SLIPPERY ROCK – South Fayette senior running back Grant Fetchet wanted a second chance.
After his fumble in the second quarter led to a 26-yard touchdown run by Hickory senior quarterback Matt Voytik, Fetchet wanted to atone for the mistake.
Fetchet ran for a 37-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to lead South Fayette to a 23-20 win over Hickory in the PIAA Class AA semifinals at Slippery Rock University and put the Lions in the state championship game Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium.
The Lions will play Imhotep Charter at noon. Imhotep (12-2) defeated Berks Catholic, 20-0, in the other semifinal.
“It feels incredible,” said Fetchet, a senior. “I’m thankful for everything: these coaches, our school, this staff, everything that has helped us to get here. To play one more week of football as a senior, not knowing whether I’m going to play football in college or not, one more week of high school football and Friday night lights, it’s unbelievable.”
Fetchet gained 161 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns, pushing him over the 1,300-yard mark and 20 touchdowns for the season.
“Everyone underestimates our run game,” Fetchet said. “Nobody ever takes it serious, and we are always known for having a really strong pass game, but I think we can say we balanced it out this year. People have to be aware of both.”
South Fayette’s first-half performance, which included Fetchet’s fumble just before halftime, had the Lions trailing Hickory, 14-9, after two quarters. After three first-half turnovers and two missed opportunities in the red zone, the Lions were more efficient in the second half.
“After a fumble, you could put your head in the ground and bury yourself, but he didn’t,” South Fayette head coach Joe Rossi said. “He kept fighting, got a nice spin move here and made a tremendous play when we needed it.”
Junior running back J.J. Walker’s 5-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter came after a Hickory turnover in South Fayette territory, but the decisive play that helped the Lions pull away and clinch a trip to Hershey was an outstanding effort by Fetchet.
After a defensive stand by South Fayette (15-0), which included a partially blocked punt by senior Justin Watson, the Lions took over at midfield leading 17-14. On the fourth play of the drive, Fetchet took the handoff and dashed to the left side of the defense. The senior spun off two defenders and went 37 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown with 10:20 remaining.
“I was frustrated,” Fetchet said of his fumble. “I didn’t really get a clean hand off, and I was juggling the ball when I was running with it. I fumbled it and went into halftime, got my head right and came back out and said I’m going to run the hardest I’ve ever run.”
The senior did just that. He ran for more than 100 yards in the second half, helping the Lions overcome struggles in the passing game. Hickory’s strategy against South Fayette junior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh was a simple one – drop as many men into pass coverage as possible. The game plan worked for the first half, but the Hornets forgot to account for the Lions’ ability to run the football.
“When we are dropping eight, nine into coverage – sometimes 10 into coverage – we were rolling the dice with that,” Hickory head coach Bill Brest said. “One of my biggest fears coming into today was them being able to run the football and they did. We stole their signals. We knew they were running the ball and they did a nice job of executing.”
Hickory got the ball back with just over four minutes remaining, trailing 23-14. Voytik led the Hornets on a 14-play, 74-yard drive to draw the Hornets to within three points, but the effort took almost three and a half minutes. The senior quarterback capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. South Fayette’s Conner Beck fell on an onside kick to clinch the win for the Lions.
In the opening minutes of the game, South Fayette’s offense looked to be its usual self despite the strong winds at Mihalik Thompson Stadium. Brumbaugh led the Lions on a 15-play, 84 yard opening drive that was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Fetchet.
It did not take long for Hickory’s spread offense to make it a 7-7 game. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Voytik ran to the left side on a designed quarterback run and went untouched for a 57-yard touchdown. The Lions drove into Hickory territory on their ensuing possession but turned the ball over on downs.
“It’s obviously frustrating, but they stuck with it, stuck to the plan,” Rossi said. “I told them at halftime that we couldn’t have played any worse in the first half. Defensively, it was just two plays and offensively, it was the turnovers.”
Trapped deep in his own end following the SF turnover on downs, Voytik was stripped of the football by Ben Berkovitz. Voytik jumped on the loose ball in the end zone, where he was downed by junior Anthony Davidson for the safety that gave South Fayette a 9-7 lead with 11:06 remaining in the second quarter.
For the first time in South Fayette’s season, turnovers cost the Lions when a Brumbaugh pass went off the hands of wide receiver Hayden Orler and was intercepted by Hickory senior Anthony Canone.
Brumbaugh completed 22 of 36 passes for 179 yards and no touchdowns.
The Hornets made the most of Fetchet’s fumble at the South Fayette 26-yard line. On the next play, Voytik bolted down the sideline for his second touchdown run to give Hickory the 14-9 lead.
“We knew they were going to make plays,” Brest said. “We knew they were going to nickel and dime us, which is fine, because of the potency of their offense. Our game plan worked. We’re happy about that, but we just ran out of time.”