ELIZABETH – McGuffey head coach Ed Dalton knew before Friday night’s game against Elizabeth Forward that his team’s pass defense was a weakness.
That fact is even more apparent to Dalton after the Highlanders allowed 350 yards and five touchdowns through the air in a 56-21 loss to Class 3A Interstate Conference foe Elizabeth Forward Friday.
“I would throw the ball every play against us. I don’t know why anyone tries to run the ball against us. I’d throw every snap (against us),” Dalton said.
“If you watch our film, we can’t defend the pass. That’s like 13 touchdown passes on the year against us.”
The Warriors scored 48 points in the first half against McGuffey, including touchdowns on its first six offensive drives.
“I think our guys are embarrassed. I’m embarrassed as a coach. I can’t remember a shellacking like this in my career in a long time,” said Dalton, who has coached WPIAL football for more than 30 years.
Elizabeth Forward junior quarterback Zach Benedek completed 14 of 18 passes for 346 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions, and also ran for a score.
“(It’s) unbelievable the strides he’s made,” EF head coach Mike Collodi said. “There’s not a harder worker on our team, and I guarantee his own teammates would say that.”
Eight of Benedek’s 14 completions went to wide receiver Gavin Martik, who utilized his 6-3, 200-pound frame to bully McGuffey defensive backs.
“In my mind, there’s no better receiver than Gavin Martik. He does a great job, and Zach was putting the ball on the money, and the line was protecting him,” Collodi said.
The senior, who Collodi said is drawing interest from Carnegie Mellon University and several Ivy League colleges, totaled 213 yards and caught four touchdowns.
“(He has) speed and size, (and) he catches the ball at its high point,” Collodi said. “He’s extremely intelligent. He’s an Ivy League type of player. ...He’s very coachable. He knows what the defense is giving him, so he’s able to adjust his routes on the fly to get open, because he’s so intelligent.”
Dalton said his team “panicked” in the loss, something he doesn’t expect from a senior-laden squad.
“We weren’t even reading their QB,” he said. “I didn’t even know what we were doing; I’ll have to watch the film. We shouldn’t panic. We have 23 seniors.”
Both offenses came out firing to start the game.
Elizabeth Forward (3-0, 3-1) scored on a bubble screen from Benedek to Martik, who ran 31 yards for a touchdown just two minutes into the game. McGuffey’s Christian Clutter then scored on the Highlanders’ first offensive snap, dodging defenders and breaking tackles for a 75-yard touchdown run to tie the game.
Benedek then accounted for back-to-back touchdowns. The first was a 2-yard run to cap off a 56-yard drive, and the second was a 62-yard pass on the first play of the drive to Martik.
“We were a little unsure what they would give us on the defensive side of the ball,” Collodi said. “Once we saw what they were going to give us, we saw that we could throw it.”
Right before the end of the first quarter, McGuffey (2-1, 3-2) scored on its next drive on a 3-yard rush from Clutter to make the score 20-14.
The Warriors and the Highlanders traded touchdowns to start the second quarter. EF’s Benedek connected with Nathan Alberts for a 28-yard score on a 4th-and-16, and Clutter ran for a 55-yard score - his third touchdown of the game. Clutter, who Dalton said was experienced cramps in the second half that reduced his playing time, totaled 156 yards on nine carries.
Elizabeth Forward then scored three straight touchdowns to end the first half to put the game out of reach.
Senior running back Brian Mallow plowed in for a 9-yard touchdown run for the first score, and Benedek and Martik hooked up again for a 30-yard score. Right before the end of the half, Seth Anders intercepted an errant McGuffey pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown to give the Warriors a 48-21 halftime lead.
“We’re not a one-man show,” Collodi said. “You can pick your poison. Do you want to stop Malloy, (Benedek) or (Martik). Then we still have an offensive line that’s enormous.”