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Canton wins first-ever state playoff game, beats Steel-High

Written by: on Sunday, November 21st, 2021

 

TOWANDA–As players jumped high into the night sky and jubilant fans who packed the Endless Mountain Complex’s bleachers well before kickoff celebrated, two-way lineman Mason Shultz froze. He needed a second to digest what just happened.

And while the work continues, what happened was a moment frozen in time. Earning the kind of opportunity so many work for but never acquire, Canton kept punching, kept grinding and eventually knocked out the defending Class A state champions in a fabulous heavyweight state tournament game.

Riley Parker ran for 138 yards and four touchdowns; Weston Bellows intercepted two passes and Michael Davis knocked down a last-minute, fourth-down pass at midfield as Canton rallied from a one-point halftime deficit and defeated reigning state champion Steel-High, 32-27 Saturday in Towanda. Canton won its first district championship since 1990 eight nights ago and its first NTL-I title since 1998 three weeks ago. Saturday the Warriors won their first state tournament game since … ever. Canton will Face Old Forge Saturday Nov 27 in Danville at 1PM

Up next is a quarterfinal showdown against the state’s No. 1-ranked team, District 2 champion Old Forge. Saturday, however, was a time to soak it all in as Canton (12-0) continued building on one of the program’s best seasons ever.

“It took me a minute, but it clicked in that we just won our first state tournament game. It feels awesome to do it with these guys,” Shultz said. “It’s unreal. They’re like family. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else.”

Riley Parker (25) and Conner Davis (60) of Canton celebrate after Parker scores against Steelton-Highspire in the third quarter making the score 20-14 in favor of Canton at Towanda High School Saturday night Nov. 20, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Canton knew it could not win this game as individuals. So, as they have done all year, the Warriors again played as one and kept chopping away against the explosive Rollers (8-3). Parker and Shultz recovered fumbles on consecutive third-quarter plays and Canton scored each time, turning a one-point deficit into a 25-14 lead. Steel-High twice pulled within five from there but Canton’s conditioning, strength and toughness ultimately prevailed.

“We know what kind of team we have. We know what we can do so we knew we could compete with them. I had a pretty good feeling it was going to be a close game, back and forth,” Canton coach Tyler Sechrist said. “I give the edge to our guys on that because our guys are tight. They’re never going to quit.”

“We made a pretty big statement,” Davis said. “Down where they do the picks down there (in the Harrisburg area) all five people had us losing this game. We just had to prove them wrong. We’re underdogs.”

Saturday, Canton was the top dog.

The teams exchanged haymakers throughout the first half with Canton taking 7-0 and 13-7 leads only for Steel-High to answer each time and grab a 14-13 halftime lead on Andrew Erby’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Jaeion Perry with 26.8 seconds left. Canton has been so good this season that Perryás touchdown marked the first time it fell behind all season. It hardly rattled his hard-working, hard-nosed team.

Canton celebrate their 32-27 win over Steelton-Highspire at Towanda High School Saturday night Nov. 20, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Canton stuck with its game plan in the second half and ran right at a defense designed to negate the run. Steel-High often loaded nine and 10 men near the box, but somewhere Vince Lombardi smiled the Warriors ran at will throughout the second half. Linemen Shultz, Mason Nelson, Gage Pepper, Brenen Taylor, Rian Eberly, Conner Davis, Caiden Williams, Mason Harold and William Colton took turns imposing their will, while Parker, Bellows, Kitchen and Hayden Ward took the fight to Steel-High, gaining many yards after contact. Together, that combination helped Canton score touchdowns on three straight second-half possessions while keeping an explosive offense on the sidelines where it could do no damage.

“That was our game plan coming in,” Parker said. “We knew we wanted long drives on offense for scores and the offense to help the defense as much as we could and we got it done.”

“It felt like they were getting ready to snap,” Shultz said. “It felt like we were winning physically on the line. Our linemen pushed and they snapped.”

Up 32-27, Parker ran over two defenders on his way to what initially looked like his fifth touchdown from 12 yards out with 3 minutes, 47 seconds remaining. A chop block, however, pushed Canton back to the 27. Still, the Warriors turned the negative into a positive and drained more clock before a pass from the 15 fell incomplete with 1:22 left. Steel-High had just one timeout, but also a 3,000-yard passer and seemingly more weapons than a nuclear arsenal, so the outcome remained seriously in doubt.

The Warriors would not be denied. Heavy pressure forced three hurried incompletions, bringing up fourth-and-10 from the 15. Erby, already the programás all-time leading passer as a sophomore) had more time on this dropback but faced a stacked deck. Davis perfectly read the play, jumped up near midfield and broke up Steel-Highás last chance. The party was on from there as gleeful teammates embraced and watched their loyal fans rock the stadium.

