By Matt Popchock
University Prep’s 14-0 stonewalling of surprising Allderdice in the City League Football Championship at Cupples Stadium on the South Side Saturday afternoon meant a lot to a lot of people.
It meant a lot of all those with the Schenley-Peabody merger. Last year, the WPIAL enjoyed its own feel-good story when brand spanking new Central Valley went on a remarkable run to Class AAA district gold. Now the City League, which had seen better days and has been preparing for a future merger with District 7, has its own uplifting story.
It meant a lot to those who had contributed to the athletic tradition of both defunct schools, including current San Antonio Spurs forward and former Schenley/Pitt standout Dejuan Blair, who was on hand to enjoy the moment with his new-look alma mater.
It meant a lot to fully-recovered WPIAL/City League bookkeeper and historian Lawrence “Deuce” Skurcenski, who can now boast that, of the literally thousands of football games he has supposedly witnessed in western Pennsylvania, he saw a first-year City League program win a League title for the first time ever.
But it meant the most to the kids–and their coaches–from different schools and different backgrounds who galvanized, rallied around one another, and achieved gridiron glory together.
You can call them the University Prep Panthers, or, if the mood strikes you, the Obama Academy Eagles.
You can’t go wrong with “City League champions,” either.
What does that mean to the new kids on the District 8 block?
“We came from all over Pittsburgh and came together as a family. I’m at a loss for words,” backup quarterback Akil Young said with a broad smile.
That’s okay, starting quarterback/defensive back Dontae Forte can help you out…
“I’ve been waiting three years for this,” Forte said of less memorable seasons at Peabody before the merger. “To get a new program and a new environment and be a champion…I feel great.”
“To me this is one of the best things the City League has ever done,” tailback/linebacker Jaylen Coleman crowed. “There was a lot of talent at both schools. Now we’re all together, and we got a ring. So now we want to make a run in the state playoffs.”
The only storyline that could trump University Prep’s (11-1) coronation is its own defensive dominance. It shut out its last eight City League opponents since losing in Week 2 to regular season champion Brashear, including a 12-0 victory over the Dragons (5-7) in Week 7.
“We wanted to make sure we got the DVD on this one early,” Berry said, saluting his opponent. “I thought our coaching staff did a good job just putting these kids in a position to win.”
This game, which was played largely between the red zones, had a similar feel. University Prep only reached the red zone three times, including a first-quarter possession that ended when William Graham picked off a timing pattern from Forte to preserve a scoreless tie that lasted till halftime.
Forte redeemed himself with a fumble recovery that led to the winning points, and an interception, one of four turnovers forced by University Prep, that secured the lead.
“I told them, Allderdice is in the championship game for a reason,” Berry said. “We had to stay patient, which I know the kids aren’t used to, because we’ve been making big runs early in games. But eventually we made the plays.”
What also secured the lead was the ability of that defense to contain running back Patrick Ferguson. Ferguson, Allderdice’s most lethal offensive weapon, entered the game among the League leaders in rushing with nearly 900 yards, but was held to 21 net yards on 16 carries, with 17 net coming before halftime.
“We just started being more physical than they were [as the game went on],” Forte said. “They just started giving up.”
“We did a good job of penetration at the point of attack, especially Jaylen,” Berry said. “If our defensive line keeps our linebackers clean, usually we can get to the ball.”
A tumultuous season for Coleman, a transplanted senior, that began at Gateway with personal issues could not have ended on a more positive note. In addition to the offers he now holds from Cincinnati, Toledo, and West Virginia, among others, to play defense, Coleman also got to hold the 2011 City League MVP award after rushing for 186 yards and a game-clinching TD on 27 carries.
Midway through the fourth quarter Young found Trayvon Taylor in the back of the end zone, and Taylor made a nice leaping grab for the game-winning points.
“I looked to my first read in the flat and it was covered, then I looked to my second read, and it was covered too,” Young said. “But I found him in the back of the end zone, and I knew I could put it there.”
Then it was Coleman’s turn. After Forte’s critical defensive INT on the ensuing possession by the Dragons, Coleman reversed his field and went to the house just two plays later.
“I saw a hole, so I cut back and hit it hard. Then I just tried to use my speed and my size,” Coleman said.
That speed and size got him the biggest 91 yards of his high school career, which nearly equaled his total yardage at the time.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty tired,” he added, laughing. “But we sacrifice ourselves. No egos, no superstars.”
Now it’s on to the state playoffs…and just in time, because University Prep was finally–properly–informed where it will go.
“We got some misinformation…we thought we were a Triple-A team all year,” Berry said. “But it turns out we were a Quad-A team.”
This means that his team will face State College in the opener of the state tournament, with a potential PIAA Quarterfinal matchup against Saturday’s WPIAL champion on the horizon.
Despite the “Central Valley-esque” accomplishments of the new program, Berry isn’t ready for the magic to end yet.
“I still don’t think this defense is respected,” he said. “We want to try and get back in the lab and prove to people we can do it.”
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)