Westinghouse had a 7-6 lead against perennial power Farrell in the third quarter of the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals on Nov. 20, 2021.
“We made a couple mistakes, and that is what really killed us,” Westinghouse senior quarterback Keyshawn Morsillo said.
That’s how thin the margin of error is. The Steelers pulled away and won, 24-7. At 2 p.m. Saturday the Bulldogs get a shot at revenge. Westinghouse (12-0) will once again face Farrell (10-1) in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals at Cupples Stadium on the South Side.
After that game last year, coach Donta Green told the players to be proud of what they had accomplished but also to learn from their experience that fall afternoon, and bring that into this season.
The Bulldogs answered that call, routing everyone they played on the way to a City League championship.
“[Our seniors] raised the standard,” said Green, who is in his fourth year at Westinghouse. “For years, the City championship was the standard, and now with every game they win, they are pushing that standard higher and higher. It is safe to say at this point in the season that it is a state run or bust.”
The previous City League team to reach the PIAA semifinals was that vaunted Perry team from 2002.
Morsillo is the fuel that powers the Westinghouse offensive engine. He has completed 90 of 188 passes for 2,234 yards with 39 touchdowns and five interceptions. On the ground, he has 63 carries for 662 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also had to learn after the loss last season.
“The main thing he grew in was his mental part,” senior receiver Sincere Smith said. “Even when everybody is making mistakes he’s coaching us up. When he is up, everyone is up.”
“I used to always get down on myself,” Morsillo added. “I always wanted to make the right play, so if I didn’t make the right read or the right pass, I would get down on myself.
“The players would see that and they would react off of me. But I didn’t really know that until I grew up a little bit. … I am the leader of the team. So in order for us to get as far as we want to go, I had to fix that piece.”
To a man, everyone on the team will tell you about the impact of Green. When he took the job at his alma mater, the focus was on helping young Black men who don’t get the same chances that other kids in the WPIAL do.
“He’s a great role model,” Morsillo said. “He really shows us the standard and the culture of Westinghouse. It’s all about the program; no one is bigger than the program. He makes sure everyone holds themselves accountable. You have to do pushups if you cuss. He has really shown us the real world. How to talk proper. He has shown us how to be young successful Black men.”
When asked if Morsillo or his teammates have someone else in their life who would do that for them, he paused.
“I really don’t think so, to be honest,” he concluded. “I really don’t think Westinghouse would be Westinghouse without coach Donta.”
The school, the neighborhood and the people there often don’t get a fair chance, according to Morsillo.
“Our community is strong, it is tight,” Morsillo said. “They always overlook us just because of how Homewood is. It is not really a good environment. The school and the football team and the community, the alumni that are with us. It is love. It is good all around. Everyone is respectful. Everyone just wants the next person to win.”
Because of that community background, some might wonder if Morsillo played at Pine-Richland or North Allegheny, would he have more interest from schools at the next level? Right now he has one offer from Lock Haven.
Green is focused on changing that.
“Every game, we play for coach,” Morsillo said. “Just because of everything he has sacrificed for us. He has put in so much for us. All the jerseys he has bought us. Everything he has put back into Homewood. All the great stuff he is doing off the field. It is only right that we play every game for coach.”
The Bulldogs have been waiting for this moment, and now they get the chance to enact some revenge.
“Since January we have been talking about getting back to this point and getting further,” Morsillo said. “So now, I’m just enjoying my time with the kids and enjoying the process.”
Smith remembers how it felt to watch the seniors last year after the loss. That feeling has stuck with him. Some of the players from that senior group are people he still talks to. Avoiding that feeling is the motivation for Westinghouse.
“I knew coming in I didn’t want to feel that same way,” Smith said. “Everybody felt let down.”
Morsillo knows his team has made the progress needed to make history.
“We were cocky,” he said. “So [last year] really just humbled us and motivated us to get back to this point and go further. … [Farrell] played as a family last year, and they got the job done. If we don’t play as a team, all the arguing, all of that stuff, that can really break us down, and it can really make you lose a game. We really focused a lot on our mental in the offseason. Fixed that part, play as a family, and we can get the job done.”
Saul works in sports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.