On the surface, Charlie Meehleib and Charlie Nigut couldn’t be less alike.
Meehleib is a senior and Bucknell recruit who stands 6 feet 4 and weighs 250 pounds — a fiery competitor known for rag-dolling opposing quarterbacks, and someone who tells it like it is and isn’t afraid to let his emotions show on the field. Nigut is an electrifying junior and all-purpose specialist who is all of 5 feet 6 and 150 pounds, and if he isn’t the smallest player on the field, he’s almost certainly the most soft-spoken.
They might not have much in common besides a shared first name, but they certainly do know how to take over a football game — and there’s a shared belief throughout all of Elizabeth Forward that the Class 3A No. 3-ranked Warriors’ championship aspirations could be riding on their backs.
And if that wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now after Elizabeth Forward’s 31-24 homecoming win against Southmoreland (3-3, 0-1) Friday night in an Interstate Conference opener.
An athletic defensive end with a non-stop motor, Meehleib registered 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1 tackle for loss, but his impact goes far beyond the stat sheet. His presence alone forces offensive linemen and quarterbacks to pay extra attention to where he lines up before every snap, and when he makes a hit, you can feel it in the nosebleed seats. Meehleib’s bone-crunching tackle by the goal line to momentarily prevent a touchdown early in the second half was the epitome of what he brings to the table — fierce, relentless aggression, astute situational awareness and a propensity for controlled violence.
“Without question, [Meehleib] is the heart and soul of our football team,” said first-year Warriors coach John DeMarco.
As for Nigut, one look at the stat sheet is all it takes to realize he is a one-of-a-kind talent — but seeing it in person is the only way to truly appreciate his greatness.
The diminutive dynamo put each of his skills on full display on Friday, catching three passes for 87 yards and a touchdown while carrying the ball 15 times for 47 yards and two more touchdowns. He also scored on a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown in the fourth quarter when Elizabeth Forward badly needed a spark after falling behind by eight, then tied the score by running in a successful 2-point conversion. And if that weren’t enough, he even punted three times for a net average of 30.7 yards, including two punts pinned inside the 20.
Simply put, it was one of the greatest all-around efforts of any WPIAL or City League player so far this season — and the Warriors (6-0, 1-0) needed every bit of it to escape with their perfect record intact.
“I would do anything for my guys on the field,” Nigut said. “I just know I have to score for us to win. I’ll do anything to win.”
After taking a 10-3 lead into the locker room thanks to Nigut’s 38-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a screen pass late in the first half, Elizabeth Forward started to spiral out of control early in the third quarter. An interception on the first play after halftime led to a quick tying score for the Scotties, and on their next drive, Kadin Keefer launched a 67-yard touchdown pass to Ty Keffer on third-and-long to put Southmoreland on top, 17-10.
Nigut scored on a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, but a missed extra point kept the Scotties on top, 17-16. That lead stretched to 24-16 when Da’sjon Craggette took a short pass 77 yards to the house, and all of a sudden, the Warriors’ undefeated record appeared to be in serious jeopardy.
At least for about 10 seconds.
Nigut corraled the ensuing kickoff at his 10 and wasted no time erasing the deficit, darting past the Southmoreland special teams unit for a game-changing 90-yard kick return. He then ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the score, 24-24. After the defense forced a quick punt, Nigut scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a 2-yard run on third-and-goal, then he made a game-clinching pass breakup on fourth-and-1 after the Scotties drove across midfield to seal the win.
“He’s a warrior,” DeMarco said. “He’s a special player. … He wants the game on his back, and he just took the game over.”
Although Nigut is only now starting to receive widespread recognition, he has been an impact player since his freshman season at Elizabeth Forward, when he racked up 230 yards rushing, 181 yards receiving and six total touchdowns. As a sophomore, he ran for 248 yards while catching 20 passes for 336 yards with four total touchdowns. This year, though, he has stepped into the spotlight as the Warriors’ unquestioned go-to playmaker on offense, and the results have been spectacular.
Through six games, Nigut has 374 yards rushing on 67 carries while catching 14 passes for 249 yards with 12 total touchdowns. That’s good for an average of more than 100 yards from scrimmage and two TDs per game — and that’s without even factoring in his major contributions on defense and special teams.
“If we need something, I say, ‘Give it to No. 1,'” Meehleib said. “I wouldn’t rather it be anyone else.”
While Meehleib will go on to play Football Championship Subdivision on Saturdays next fall, Nigut still will be carrying the torch at Elizabeth Forward and trying to prove his worth to college coaches and scouts. At this point, it’s hard to say what more he can do to earn a scholarship other than growing 3-4 more inches, but it’s only a matter of time before somebody comes to their senses and gives him an offer, whether it’s this year or next.
In the meantime, both Charlies will keep on doing what they do best — striking fear into the hearts of their opponents, each in their unique way.
“We thought we were going to come in here and steamroll [Southmoreland],” Meehleib said. “This was a lesson. … The job’s not finished.”