In the end, Westinghouse came up just short in its quest to knock off Southern Columbia from its lofty perch as the five-time defending PIAA Class 2A champions, but make no mistake about it … these Bulldogs proved they belonged.
Westinghouse fought tooth and nail for four quarters with Pennsylvania’s most dominant football dynasty, dropping a heartbreaking 37-22 defeat Friday at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg, Pa. The win marks the Tigers’ sixth consecutive PIAA title and No. 13 overall, more than any other school in the state.
Consider legendary Southern Columbia coach Jim Roth impressed by the Bulldogs’ fight.
“Just the quality of the team we beat — we lost a number of titles where we finished runner-up to teams that weren’t as good as this team we played today,” Roth said. “So it was an accomplishment to finish it off today that way against them.”
Maryland recruit Braeden Wisloski had a huge game for the Tigers (13-3), rushing for 158 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries along with a 61-yard receiving touchdown while also providing a jolt as a punt returner. Southern Columbia’s other star tailback, Clarion wrestling recruit Wes Barnes, ran for 111 yards on 19 carries.
“And [Barnes] played defense well the whole game. Both of them did,” Roth said. “That was going to be a key. We knew we had to limit their big plays.”
For the Bulldogs (14-1), senior running back Khalil Taylor finished with 48 yards rushing and a touchdown on nine carries to go with two catches for 65 yards and a score. Senior quarterback Keyshawn Morsillo ran for 106 yards on 13 carries and tossed two touchdown passes, finishing with 50 touchdowns on the year (36 passing, 14 rushing).
After a monster hit by Taymir O’Neal led to a fourth-down stop by Westinghouse on Southern Columbia’s opening drive, Morsillo followed suit by trucking over a defender in the open field for a 42-yard gain on the ensuing drive. Two plays later, Taylor raced untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score to give Westinghouse an early 6-0 lead.
The Tigers continued to have success moving the ball, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t break easily. Westinghouse came up with another fourth-down stop inside its 30 in the second quarter, keeping the high-powered Southern Columbia offense in check.
Green then decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 at the Bulldogs 26 later in the half, and the decision backfired. The Tigers came up with a stop to force a turnover on downs, then took a 7-6 halftime lead on a fourth-down quarterback sneak by Tyler Arnold, who appeared to be stopped short initially before churning his legs and fighting across the goal line.
After both teams traded punts coming out of the break, Westinghouse junior Mike Richardson forced a fumble on Wisloski to put an end to a promising drive by Southern Columbia. Wisloski then responded with a big punt return later in the third, followed by a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers a 15-6 lead after a successful 2-point conversion.
Just when the Bulldogs seemed to be all but buried, Green again rolled the dice on fourth down — and this time, it paid off. Taylor caught a screen pass from Morsillo and did the rest, spinning out of a tackle while somehow maintaining his balance before racing down the sideline for a 54-yard score.
A successful 2-point conversion pass from Morsillo to Davon Jones cut the Southern Columbia lead to 15-14 going into the final quarter, but that was as close as Westinghouse would come.
On third-and-22 early in the fourth, Wisloski broke free up the seam and broke multiple tackles on his way to the end zone for a highlight-reel, 61-yard touchdown reception from Blake Wise. Louden Murphy then went untouched up the middle for a 35-yard score on the first play after a Bulldogs punt to stretch the Tigers’ lead to 29-14.
With Southern Columbia getting the ball back near midfield with less than six minutes to play, the game appeared all but over — but not yet. Westinghouse lineman Sincere Shannon forced a fumble that the Bulldogs recovered, and Morsillo hooked up with Jones on a deep ball moments later for a 47-yard touchdown pass.
Another 2-pointer made it a 29-22 score with 3:08 to play, but a 55-yard scamper by Barnes led to a 9-yard touchdown run by Carter Madden to seal it with 2:04 remaining.
“This year was a little bit different, because it was a tougher year, and then winning the game was more difficult than the last five that we had,” Roth said. “This game today was a lot closer, a lot more competitive, and it was a much more difficult win. So it kind of matched the season we had.
“I can’t say enough about the effort to finish it and beat that team, because they were a very good football team.”
Regardless of the outcome, Westinghouse already had cemented its place in history by making it this far, becoming only the third City League team to do so since the PIAA football championships began in 1988. The Bulldogs took out four district champions along the way — WPIAL champion Steel Valley, District 10 champion Farrell, District 9 champion Central Clarion and PIAA Class 1A champion Steelton-Highspire — going further than anyone could have imagined while making memories that will last a lifetime.