MEADVILLE, Pa. – Just call Farrell the city of champions.
The Steelers captured their third consecutive District 10 Class 2A championship and eighth in the last nine seasons (the previous 5 coming in Class 1A) in a 16-9 slugfest over Mercyhurst Prep on Saturday at Meadville’s Bender Field.
“It feels great,” said senior quarterback Kabron Smith during the Cole Orthodontic Associates postgame interview. “We want to keep moving forward and get locked in on Monday.”
See Smith’s full interview:
Smith accounted for the first score of the game, a 1-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds to go in the first half that, coupled with the 2-point conversion pass to Danny Odem, made it 8-0 at halftime. A 32-yard pass from Smith to Marion Norris set up the touchdown.
“It was big to see some points on the board right before the half,” said Farrell coach Amp Pegues. “That gave our guys some confidence going into halftime.”
Both Smith and Pegues felt like they left some points on the board, thanks in large part to Mercyhurst’s Paul Johnson, who intercepted Smith in the end zone to keep the Steelers off the scoreboard at the 8:44 mark of the second quarter.
Defense was certainly the theme in this one, as the second score of the game came courtesy of a safety, with a host of Mercyhurst Prep defenders tackling Brandon Chambers in the end zone.
At that point, Farrell led 8-2 with 10:43 to play in the game, and the Lakers appeared to have the momentum.
That was short-lived, however, as Juelz Johnson stepped in front of Paul Johnson’s pass for an interception after the Lakers got the ball back after the safety.
“I wasn’t mad or upset,” Pegues said after the safety, recalling a similar scenario against Mercyhurst Prep in a 2007 playoff game that he was watching from the stands. “I knew our defense could rise to the occasion.”
The Steelers turned that into points immediately, as Brandon Chambers broke free for a 54-yard touchdown run that, after another Smith to Odem 2-point conversion, made it 16-2 with 9:32 to play.
“My guys, they blocked for me real good and I just hit the hole,” Chambers said.
See Chambers’ full interview:
Mercyhurst Prep, however, showed no quit.
Juelz Johnson’s potential third interception of the game was wiped away on a penalty, and just a few plays later, Paul Johnson punched it in from one yard out to make it 16-9 with 4:04 to play.
“Mercyhurst Prep was a good team, they played some good ball,” Pegues said. “I thought we left some points on the field, but when you play this kind of ball, defense wins championships.”
It certainly does.
Mercyhurst Prep forced a Farrell three-and-out and got the ball back with just over two minutes to play.
A fourth-and-20 conversion on a reverse run from Ja’son Ellman gave the Lakers life at their own 40, but penalties drove the Lakers back, as did the Farrell defensive front, which was able to preserve the victory and the championship.
“Up front, we have a young freshman in Aidan Marshall that was getting pressure all night,” Pegues said. “Those guys up front. we were able to stay in a base defense and didn’t have to do anything exotic. Those guys hung in and pressured all night, and we know what kind of skill guys we have behind them. It was a good game plan by Omar Stewart (defensive coordinator) and our staff. The young guys put some pressure on (Paul) Johnson. You have to do that against a kid like that. He’s very athletic, can move around and they got the job done.”
Chambers finished with 18 carries for 124 yards, while Smith had 16 carries for 42 yards and was 7-of-11 through the air for 82 yards.
Johnson had 18 carries for 67 yards for Mercyhurst Prep and was 5-of-16 through the air for 44 yards.
“I’m proud,” said Mercyhurst Prep coach Jeff Root. Our schedule is what we were given, we didn’t get to pick it. We caught some teams that were maybe having down years. We earned our way to be here. We knew how good we were, I’m not sure if other people knew. We just ran into a really good Farrell team today and they had just a little more than we did.
“I love those guys (senior class). They’re family, we are family. I hurt for them. They’re going to be great husbands, fathers and contribute to society in the communities where they live. They’ll be in my life forever.”
With the win, Farrell advances to play Westinghouse in the PIAA quarterfinals next week. Westinghouse beat District 9 champion Clarion, 46-30.
“It’s personal for me,” Smith said. “We beat them sophomore year, lost to them junior year. We’ve got to go out with a bang senior year.”
FARRELL 16, MERCYHURST PREP 9
Score by Quarters
Mercyhurst Prep 0 0 0 9 – 9
Farrell 0 8 0 8 – 16
F – Kabron Smith 1 run (Smith to Danny Odem 2-point conversion), :10
M – Safety, 10:43
F – Brandon Chambers 54 run (Smith to Odem 2-point conversion), 9:32
M – Paul Johnson 1 run (Lucas Kantz PAT), 4:04
Mercyhurst Prep – Paul Johnson 18-67, Ramir Wallace 1-23, JJ Ganska 5-23, Craig Buckner 2-15, Ja’son Ellman 5-8, Clay Wojecki 1-1. Farrell – Brandon Chambers 18-124, Kabron Smith 16-42, Juelz Johnson 5-24, Team 2-0.
Mercyhurst Prep – Paul Johnson 5-of-16, 44 yards, 2 INTs. Farrell – Kabron Smith 7-of-11, 82 yards, 1 INT
Mercyhurst Prep – Buckner 1-25, Grayson 2-14, Wallace 2-5. Farrell – Marion Norris 1-32, Brandon Chambers 1-18, Juelz Johnson 2-14, Danny Odem 2-11, JuJu Phillips 1-7
Mercyhurst Prep – Paul Johnson. Farrell – Juelz Johnson (2)