Union’s unlikely postseason run, which included its first WPIAL title since 1959, ended on Thursday afternoon at the hands of Steelton-Highspire – one of the most successful Class 1A programs in Pennsylvania.

The Scotties fell behind early and, despite cutting their second-half deficit to five points midway through the fourth quarter, never recovered en route to suffering a 22-8 loss to the Steamrollers in the PIAA Class 1A championship game at Cumberland Valley High School’s Chapman Field.

It was the fourth PIAA championship for Steelton-Highspire against a WPIAL team. The Steamrollers defeated Serra Catholic in 2007, Clairton in 2008 and Jeannette in 2020 in the title game.

Steelton-Highspire (14-1) running back Ronald Burnette Jr. carried the ball 28 times for 133 yards and all three of his team’s touchdowns, while standout quarterback Alex Erby completed 8-of-14 passes for 133 yards and one interception, and wide receiver Jaeion Perry added seven catches for 120 yards against a Union (12-4) defense that kept the game close for much of the contest.

Quarterback Braylon Thomas scored the Scotties’ lone touchdown early in the third quarter. He rushed for 67 yards on 32 carries and completed 4-of-13 passes for 67 yards and two interceptions.

Matt Stanley carried the ball 11 times for 21 yards for Union, while Dayne Johnke and Maddox Thompson added two catches each for 39 and 28 yards, respectively.

Despite trailing, 7-0, at halftime following a 3-yard touchdown run by Burnette with 5:34 left in the second quarter, Union’s offense began to gain some momentum in the third quarter.

Immediately after stopping Burnette on a fourth-down play on Steel-High’s first possession of the second half, Union embarked on a 13-play drive that ended when Thomas dived into the end zone on a quarterback sneak with 2:21 left in the third quarter. The Steamrollers maintained a 7-6 lead, however, when a Thomas 2-point conversion pass attempt to Mark Stanley fell incomplete.

And Steel-High responded immediately with a touchdown drive of its own.

After a 34-yard kick return by Perry handed the Steamrollers excellent field position at the Union 32-yard line, Burnette capped a four-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown that gave his team a 13-6 lead with 1:07 left in the third quarter.

Union would again cut into its deficit early in the fourth quarter. After a Scotties drive stalled, Thomas boomed a 56-yard punt that handed the Steamrollers possession on their own 9-yard line.

Just two plays later, senior linebacker Brennan Porter pressured Erby into committing an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone for a safey that cut the Union deficit to 13-8 with 11:13 left to play in the game.

It was as close as the Scotties would get.

Burnette capped a seven-play Steel-High drive with a 19-yard touchdown run with 5:33 left in the game to make the Steamrollers’ advantage 20-8 before a holding penalty in the end zone on a passing play by Thomas resulted in a safety and made the score 22-8 with 4:02 remaining.

It was a frustrating end to a game that saw the Scotties’ offense stall out on promising first-half drives.

Union turned the ball over on downs inside the Steel-High  20-yard line on its first two possessions of the game. Thomas also threw a red zone interception on a pass intended for Johnke with 59 seconds left in the first half.

Union’s unlikely six-game winning streak ended Thursday after an impressive 26-0 victory against Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL championship game and a 46-36 PIAA semifinal win against Port Allegany last Friday.

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at jsanta@unionprogress.com.