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PIAA Class AAAA: With Breaston hurt, Woodland Hills succumbs to Neshaminy, 21-7

Sunday, December 09, 2001

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Teams from the WPIAL had won the first three PIAA titles of the weekend. But just when the league was ready to bring out the brooms, Woodland Hills got swept away in a mud bath.

Brad Lang of Woodland Hills forces Neshaminy's Jay Collins to fumble, although officials ruled that Collins was down. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Powerful Woodland Hills was knocked off by Neshaminy, 21-7, in the PIAA Class AAAA final last night at Hersheypark Stadium. A Woodland Hills victory would have given the WPIAL all four championships for the first time since the PIAA playoffs started in 1988.

The WPIAL had never won more than two titles in a year, but after Rochester, West Allegheny and Washington won the first three championship games, it seemed the league was ready for a sweep. Woodland Hills, after all, had blown past the competition this season. The Wolverines were ranked No. 1 in the state by the Post-Gazette for most of the season and entered the title game No. 7 in the country in USA Today. The Wolverines seemed to be everyone's favorite to win the PIAA title against Neshaminy, the District 1 champion near Philadelphia.

Then the rain started yesterday morning and didn't stop for most of the day. It was a blessing for Neshaminy because Woodland Hills is loaded with fast, quick players. The rain turned the field into a mess.

"The weather is a great equalizer," said Woodland Hills Coach George Novak. "They have a few kids with speed, but we have more of them."

Then Woodland Hills star quarterback Steve Breaston's right ankle was injured in the second quarter. Suddenly, Neshaminy (15-0) had two equalizers.

"We would have liked to have played the game in Miami with Steve healthy," Novak said.

Breaston, a senior who had rushed for 1,642 yards and was averaging 12.2 yards a carry, finished with only 76 yards on 16 carries. He left the game with 4:03 remaining in the second quarter. He started the second half but limped around the field at times and played until the 11:34 mark of the fourth quarter when Woodland Hills punted the ball away after being stopped at midfield. At the time, Woodland Hills was leading, 7-6. Breaston didn't play the rest of the game.

Breaston wanted to come back into the game in the fourth quarter, but Novak wouldn't let him. A doctor and Woodland Hills' trainer recommended Breaston not play the rest of the game.

"They said he was in a lot of pain and it would be best that he not go back in," Novak said. "I agreed."

Breaston also had trouble handling the snap from center as he fumbled it six times. Woodland Hills recovered every fumble, but the bad exchanges put the Wolverines into some long second- and third-down situations.

But Breaston refused to blame the weather for the loss.

"We can't make any excuses," he said. "The field might have slowed us down, but Neshaminy had to play on it as well. It's just a tough way to end your last high school game."

Woodland Hills running back Kareem Dutrieuille was held to 86 yards on 20 carries. It was only the second time in the past six games he was held below 100 yards.

But the muddy field didn't slow down Neshaminy's Jamar Brittingham. A senior who came into the game with more than 2,400 yards rushing, Brittingham gained 157 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdowns on runs of 4 and 45 yards.

Woodland Hills held a 7-6 lead at halftime. Neshaminy's Jay Collins gave the Redskins a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run. Woodland Hills came back and drove 60 yards in seven plays for a score in the second quarter. Breaston capped it with a 1-yard run and Austin Novak kicked the extra point.

One of the biggest plays of the game came on Woodland Hills' first possession of the second half. The Wolverines drove from their own 38 deep into Neshaminy territory, and Dutrieuille ran 10 yards for an apparent touchdown. But the score was nullified by an illegal shift penalty. After Breaston gained 5 yards on third down, Dutrieuille was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-2.

Woodland Hills quarterback Steve Breaston goes down with an ankle injury.

"It could've been 14-6 and all the momentum would've been with us," Novak said. "That penalty was the turning point of the game."

On the first play after Neshaminy took over, Brittingham threw a 32-yard halfback pass to Keith Ennis that got the Redskins out of the hole. They proceeded to drive for a touchdown with Brittingham scoring on a 4-yard run with 4:31 left in the third quarter. Neshaminy had the lead for good.

Without Breaston, Woodland Hills turned to Tony Carr, but he had a pass intercepted by Justin Edwards with 6:03 left in the game. Brittingham ran 45 yards for a touchdown on the next play.

"Our defense is predicated on speed," Novak said. "We're not as quick in the mud.

"But Neshaminy is a good team. They put in a new defense that they hadn't used in the past five games. It took us awhile to adjust to it."

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