Riley Parker (25) of Canton leaps to try to avoid the tackle of Daron Coleman of Steelton-Highspire in the first quarter at Towanda High School Saturday night Nov. 20, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

“We were in a Cover 2. I dropped back and followed the quarterback’s eyes. I knew where he was throwing it and I just had to jump the route and try and break something up and make a big play,” said Davis, who in addition to shining defensively also brilliantly dropped two punts inside the 10-yard line. “It was a pretty crazy experience for the whole team tonight.”

Parker scored the game’s first touchdown, a seven-yarder which capped an 11-play, 35-yard drive after Bellows intercepted the first of two passes and returned it 43 yards. Steel-High needed just one play to tie it with Daivin Pryor displaying moves which would make Barry Sanders blush on a breathtaking 64-yard score. Kitchen hit Bellows in stride on a third-and-10 at midfield and Bellows outran the defense from there on the 89-yard scoring connection but the Rollers answered again and were trying to extend their lead after Davis’s punt had pinned it at its own 7-yard line.

That is where the game dramatically changed. After Steel-High moved to its own 20, Parker recovered a fumbled snap there. Three plays later, he burst through a big hole on the right, beat containment to the outside and scored a go-ahead 16-yard touchdown. Steel-High again had trouble with the snap on its next offensive play and Shultz pounced, immediately recovering it at the 22. Canton needed just two plays this time with Parkerás 15-yard touchdown on third-and-down, putting it up, 25-14.

“That was huge,” Parker said. “I felt like after that second one the game was ours. It just kept carrying the momentum our way.”

The champs were down, but they kept coming back and Pryor (125 yards) again made defenders miss on a highlight-reel 25-yard touchdown, making it a five-point game. Canton’s line and backs went to work from there, running eight straight times for 65 yards with Parkerás 15-yard touchdown making it 32-20. Again, Steel-High answered with Erby (19 of 27, 281 yards) hitting explosive Tyrone Moore (9 catches, 159 yards) for a 44-yard touchdown, trimming the deficit to 32-27 with 8:59 remaining.

Riley Parker (25) of Canton looks for running room against Jaeion Perry of Steelton-Highspire in the first quarter at Towanda High School Saturday night Nov. 20, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Canton did not score on its next possession, but it did the next best thing, consistently moving the chains and running precious minutes off the clock. The Warriors ran 13 plays, going from their 33 to the 15 and took 7:37 off the clock while forcing Steel-High to burn two timeouts.

“We have some pretty good backs so once we started running on them we knew they were breaking,ã Davis said. âWe just had to keep going.”

After Davis broke up the gameás final pass, Canton was going right into history and the state quarterfinals. Steel-High kept fighting back, but Canton finally delivered the knockout blow, toppled the champions and now stand among the stateás top eight Class A teams.

“I told them at the beginning, ‘This is going to be like a heavyweight fight. It’s going to be four rounds instead of quarters,’” Sechrist said. “I said, ‘You might get knocked down, you might lose a round, but don’t quit.’ They’re a different bunch. You can just tell they’re going to get after it and give you everything they’ve got.”

Canton 32, Steelton-Highspire 27

Steel-High 7 7 6 7ä27

Canton 7 6 12 7ä32

First Quarter

C-Riley Parker 7 run (Bailey Ferguson kick), 2:28

S-Daivin Pryor 64 run (Tyrone Moore kick), 2:09

Second Quarter

C-Weston Bellows 89 pass from Cooper Kitchen (kick blocked), 3:55

S-Jaeion Perry 7 pass from Andrew Erby (Moore kick), :26.8

Third Quarter

C-Parker 15 run (run failed), 4:17

C-Parker 16 run (run failed), 3:48

S-Pryor 25 run (pass failed), 2:12

Fourth Quarter

C-Parker 11 run (Ferguson kick), 10:35

S-Moore 44 pass from Erby (Moore kick), 8:59

TEAM STATISTICS

S C

First downs 17 15

Rushes-yds 23-118 49-268

C-A-I 19-27-2 2-4-0

Passing yds 281 94

Total yards 399 362

Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-2

Penalties-yards 8-60 4-0

Individual statistics

RUSHING: Steel-High, Daivin Pryor 16-125, 2 TDs; Jakhai Nuss 4-8; Andrew Erby 2-(-5); Tyrone Moore 1-(-10). Canton, Riley Parker 23-138, 4 TDs; Cooper Kitchen 6-49; Weston Bellows 11-44; Hayden Ward 9-37.

PASSING: Steel-High, Erby 19-27-2, 281 yards, 2 TDs. Canton, Kitchen 2-4-0, 94 yards, TD.

RECEIVING: Steel-High, Moore 9-159, TD; Durrell Ceasar Jr. 6-63; Jaeion Perry 3-28; Pryor 1-31. Canton, Bellows 1-89, TD; Ward 1-5.

INTERCEPTIONS: Canton, Bellows 2.

SACKS: Steel-High, Pryor.

RECORDS: Canton 12-0. Steel-High 8-3.

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