The moment came and went without much fanfare, and most people probably aren’t even aware it happened — but a little slice of WPIAL football history was made at Summit Academy on Thursday afternoon.
Going into the regular-season finale, Union senior Braylon Thomas was on the cusp of joining one of the WPIAL’s most exclusive clubs. He already had well over 1,000 yards passing through the Scotties’ first nine games, and he entered Thursday’s contest needing 104 yards rushing to become the 15th player in WPIAL history to eclipse 1,000 yards as both a passer and rusher in the regular season.
By halftime of Union’s eventual 49-22 win, the game was already in hand and Thomas’ place in history was secured forever. He passed for two touchdowns in the first quarter and ran for one, then added three more rushing TDs in the second quarter while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. In a near-flawless performance, Thomas completed 5-of-6 passing attempts for 99 yards and two TDs, along with 14 rushes for 142 yards and four more scores.
Maybe he would have received a bit more attention for reaching the milestone had it happened on a Friday night against a bigger school, but it’s a moment Thomas will cherish for the rest of his life nonetheless.
“It means a lot. It shows just another true testament to the hard work I put in, and that my name will be solidified with those greats,” Thomas said.
For the season, Thomas has completed 105-of-174 passes for 1,709 yards, 24 TDs and only five interceptions. On the ground, he has 143 carries for 1,038 yards and 18 TDs, giving him a WPIAL-leading 42 total touchdowns heading into the postseason — and a whopping 76 scores dating back to last fall.
Oh, and by the way — he might soon be seeing more action on the defensive side of the ball for the Scotties as well. At 6 feet 2, 180 pounds, Thomas is a talented safety who might just wind up playing wide receiver or defensive back at the next level, assuming he chooses to go that route.
As if opponents weren’t already seeing enough of him at quarterback.
“He was always a special athlete,” said Union coach Kim Niedbala. “I think the hard work that he put in throughout the summer and throughout the year, I just think he got so much better throwing the football. … I’d rather have him than play against him, I will say that.”
Although he just entered the record books for his exploits as one of the area’s top dual-threat signal callers, Thomas has been a household name for some time now. After all, he already crossed the 1,000-yard plateau as both a passer and rusher last season — it just took him a few extra playoff games to get it. Still, finishing his junior season with 1,202 yards passing, 1,466 yards rushing and 34 total TDs — all while leading the Scotties to a WPIAL Class 1A title and their first state championship appearance — was enough to put him on the map and make Union a serious threat to repeat as WPIAL champs.
The Scotties got off to a strong start, handing a top-five Class 2A team in Mohawk a 40-37 defeat in the season opener before winning at Ellwood City, 34-21. Then, Union dropped its first game of the season in a 30-14 home loss to Cornell, and some began to wonder if the Scotties had enough pieces left in the cupboard to go back-to-back.
“It gave us a spark we needed,” Thomas said. “Everyone is now realizing it’s time to go. It’s all or nothing. … We were talking today about how some people started to label us as ‘overrated’ and ‘one-year wonders.’ Now it’s time to prove them wrong again.”
The next five games served as a reminder of what Thomas and his teammates are capable of, as they rattled off five consecutive wins while scoring 33-plus points in each of them and scoring 40-plus in four out of five. Then came a de facto Big 7 Conference championship game at home against unbeaten South Side on Oct. 20, and the Rams blew the doors off the Scotties in a 49-15 rout.
In turn, South Side would go on to earn the No. 1 seed for the WPIAL playoffs, while Union fell down to No. 5, setting up a first-round matchup against No. 12 Burgettstown at New Castle High School on Friday. But Thomas isn’t worried about where his team is seeded, and neither are the rest of the Scotties. After all, they were only a No. 10 seed last year when they ran the table and won their first WPIAL title in 63 years.
So despite a couple of regular-season losses, it’s safe to say Union won’t be taking anybody by surprise this time around.
“We knew after the two losses that we weren’t going to be a top-ranked team, but we knew we would still get a decent seed,” Thomas said. “We don’t really care where we’re at. We’re going to take it one game at a time and see who’s in front of us, and hopefully have the same result.”