RUSSELL, Pa. – Eisenhower came into the season knowing there was a strong likelihood it would have to get by Reynolds in order to claim its first District 10 football title since 1993.
The two teams will meet at Carter Field in Titusville Friday in the Class 1A semifinals to see which one heads back to the D10 title game. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on D9and10Sports.com
“We definitely want to get out there and compete with that team,” Eisenhower coach Jim Penley said after the quarterfinal win. “They’re the D10 champions for a reason until someone stops them.”
Reynolds won the 2020 D10 title game, 27-0, but both teams have a significantly different look than a year ago.
Eisenhower has run, run and run some more offensively, but that doesn’t mean the Knights haven’t been explosive. The Knights had multiple 30-plus yard plays in their 39-0 win over Saegertown in the quarterfinals.
Benji Bauer ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns in the quarterfinal win and now has 997 yards and 12 TDs on 143 carries this season. Keegan Eckstrom needed just seven carries to pass the 100-yard mark (112) last week and has 659 yards and seven rushing scores on 59 carries for the season. Eckstrom has had at least one 20-plus yard play in eight of nine games for the Knights.
Quarterback Shawn Pascuzzi has found chemistry with his wide receivers, especially throwing downfield to Wyatt Lookenhouse. The two connected on a 37-yard pass play on third-and-long to set up the Knights’ first touchdown last week.
For the season, Pascuzzi is 19-45 passing for 320 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also added 327 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, including an 11-yarder last week. Pascuzzi will need to make smart decisions and try not to force the ball against a Reynolds secondary that has nine picks on the year.
Lookenhouse has 17 grabs for 330 yards and three scores. Eckstrom (3-92-1) and Camron Jakubczak (3-60-1) have also made some big plays in the passing game.
For the Knights to continue to have success on the ground, the offensive line will have to step up against a Raiders defense allowing just 159.7 yards per game on the ground. Reynolds limited a run-heavy Cambridge Springs team to 116 rushing yards in a 34-20 win last week.
Reynolds has faced the gauntlet of the Region 2 slate this season and has grown because of it. The Raiders’ 5-4 record is a bit deceiving as all four of their losses were to either 2A or 3A teams (Wilmington, Conneaut (Ohio), Greenville and Sharpsville). Reynolds has outscored its 1A opponents, 161-69.
Brayden McCloskey threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Cambridge Springs and has completed 50 percent of his passes this season (45-90) for 759 yards with eight TDs and four INTs. He’s added 219 yards and a score on the ground as well.
The key for the Knights defensively will be to stop Jalen Wagner. Wagner had 178 yards and a TD on the ground against Cambridge Springs and has put together a terrific season, rushing for 1,389 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s also caught 11 balls for 146 yards and a score.
When Wagner needs a breather, the Raiders turn to Haydin McLaughlin to carry the ball. McLaughlin has 64 rushes for 585 yards and seven touchdowns. McLaughlin has also been McCloskey’s favorite target through the air with 16 catches for 321 yards and four scores.
Defensively, the Knights’ strength has been getting in the opponents’ backfield. Eisenhower has 69 tackles for loss and 20 sacks this season.