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PIAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
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Sharon mauls Brookville in PIAA opener
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VETERANS ONCE AGAIN LEAD THE WAY IN A ROUT
By Lynn Saternow
Well, there was no celebration after Sharon's 41-6 rout of Brookville Saturday afternoon in the PIAA Class AA first-round playoff game at DuBois High's Mansell Stadium. Some of the Tigers remember Sharon's trips to the state finals in 1994 and 1995 and they won't be happy until they get there again.
"It's like learning to dress up," said Tigers' head coach Jim Wildman. "Some of our guys already know how to tie their ties."
Wildman was referring specifically to senior stars Jeff Valentino, T.J. Phillips and Ralph Odem who were part of the last trip to the state finals as freshmen.
"They have an air of confidence about them," said Wildman. "It's not egotism. The other kids follow their lead."
That confidence was especially evident in quarterback Valentino who was unbothered by a light snow and wet grass as he tore apart the Brookville secondary. Valentino hit on a phenomenal 15 of 17 passes for 192 yards, setting up several touchdowns and connecting on one with wide receiver Marlin Jackson for a 30-yard score.
"He's not doing a whole lot of what I've taught him," said Wildman, a past advocate of the running game, with a broad smile. "He's an outstanding athlete and he worked hard to get to where he's at.
"Because of his ability we're able to draw on both facets of the game (run and pass)."
Tigers star running back T.J. Phillips had a solid game, but not a great game by his standards. He rushed for 86 yards on 20 carries, but scored four touchdowns to raise his career TD total to 81, second in Mercer County history to former Greenville star Joe Korcinsky's 89.
Phillips scored the first three touchdowns of the game on runs of 4, 3 and 1 yards. Then came Valentino's pass to Jackson, which along with four straight extra-point kick conversions by freshman Jim Morocco, moved Sharon to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Valentino was 12 of 14 passing in the first two quarters, good for 178 yards while hitting six different receivers including tight end Bear Shimrack, running back Chris Anderson and wideouts Jackson, Odem, Terrance Phillips and Jesse Coon.
He was sacked only once -- for an 8 yard loss -- as his front wall of Jim Nelson, Russell Porterfield, Ashten Beach, Jon Anderson and Robbie Martell turned back the Blue Raiders' rush.
The third period got off to a slow start as the teams exchanged fumbles. But with just under 8 minutes to go in the period, T.J. Phillips showed why he is an All-State performer. The 215-pounder scored on a 19-yard run that was a thing of beauty. He ran right, then cut back left while breaking two or three tackles, then carried a would-be tackler several yards into the end zone.
With 3:20 to go in the frame, Chris Anderson capped the Sharon scoring on a 2-yard run. Anderson, who usually blocks for Phillips, reversed roles on a 40-yard scoring drive as he carried all four times behind the blocking of Phillips.
Brookville's highly touted passing game, which was held in check for three periods by the outstanding Sharon defense, came to life in the fourth period, resulting in the lone score for the Blue Raiders. Quarterback Ben Marzullo hit receiver Shawn Bailey with consecutive passes of 35 and 34 yards before B.J. Thomas scored on a 6-yard run.
Sharon's defense hounded Marzullo the entire game, sacking the talented junior five times for losses of 35 yards.
"We sent people more than we usually do," said Wildman about his squad's blitzing technique. "They showed us a lot of things -- three backs, three receivers, four receivers ... but when there's no backs, there's no one to block."
The Tigers will advance to the state quarterfinals against United next weekend.
"United is very explosive," said Wildman. "They're very quick and have some nice skill people. They'll be a good test for us."
While some people feel United is just a stepping stone for Sharon to a meeting in the state semifinals with the WPIAL champion, either Shady Side Academy or Washington, Wildman is taking them the proverbial "one game at a time" adding, "We do like to read the bulletin boards about how great the WPIAL teams are."
That's because past playoff experience has helped more than the Sharon players. Wildman is the guy who taught them how to "tie their ties."
Notes: Wildman increased his county-best career coaching victory record to 176-68-6 as the Tigers improved to 11-1 on the season ... Brookville closed the year at 6-6. ... Valentino lifted his season passing stats to 100 completions in 153 attempts for 1,779 yards and 20 TDs. He moved into fifth place in single-season passing yards in county stats, surpassing Slippery Rock's Bob Manno (1,684 in 1990). Next up is Wilmington's Todd Smargiasso (1,846 in 1997). ... Phillips improved on his county-best career rushing yardage, upping his total to 5,918. ... Sharon center Beach and defensive end Mike Roberson did not play in the second half because of minor injuries, but Wildman said both should be ready for next week.