BURGETTSTOWN – Leave it to a kicker to set the tone.
Seth Phillis’ duties for the Burgettstown football team don’t end with placing the ball on the tee or lining up for an extra point.
He proved as much Friday night.
“When your kicker is running people over, well you just don’t see that,” Burgettstown coach Mark Druga said. “Every single one of us have something to prove. All the players. All the coaches. We are not content this year.”
Playing with conviction from the start, led by Phillis in all three phases of the game, Burgettstown dominated until the finish in a 35-8 win over Seton LaSalle in a Class 2A Three Rivers Conference game at Hill Memorial Stadium.
It was both teams’ season and conference opener after not playing in Week Zero.
“We always want to make a statement,” Phillis said. “I always like to think I’m the biggest on the field. That’s the mentality I have. That’s how you set the tone.”
The tone Phillis set from the start was that it was going to be a long night for Seton LaSalle and Mike Zmijanac, who was making his debut as the Rebels coach. Zmijanac, the longtime Aliquippa coach, resigned from Ringgold and was hired by Seton LaSalle in the offseason.
Phillis set up a pair of first-quarter scores for the Blue Devils, including his own touchdown, changed field position with kick returns and his few punts and lowered shoulders on several Rebels that drew reactions from the large crowd.
As Phillis flipped the field, Burgettstown took advantage on offense and defense. The Blue Devils started five of their drives in Seton LaSalle territory. Outside of a first-quarter touchdown drive, their unrelenting defense didn’t allow the Rebels to cross the 50-yard line until there was just under six minutes left in regulation.
In the meantime, the Blue Devils clicked on all cylinders.
After Phillis had his 86-yard kickoff return touchdown called back because of a personal foul, he flared out into the flat from his wide receiver position and converted on fourth down with a 29-yard touchdown reception from Jake Lounder to give Burgettstown a 14-8 lead with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
Halfway through the second quarter, Seton LaSalle botched a punt snap and fell behind further when Lounder faked a handoff and ran off left tackle for a 10-yard touchdown.
It gave Burgettstown a 21-8 lead entering halftime.
“We made so many mental errors in the first half,” Zmijanac said. “It’s hard to overcome. We had probably 100 yards of penalties. We just made a million mistakes. They are also a pretty good football team.”
Phillis opened the second half with a 72-yard kickoff return. One play later, Cyle Conley took a handoff up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown as Burgettstown extended its lead to 28-8 just 17 seconds into the third quarter.
“We might not get all the glory with the six-foot, five-inch receivers or all the names, but we have a football team,” Druga said. “We’ve earned the respect but the concern was still there coming in. There were holes to fill, both on offense and defense. I think many people know Burgettstown isn’t a team to be reckoned with. We are going to continue to work hard.”
Conley had 15 carries for 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Lounder rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns, throwing his other score to Phillis.
“You always want to win the season opener. It just means more,” Phillis said. “We started of last year with a win and rode it all the way through.”
When asked if he thought he made an impression outside of his kicking abilities, Phillis cracked a wry smile as he looked up at the scoreboard.
“Yep,” he said.