By Greg Gulas
A year ago, Struthers High School running back Luke Witkowski had a hard time cracking the starting lineup due to the presence of all-state running back David Stewart.
After Thursday’s effort against arch-rival Campbell Memorial, Witkowski might just have Wildcats fans forgetting Stewart’s impressive totals of a season ago.
Witkowski rushed for 139 yards and three touchdowns while Nick Pollifrone added 56 yards and another score as Struthers defeated the Red Devils, 39-6 at John Knapick field.
It was the 85th renewal of the storied series between the two schools, which dates back to the 1925 season.
The win was also the third consecutive by the Wildcats and their eighth in the past 10 games as they retained possession of the “Steel Helmet Trophy;” a rotating reward emblematic of the winner in the series and instituted in time for the 1970 campaign.
“Our game plan was to score early, get the upperhand and play with a lead,” Witkowski said. “It’s a good feeling to get that first win, but I couldn’t have done it without my offensive line. They opened large holes for all of our backs to run through and they did it all four quarters tonight.”
The Wildcats’ Anthony Farkas intercepted Campbell Memorial’s Stephan Elash on the opening play of the game and on the second play of their opening drive, Witkowski found the endzone from 49 yards out for the early 6-0 advantage.
At the midway point of the opening quarter, Witkowski’s seven-yard run increased their lead to 12-0.
Pollifrone’s two-yard score just eight seconds into the second quarter gave the Wildcats a 19-0 advantage and when Witkowski scored his third touchdown of the half at the 8:30 mark, Struthers (1-0) increased their lead to 26-0 heading to the break.
“Last year we took the early lead against the Red Devils but they fought back and made it a game. We didn’t want that to happen this year,” Pollifrone said. “A rivalry game, especially in the opener is always a little more intense and while we have some things that we still have to iron out, this was a very big win to start the season.”
When Struthers quarterback Gary Muntean found Cameron Suchora from 15 yards out at 8:46 of the third quarter, the Wildcats increased their lead to 32-0.
“Opening with a rivalry game gave us something to look forward to in the off-season. While it isn’t a must-win game, it’s still pretty hard to come back from a loss,” Wildcats coach Curt Kuntz said. “When you return everyone up front, that helps as well. We did some things a little sloppy tonight and we’ll get to work starting tomorrow in order to iron that out for next week.”
The Red Devils (0-1) avoided the shutout when Cameron Collins scored from 84 yards away on a blocked punt in the third quarter.
The Wildcats capped off the scoring when Michael Sullivan, who had 51 yards on 10 carries, scored from 26 yards away.
Despite the loss, Campbell Memorial still holds a 45-38-2 series edge.