It was a battle of two unbeaten teams Saturday night at Coaches Field when the Carmichaels Mighty Mikes took on the California Trojans for the top spot in the Tri-County South Conference.
For Carmichaels, it was the first game in two weeks after winning at home 26-7 over West Greene on Oct. 2. The Mighty Mikes then received a win by forfeit from Monessen on Oct. 9.
As for California, the Trojans entered red hot off a 65-22 win over Jefferson Morgan one week prior. In that game the Trojans had 10 rushing touchdowns, 7 of them and 440 yards came from senior running back Jaeden Zuzak.
The game was covered from all angles, with the Waynesburg University Sports Network broadcasting a high school game for the first time in eight years on Youtube with the new high definition production trailer.
California struck first with a 13-yard touchdown run, and successful 2 point conversion from Jaeden Zuzak. Carmichaels responded with a six-yard touchdown run by senior Bailey Jones as well as their own successful two-point try, to tie the score at 8-8 heading into the second frame.
The Trojans took the lead back on a quarterback keeper from two yards out as junior Damani Stafford took it in.
Junior kicker Connor Vig made the point after to make it 15-8, California. Bailey Jones answered again with another six-yard touchdown, but the Mikes missed the extra point and trailed, 15-14.
Then, the Trojans pulled out a trick play as Zuzak received a toss and then connected on a 24-yard touchdown to senior tight end Matt Trunzo. Vig missed the extra point, and California led by seven.
Carmichaels was driving in the waning minutes of the first half when junior quarterback Trenton Carter was picked off by senior Anthony Haschets. The teams went to the locker rooms with California on top 21-14.
One of the stories coming into the night was if the Carmichaels defense could contain Zuzak. After 30 minutes he had just 13 carries for 85 yards, but with a rushing and passing touchdown.
The teams were scoreless halfway through the third quarter, and once again Carter was intercepted by Haschets inside the redzone. The Mighty Mikes quarterback had a touchdown saving tackle on the California receiver/corner, who ended the game with two interceptions.
From that point on the Trojans began to impose their will on Carmichaels. Zuzak had back-to-back 2 yard touchdown runs making it 35-14 California after three.
With just under 10 minutes to play, Carter ran in from 11-yards out, giving the Mikes life, and making the score 35-20.
Both teams fumbled, and the Trojans ended up with the ball around the seven minute mark.
Up to this point, Zuzak only had 114 yards on the ground, then California delivered the dagger. Zuzak broke free for a 77-yard touchdown run making it 42-20. The Trojans had their largest lead of the night with just six and a half minutes to play, and they’d add on one more score before claiming the 2020 1A Tri-County South championship.
Zuzak finished the night with five rushing touchdowns, 248 rushing yards and one passing touchdown. Carmichaels did contain him for the better part of three quarters.
The Mighty Mikes leading rusher: Jones, who ended up with 106 yards and two touchdowns. Carmichaels quarterback Trenton Carter was 12-22 and threw for 154 yards. He ran in for a score, but also threw two interceptions. Both were costly, and may have ultimately allowed California to pull away late after leading by just seven at halftime.
The Trojans improved to 5-0, clinching the Tri-County South Conference, and will be 6-0 entering the playoffs with their regular season finale against Monessen next week being forfeited by the Greyhounds due to low roster numbers and eligibility issues.
Carmichaels will finish the regular season with a trip to Avella Friday night. The Mighty Mikes may have come up short in the fight for first, but can clinch second and a trip to the WPIAL playoffs with a win over the Eagles.