BY DAN IRWIN
NEW CASTLE NEWS
On a night when Shenango High unveiled its $1.2 million turf field, senior Reis Watkins looked like a million bucks as well.
Playing at quarterback, running back and even trying his hand a few times as a blocking fullback, Watkins rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries, while also tossing a 3-yard touchdown pass, to lead the Wildcats to a 25-12 win over Union in a WPIAL Class A Big 7 Conference contest.
Reis shared time at signal-caller with sophomore Shawn Gould — who had a touchdown run of his own — because returning starter Tino Campoli is still recovering from off-season surgery.
“Our philosophy is to try to get the ball in our playmaker’s hands,” Shenango head coach Jimmy Graham said. “Unfortunately, heading into this game, we were down three starters. So the other kids really did step up.
“Like any team, you get a horse that you can ride, and you ride it. Reis has been that guy. This is his fourth year. He’s a very powerful runner, good athlete, great teammate. If we can get him the ball in multiple different positions, then that’s usually an advantage for us.”
Union head coach Stacy Robinson expected as much.
“He’s versatile,” Robinson said of Watkins. “You’ve got to hit him with some authority and put him on the ground, or he’s going to make you pay. He made us pay a few times tonight.”
The Scotties were able to stay within striking distance most of the night, thanks to an effective passing attack and a couple of big special teams plays. Quarterback Tyler Staub connected on 14 of 27 passes for 191 yards, including seven hookups with Anthony Nealy for 153 yards.
Still, three interceptions (two by Hunter Lively), a stout Shenango run defense (it surrended just 15 net rushing yards) and a turnover on downs combined to keepUnion from capitalzing on some promising drives. That left the Scotties’ special teams to do all the scoring.
Union trimmed Shenango’s 14-0 lead to 14-6 with 1:52 left in the first half when Braylon Thomas picked up a teammate’s muffed punt reception and returned it 65 yards to paydirt. In the third quarter, another Shenango punt went awry when Antonio Faraone blocked Adrian Johnstorn’s kick at the goal line, and Mark Stanley scooped it up and took it into the end zone.
The Scotties, though, were unable to build on the momentum shifts. After Thomas’s punt return, Shenango marched 59 yards in seven plays and scored on Watkins’s pass to Ryan Lenhart just 19 seconds before intermission.
Union gave up safeties on back-to-back, third-quarter possessions to increase the ’Cats’ lead to 25-12, but appeared ready to cut bacj into it when Staub hit Nealy over the middle for a 79-yard gain. The end zone, however, had been 81 yards away, and a diving ankle tackle from behind by C.J. Miller stopped Nealy at the 2.
Two penalties and two runs and a pass that all went for losses pushed Union back to a fourth-and-goal at the 37, and the Scotties turned the ball over on downs.
“C.J. is another great athlete, he showed great hustle, used his speed and never gave up on the play,” Graham said of MIller’s TD-saving tackle. “That was the play. They could have scored easily there, and that really changed the course of the game in the second half. That was a major, major play.”
Robinson blamed himself for not having his team ready to play, but conceded, “We had our shots. Momentum was a big thing, and we could have turned it a couple times. We had people open, untimely penalties, just not executing on all aspects of the ball, offense, defense, special teams
“ It caught up to us tonight, but we’ll get better next week.”
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