.
“I liked the team’s state of mind coming into tonight,” McCutcheon said “I didn’t know what the home game would do. There was a little buzz in the air tonight, and I was hoping that they could take that same demeanor going into the pregame. I thought they were focused and ready to go, and fortunately once we took the field, they took care of business.”
The Warriors struck first with the defense. Deep in their own territory, Rebels quarterback Griffin Malloy’s pass was intercepted by senior Dmitry Pendro, who returned it 24 yards for a touchdown.
“It was huge,” McCutcheon said of his team’s quick start.” We really wanted to get up on them. We felt that playing with the lead ... we were hoping to make them one-dimensional.”
The quick start then extended to the special teams for the Warriors. On the first play of the second quarter, Jordan Mollenkopf took a punt 50 yards for a touchdown to give Mohawk a 28-0 lead.
“I thought my coaching staff put a good game plan together and had these boys prepared,” Seton LaSalle coach Rob Carter said. “You want to keep it balanced and be able to run the ball and keep their offense off of the field. But when you’re down that much, you have throw the ball a bit more than you’d want to. Just unfortunately it didn’t work.”
The Rebels also had to change their game plan with the loss of their starting quarterback. Malloy was injured on a special teams play after Seton LaSalle’s third possession. He left the game and did not return. Joe Ranft, who had rotated in at quarterback for nearly all of the regular season, played the rest of the game behind center.
Mohawk would put the mercy rule into effect with one final touchdown before the end of the first half. Cameron found the end zone for the second time on the night when he took a screen pass from Wheeler 19 yards for a touchdown, capping a 90-yard drive.
Wheeler, McCutcheon, and Cameron would each find the end zone again in the second half. Wheeler found McCutcheon for a 26 yard scoring strike on the opening possession of the third quarter. Cameron then went 75 yards untouched on the first play of Mohawk’s next possession to cap off the scoring.
From there, the Warrior defense fought to keep the zero on the score board for the visitors. Two second half fumble recoveries, including one from senior Jaize Ziegler with the Rebels in the red zone late in the fourth quarter, sealed the deal and kept Seton LaSalle scoreless.
“Our defense, they’ve been monsters all year for us,” McCutcheon said. “Our one bad game early in the season (against Neshannock) where we gave up a bunch of points late in the game skewed our average. Our defense doesn’t let too many guys penetrate our end zone, and they take great pride in that. We wanted that goose egg.”
Wheeler finished 8/12 passing with 182 yards and three touchdowns on the night. Cameron rushed 17 times for 152 yards and also caught four passes for 60 yards, scoring three total touchdowns.
With the loss, Seton LaSalle (5-6,4-3) finishes their up-and-down season on a sour note. While disappointed in the loss, Carter expressed his gratitude for the team and the graduating senior class.
“I thanked (the seniors) for their hard work. Regardless of the outcome, I’d go to war with them any day of the week. These seniors will always know that they have a seat at my table. I love them all to death.”
Mohawk (9-2, 6-1) advances to the WPIAL quarterfinals for the second time in school history. Their only other playoff victory came in 2005 when the Warriors shut out a Jeannette team led by Terrelle Pryor before falling to the eventual WPIAL and PIAA champions South Park. For the residents of Bessemer, 13 years was well worth the wait.”
“This is a great town,” McCutcheon said. “When they find something to rally for, nobody rallies better than this town. Whether it’s somebody in need that needs help in this town or another town, or if it’s something going on in the community, they rally. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
The Warriors will face 4-seed Charleroi, 35-21 victors over Riverside, in the quarterfinals next Friday. And after a month of playing in the mud, McCutcheon and his team are excited to get a game on turf and to try to make history for the Mohawk football program.
“We don’t want the run to end, because it’s just huge for our kids and it’s huge for our town.”