By: Brian Fees | Towanda Daily Review | November 15, 2009
CANTON - It took very little time to see what Shenandoah Valley's game plan was in Saturday's Eastern Conference playoff game at Canton.
The Blue Devils came out running the ball over and over again and the Warriors had few answers for Eric Whalen, who gained 133 yards on 20 carries in Shenandoah Valley's 42-21 victory.
"That's a big part of our game, being able to run the ball," Shenandoah Valley coach Nick Sajone said. "Everyone did it, and did it well."
While the Blue Devils took to the ground, the Warriors took to the air and the Canton passing attack had some success, but three first-half turnovers thwarted the attack.
Canton came out and got a 13 yard pass from Ben Pepper to Eric Matthews on their first drive, but Shenandoah Valley ratcheted up the defense and forced a punt.
With the ball the Blue Devils went to the ground, taking the ball 59 yards on 12 plays, all the yards coming on the ground, with Whalen capping things off with a three yard score with 3:44 left in the opening quarter.
Canton turned the ball right back over to Shenandoah Valley as they fumbled the ensuing kickoff and three plays later Whalen went in again, this time from 25 yards out. James Zarcufsky hit his second extra point of the game and it was 14-0 with 2:14 left in the first quarter.
"We are young, we have a grand total of six seniors out there, and we have some sophomores out there and even some freshman," Canton coach Miller Moyer Jr. said. "When we look back there was a play here, a play there and it could have made a difference. If you take away two or three bad plays in the first half, this could have been a different game."
Down 14-0, the Warriors went three-and-out and the Blue Devils quickly went back to work. Whalen gained 20 yards on back-to-back carries and quarterback Daniel Merva gained 17 yards on a scamper.
A penalty backed the Blue Devils up and they faced a fourth-and-goal from the Canton 23-yard line when Merva hit John Onisick on a touchdown pass in the left-corner of the end zone to make it 21-0 after Zarcufsky's kick with 9:53 left in the half.
Both teams went three-and-out on their next drives, and Canton took over with good field position at their own 40-yard line. After a six yard pass from Pepper to Corey Peterson the Warriors approached midfield, when Colin Karahuta picked off a Pepper pass and ran it back 42 yards for the score with 6:13 left in the half.
"Turnovers were big," Sajone said. "We have to shore some things up in the secondary, but we will be okay."
Canton wasted little time bouncing back as Pepper hit Peterson on a 31 yard pass and followed it up with a 27 yard completion on the next play. Pepper capped the drive with a one yard score with 4:18 left in the half and Pepper's extra point made it 28-7.
Shenandoah Valley moved the ball to midfield on their next drive, but things stalled from there and Christopher Palubinsky picked off a Pepper pass to end the half with the Blue Devils up 28-7.
"That's what we wanted to do, make sure we got off the bus and started well and were still awake," Sajone said.
In the third quarter again the Blue Devils went to the ground, moving the ball 59 yards on six carries, with Whalen capping the drive with a 10 yard run with 9:28 left in the half. Zarcufsky hit the extra point and it was 35-7.
Neither team was able to get things going again until late in the third quarter. With the Blue Devils driving inside the Canton 25-yard line, the Warriors defensive end Kyle High picked up a loose ball and ran it back 78 yards for the score. Pepper hit the extra point and with 34 seconds left in the third it was 35-14.
"It was in the Blossburg game and against Troy, he had chances to get the ball and run with it and he was unable to do it," Moyer Jr. said. "The guys were kind of getting on him for it, and I guess he got the last laugh."
Any chance of a Canton comeback was quickly thwarted as the Blue Devils took the ball 64 yards on 13 carries, all on the ground, scoring on a seven yard run by Palubinsky. The drive ate up 6:52 off the clock and put the Blue Devils on top 42-14 with just 5:32 left.
The Warriors again quickly got the aerial attack working as Peterson hauled in a 49 yard catch from Pepper and Billy Sourbeer capped the three play drive with a four yard run to make it 42-21 with 4:41 left as Pepper hit the extra point.
"Corey definitely played well, he made plays," Moyer Jr. said of Peterson.
Neither team was able to get back in the end zone and the game ended 42-21. Whalen had three scores in the win for the Blue Devils, who gained 312 yards on the ground on 60 carries.
Pepper completed 9-of-16 for 142 yards for Canton and Peterson had five catches for 121 yards.
Despite the loss Moyer Jr. knows that the Warriors accomplished something by making the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"There's a lot of schools sitting at home, who would have liked to have been playing today," he said.
Shenandoah Valley hosts Muncy in the championship game on Friday night.