By Lori Brown
GRAHAMSVILLE Patrick Joyner returned the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to break open a close game and propel undefeated John S. Burke Catholic High School to a 21-7 victory over host Tri-Valley in a Section IX Class C Division II football game Saturday.
With the win, Burke (5-0, 3-0) clinched the Div. II championship and a berth in the Class C semifinals.
The Eagles jumped out to 7-0 lead early in the first quarter as Tom Sullivan caught a 76-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Robert Pezzullo. Andrew Nutt then made the extra-point kick to give his team a 7-0 lead.
Tri-Valley tried to answer with a scoring drive of its own, were stopped by the Eagles on a fourth-and-goal play as the clock ran down to end the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, T-V (1-4, 1-1 Div. II) slowly moved downfield. But Burke’s Steve Tomaszewski intercepted a pass near his team’s 38-yard line. Burke did not capitalize on the turnover, throwing several incomplete passes. T-V regained possession of the ball at its 23-yard line but were unable to mount a drive and the half ended with Burke up 7-0.
After Joyner’s return, Nutt added the extra-point kick to extend Burke’s lead to 14-0. After forcing T-V to punt on its first possession of the second half, Burke again couldn’t capitalize as running back Matt Cino fumbled and T-V’s John Monforte recovered the ball near midfield with 5:10 to go in the quarter.
But T-V gave the ball back to Burke when a pass by Bears’ quarterback Greg Swarthout was intercepted by Burke’s Tom Sullivan, setting up the Eagles with a first-and-goal. Tomaszewski then ran 10 yards for a touchdown, and with Nutt’s extra point, Burke opened a commanding 21-0 lead.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Monforte caught a pass from Swarthout to give T-V a first down. But the Bears were forced to punt a few plays later.
After stopping Burke, T-V regained possession of the ball. On a quarterback keeper play, Swarthout ran 4 yards for a first down. Moments later on second-and-8 at the T-V 30-yard line, Brendan Tierney ran the ball for another first down. Burke was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, so 15 yards was added to the run.
With 1:30 remaining in the game Swarthout tossed the ball to Conor Walsh, who in turn threw the ball to Shatik Smith, who ran to the end zone to complete the 42-yard halfback option pass play. Anthony Beale kicked the extra point to cut Burke’s lead to 21-7. But the Bears couldn’t get any closer as Burke ran the clock down to ice the game.
“Tri-Valley played great defense,” Burke Coach Ed VanCuren said.
“We were not playing our game,” VanCuren added. “Andrew Nutt did a great job pinning them deep [on punts]. Our defensive line did great.”
Tomaszewski had two carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. Pezzullo completed 5 of 14 passes for 107 yards.
“We gave opportunities to Burke,” T-V Coach John Rusin said. “We should not have allowed them to have a kick- off return touchdown. Burke has a defensive team and is well-coached.”
“Shatik Smith made some good plays for us,” Rusin continued. “Greg Swarthout doesn’t leave the field. He calls all the offensive and defensive plays, he is a leader. Troy Rossi did a real good job, too.”
Aric Boyes was the Bears’ leading rusher with 10 carries for 53 yards. Swarthout completed 3 of 12 passes for 39 yards.
T-V hosts James I. O’Neill Saturday at 1:30 p.m.