Donald Barksdale scored three touchdowns Friday to push his WPIAL-leading total to 37, but it was a first career touchdown pass that had the Steel Valley star especially excited afterward.
“It was crazy,” said Barksdale, a junior running back. “I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old and I’ve never done that.”
Another special performance by Barksdale now has the Ironmen one win away from a second consecutive WPIAL championship.
Barksdale ran for 268 yards on 28 carries and accounted for four touchdowns while leading No. 1 Steel Valley to a 34-21 win against No. 5 Mohawk in a WPIAL Class 2A semifinal at West Allegheny.
Steel Valley (10-1) will get a championship rematch with Beaver Falls (8-5) Friday at Acrisure Stadium. Beaver Falls, the No. 10 seed, fell to Steel Valley, 34-14, in last year’s final.
A week after running for 250 yards on a career-high 41 carries in a quarterfinal win against Western Beaver, Barksdale had his way with another Midwestern Conference team. Barksdale scored on touchdown runs of 44 and 80 yards, returned an interception 48 yards for a score, and threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Deshaun Johnson. All of the scores came in the first half.
“He’s a great runner and he’s a gamer,” Steel Valley coach Ray Braszo said of Barksdale. “He plays hard and he plays to win, both offensively and defensively. He just never stops. He was all beat up there toward the end. It’s probably the first game he kind of ran out of gas this year, but [Quaron] Pierce came in and helped out a little bit there in the end. Last year, [Barksdale] was probably overlooked a little bit. We had other stars, but he’s our man.”
Barksdale’s 44-yard touchdown run and pick-6 came just over a minute apart and gave Steel Valley a 14-0 lead just over four minutes into the game.
“I scored [the first touchdown] on the fourth play and then went right back out and had the pick-6, so it was good to go up 14 early,” Barksdale said.
Mohawk (10-3), which was making its first appearance in the semifinals, didn’t go away easily. Justin Boston blocked a punt and teammate Joe Nail plucked it out of the air in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Warriors on the board with 6:37 left in the second quarter.
But on Steel Valley’s next offensive play, Barksdale went 80 yards for a touchdown. A little later in the half, Barksdale was inserted at quarterback in hopes of throwing off the Mohawk defense. Few people in attendance likely thought Barksdale would actually pass the ball, but he did … and it went for the 70-yard touchdown to give Steel Valley a 28-7 advantage.
On the season, Barksdale has now rushed for a WPIAL-leading 1,976 yards in addition to, of course, those 70 yards passing.
Mohawk quarterback Jay Wrona entered the night tied for the WPIAL lead with 34 touchdown passes. He tossed two more Friday but completed only 10-of-28 passes for 165 yards and the interception. Wrona connected with Bobby Fadden for a 32-yard touchdown with 1:01 left in the first half and added a 30-yard scoring toss to Blake Logan with 4:43 remaining in the third that brought Mohawk to within 28-21. Fadden had six receptions for 102 yards, while Boston carried 20 times for 144 yards.
Pierce put the game away, as his 1-yard touchdown run with 7:41 left in the game increased the Steel Valley lead to 34-21.
Other Class 2A semifinal
Da’Talian Beauford’s 3-yard touchdown run and ensuing 2-point run late in the third quarter proved to be the final points of the game and pushed No. 10 Beaver Falls (8-5) into the final for the fourth year in a row after edging No. 3 Washington (11-2) at Dormont Stadium, 28-26.
In a sloppy game that saw both teams commit five turnovers, Beaver Falls prevailed and became the only double-digit seed to reach the final in any of the six classifications. The Tigers won their fifth WPIAL title in 2020 before losing in the championship game the past two seasons.
It was a tale of two quarters in the first half. Beaver Falls raced to a 14-0 first-quarter lead behind Brixx Rawl’s 1-yard touchdown run and Da’Sean Anderson’s 13-yard touchdown run. But Washington evened the score in the second quarter courtesy of a 100-yard interception return by Elijah Thomas and a 50-yard touchdown pass from Tristan Reed to Zxavian Willis.
Beauford scored on a 2-yard touchdown run in the third to help Beaver Falls reclaim the lead at 20-14. However, Washington countered with two more defensive touchdowns to take a brief lead — Jaden Nemeth had a 70-yard pick-6 and Willis recovered a fumble in the end zone for a score — before Beauford pulled the Tigers even and then put them in front.