With Fort Cherry trailing by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter Friday, the skies opened up and a heavy rain fell over the stadium.
But according to the team’s resident superhero, something else other than precipitation could be seen when the Rangers looked above.
“It was the bat signal for everybody,” Matt Sieg said. “Even the sidelines, the people that didn’t play. They played just as much of a role in the game. The whole stands. It was so loud. You couldn’t even hear the play called. It was storybook.”
A storybook finish to a storybook win in what has been a storybook season.
Sieg, Fort Cherry’s electric sophomore quarterback with major-college offers, ran for five touchdowns, including three in the fourth quarter, to help No. 2 Fort Cherry rally for a 33-21 win against No. 3 Bishop Canevin in a WPIAL Class 1A semifinal at South Fayette.
Fort Cherry’s win moves the Rangers (13-0) into the WPIAL final for the first time since 2001. The Rangers will take aim at their first title when they face No. 1 South Side (13-0) in the final Friday at Acrisure Stadium. Canevin (10-2) fell short of reaching the final for the third year in a row.
Offensive fireworks were expected Friday after Fort Cherry outlasted Bishop Canevin, 48-41, in a Black Hills Conference contest on Sept. 30. However, neither offense moved the ball particularly well in a first half that saw Canevin take a 14-7 halftime lead courtesy of a last-second 42-yard bomb from Kole Olszewski to West Virginia recruit Jason Cross. The Crusaders had gotten a 2-yard touchdown plunge from Marquis Carter late in the first quarter to open the scoring.
Sieg, who accounted for 449 yards of offense and seven touchdowns in the first meeting, was limited to only 88 yards and a 6-yard touchdown run in the first half.
“He’s someone that really holds himself to a high standard,” Fort Cherry coach Tanner Garry said. “In the early going, he’s coming over to the sidelines, he’s frustrated. I can see it in his face. He’s like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ I think sometimes we have to wear teams down with things that we do over and over again. I just keep reminding him, ‘Just stay patient. You’re not always going to be breaking the long one.’ And he really just battled back in such a big way tonight.”
After the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter — Sieg scored on a 1-yard run and Olszewski hooked up with Jayden Lindsey for a 40-yard touchdown — Canevin took a 21-14 lead to the fourth quarter.
And when the rain began pouring down, Fort Cherry began to pour it on Canevin. The Rangers outscored Canevin, 19-0, in the final quarter, with all three touchdowns coming on Sieg runs. Sieg’s 12-yard run with 10:50 left pulled the Rangers within 21-20 (the Rangers elected to go for two, but came up short), his 20-yard run with 4:34 remaining gave the Rangers a 26-21 lead (they once again failed a 2-point try), and his 15-yard run, which came just 13 seconds later and followed a Canevin fumble, extended the Fort Cherry lead to 33-21.
Of the rain, Sieg said, smiling, “It happened at a good time.”
Sieg finished with 157 yards rushing and passed for 111 yards.
But Sieg wasn’t the only reason Fort Cherry won Friday. Its defense played a major part in that, too, keeping in check a Canevin offense that is not short on playmakers. Among the Fort Cherry defenders shining were Louis Ryan, Brayden Kirby and Corey Bouchelle.
“It was amazing,” Sieg said of the defense. “All year, I feel like our defense has been disrespected, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve held a lot of teams to little points, and we wanted some respect.”
Afterward, an emotional Garry addressed his team, one that will soon play for their first WPIAL title.
“I’m feeling a lot of things right now,” Garry told them. “I’m proud to be standing up here, guys, but at the end of the day, we’re not done. That’s the biggest part of this. Do not let this be your peak. We’ve got to continue to get better. This is a good one, a great one. One I’m going to remember for a while. One you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. Enjoy it. Have fun. We have a lot of work to do still, but I’m proud of you guys.”
Other Class 1A semifinal
A.C. Corfield’s three touchdowns propelled South Side to a 28-12 win against No. 4 Clairton (10-3) at Peters Township. South Side (13-0) advances to the final for the first time since 2018 and will next look to claim its first title since 1999 and third overall.
In what was actually the tightest game South Side has played all season (all of its previous wins came by at least 26 points), the Rams were forced to overcome a 12-7 deficit. Corfield hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Brody Almashy late in the first half to give South Side a 14-12 lead. Corfield then scored twice more in the third quarter, one on a 53-yard scoring pass from Almashy and the other on a 10-yard run. Corfield finished with 131 yards rushing, while Almashy threw for 123 yards and three touchdowns. Almashy hooked up with Ryan Navarra for a 36-yard score in the second quarter.
Clairton, which was playing its third consecutive Big 7 Conference opponent, saw its 10-game win streak come to an end. Donte Wright ran for a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter and Dion Pompey scored on a 7-yard run in the second quarter.