Shawley’s key play puts C-K in quarterfinals
CLAYSBURG — There are some games in which one play turns the entire momentum and proves to be the deciding factor in the outcome.
Claysburg-Kimmel’s District 6 Class 1A first-round playoff game with Conemaugh Valley Saturday night was one such game, and Bulldogs senior linebacker Blayde Shawley made one such play.
With the score tied, 6-6 late in the third quarter, Shawley stripped a Conemaugh Valley running back of the ball near the C-K 30 and returned the fumble about 70 yards for a touchdown, sparking Claysburg to a hard-fought 12-6 victory at Bulldog Stadium.
Claysburg-Kimmel, the seventh seed with a 7-4 record, advances to the quarterfinals and a matchup at second-seeded Juniata Valley (8-2) next Friday night.
Shawley’s heroics are a big reason why.
Conemaugh Valley was driving in the third quarter when CV senior Mason Stoup ran into a scrum off left tackle and Shawley seized a golden opportunity.
“I saw him get stood up, and I felt the ball come a little bit loose,” said the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Shawley. “I ripped it out, I picked it up, and I took off.”
Shawley raced untouched down the right sideline to give Claysburg the lead for good.
“It was a huge turning point,” Shawley said. “I’m glad that it happened. It’s probably been the biggest play in my football career.”
Both coaches would agree about the play’s significance.
“Blayde is a kid who has done everything that we’ve asked of him,” Claysburg coach Matt Bilchak said. “He works really hard, and he made a phenomenal play at a crucial point in the game. It won the game for us. That play kind of sums up who we are as a team — we’re a scrappy bunch that goes out there and makes plays.”
Conemaugh Valley coach Dan Markiewicz, whose team finished a 4-7 season, also thought that Shawley’s recovery was pivotal.
“They got the turnover there,” Markiewicz said. “That was definitely the turning point. We didn’t quit, we kept fighting, but that play was the turning point.”
Conemaugh Valley made a spirited last-ditch effort following an interception by freshman Noah Heltzel. The Blue Jays drove from their own 15 to the Claysburg 15, largely behind the shifty running of senior quarterback Bryce McCleester, who rushed for 145 yards on 31 carries in the game.
But the drive stalled on two incomplete passes by McCleester, the first of which was broken up by senior R.J. Helsel, as Claysburg — which also got a second-quarter interception from junior Zach Claycomb — regained possession and ran out the clock.
“All week long, we stressed the importance of being focused and being disciplined,” Bilchak said. “We knew that Conemaugh Valley was going to be a very physical team.”
Tenth-seeded Conemaugh Valley took a 6-0 lead on McCleester’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with just 9 seconds left in the first quarter. It capped off a 74-yard, 11-play drive in which McLeester completed three passes to three different receivers.
Claysburg got the second-half half kickoff, and, after a good return to midfield by junior Kobe Harr, the Bulldogs responded by marching 50 yards on 13 plays on their first offensive possession to tie the score. Harr swept right end from 5 yards out for the TD with 5:37 left in the third quarter.
“That first drive was really important,” Bilchak said. “The play calls we made were good ones, and the kids made the plays they needed to make.”
Claysburg lost on its home field, 27-20, to Juniata Valley in early October, but the Bulldogs are hoping to even the score by winning a more important game Friday.
“I’m just proud of my kids,” Bilchak said. “They’ve worked so hard. We defended our home field tonight, and we’re excited for the next chapter and the opportunity to possibly advance further.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Conemaugh Valley 6 0 0 0 — 6
Claysburg-Kimmel 0 0 12 0 — 12
CV–McClester 1 run (run failed), 0:09.
CK–Harr 5 run (kick failed), 5:37.
CK–Shawley 70 fumble return (run failed), 2:08.
TEAM STATISTICS CV CK
First downs 16 7
Total yards 261 110
Rushes-yards 45-195 29-68
Yards passing 66 42
Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 7-15-1 7-13-1
Punts-avg. 2-36.5 5-32.7
Fumbles-lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 4-40 3-22
RUSHING–Conemaugh Valley, McCleester 31-145, Stoup 6-24, McKenzie 4-16, Markiewicz 4-12, Maines 1-(-2). Claysburg-Kimmel, Musselman 7-46, Harr 10-40, Helsel 3-2, Chamberlain 7-(-17), Claycomb 2-(-3).
PASSING–Conemaugh Valley, McCleester 7-14-0-66, Markiewicz 0-1-1-0. Claysburg-Kimmel, Chamberlain 7-13-1-42.
RECEIVING–Conemaugh Valley, Markiewicz 3-18, Stoup 2-23, McKenzie 1-14, Maines 1-11. Claysburg-Kimmel, Oakes 2-8, Musselman 2-3, Claycomb 1-24, Helsel 1-4, Harr 1-3.