Most of our WPIAL coverage on Steel City Blitz is objective coverage, discussing standings, playoff scenarios, and Games of the Week. This project is be something a little different – a first-person account of my family visiting different towns and stadiums throughout Western Pennsylvania. Two years ago I started the Tour of the WPIAL with visits to Rochester, Southmoreland, and West Greene. Unfortunately we weren’t able to make any visits in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, but with fans allowed back in attendance this year, the Tour continues! This week our family ventured to Sto-Rox High School to check out the explosive offensive of the Vikings, and it did not disappoint.
Municipalities: Stowe Twp, McKees Rocks Borough
The area making up McKees Rocks and Stowe Township is bounded to the east by the Ohio River and to the south by Chartiers Creek. The creek forms the dividing boundary between the limits of the City of Pittsburgh and McKees Rocks. With the connectivity of waterways, this area was a popular settlement among Native Americans. Archeological finds in the area date back nearly 5000 years, making it one of the oldest areas of human habitation in Eastern North America. The area near the confluence of Chartiers Creek and the Ohio River was the home of a large Native American burial mound, which was the first site excavated by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, beginning in 1896.
The Adena people settled the area around 1000 B.C. and were later conquered by the Hopewell people around 500 B.C. Both cultures contributed to the Mound. Chartiers Creek derives its name from Peter Chartier, a fur trader who lived near the Shawnee village in the early 1700s. In the 1750s, as European settlers came westward, the area was considered for construction of a fortification by the British. Ultimately, after George Washington surveyed the entire area, he chose “the Forks” between the Allegheny and Monongahela for the construction of a fort (which became Fort Pitt and the foundation of Pittsburgh), rather than the McKees Rocks area. In 1769, Colonel Alexander McKee (a British Indian agent and guide who worked at Fort Pitt) was given one square mile of property at the confluence of Chartiers Creek and the Ohio River and the term “McKee’s Rocks” came into use to refer to the area.
The area itself originally belonged to Moon Township, one of the seven original townships of Allegheny County, until 1788. In 1790, it became a part of the newly formed Fayette Township, and was part of Robinson Township when it was formed in 1801. Finally, it became a part of Stowe Township in 1869. By the middle of the 20th century, the use of the apostrophe “s” had largely disappeared, and the name appeared regularly thereafter as McKees Rocks, which was incorporated as a Borough in 1892.
Due to its location on the Ohio River, McKees Rocks became a major hub of industry. The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad came through the town, separating the area known as “The Bottoms” or “McKees Rocks Bottoms” (not to be confused with The Rock Bottom) from the rest of the community. The industry of the area attracted many immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe throughout the 20th Century. The Bottoms are still home to a number of industrial facilities as well as a residential neighborhood as well as a Byzantine Catholic and Ukrainian Catholic church. The McKees Rocks Bridge was built across the Ohio River in 1931 and was the longest bridge in Pennsylvania at the time of construction.
Sto-Rox School District was formed by the merger of Stowe Township School District and neighboring McKees Rocks School District in 1966. The current high school building, which is adjacent to the football field, was originally constructed in 1926 as Stowe Twp High School. The building has been used by Sto-Rox since the merger. The Stowe Stallions competed in WPIAL football from 1928-1965. In 1937 Stowe won the WPIAL Class A (which later became AA) Championship, defeating Mt. Pleasant Ramsay 13-0 in the title game. The McKees Rocks Rams have games recorded in 1902 and began continuous play in 1915. They joined the WPIAL in 1923 and were awarded the Class A (later AA) Championships in 1935 and 1936 based on Gardner Points. The merger of the two districts proved immediately successful on the football field, as Sto-Rox was awarded the Class A (later AA) Championship in 1966, the first year of their merger going 7-0-1.
Sto-Rox would not return to the WPIAL playoffs until 1985. Two years later in 1987, the Vikings claimed their second WPIAL title by defeating Ellwood City 19-0 in the AA title game. Sto-Rox found success in the early 2000s, and have reached the WPIAL Championship Game six times since 2003, but have lost all six games. The Vikings fell to Springdale in 2003 who had upset Clairton in the semifinals. The “Killer Ts” Clairton teams led by Tyler Boyd beat Sto-Rox in 2011 and 2012 then North Catholic beat the Vikings at Heinz Field in 2013. Sto-Rox has reached the last two WPIAL championship games, falling to Clairton in the 1A Championship in 2019 then losing to Beaver Falls in the 2A Championship in 2020. This year, they are considered one of the favorites in 2A after bringing back nearly all of their starters from last year’s team reached the WPIAL final.
Sto-Rox’s football stadium is situated right in the middle of the community, just a few blocks behind Stowe Twp’s main business district on Broadway Ave. Being situated in the neighborhood, the left end zone has the backdrop of a row of residential houses and a hillside marked with the high-standing gravestones of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol – Beth Jacob Cemetery. Much like the school, the Cemetery was the result of a merger between the two Orthodox Jewish congregations in the 1960s.
The stadium itself has seats on just the eastern side, and the setting sun splashes over them before it tucks behind the hillsides and the high school just prior to kickoff.
For the second time in our Tour of the WPIAL, we saw the team we visited take on McGuffey. Coming into the game, Sto-Rox had a high-powered offensive attack with a dynamic passing game. McGuffey is a ground-and-pound team that runs a triple-option and is stout in the trenches. The first quarter featured a number of turnovers, with Sto-Rox throwing an interception and fumbling on their first two drives. McGuffey responded by fumbling on their first two possessions as well, the second coming inside the 10 yard line.
Sto-Rox eventually broke through with a quick pass to the outside to Zay Davis, who was able to elude a tackler and scamper 40 yards down the sideline for the opening score. McGuffey came back in the second quarter and found some success with their QB Philip McCuen keeping the ball out of the triple-option. The Highlanders drove it down inside the 10 but Sto-Rox stood strong on the goal line and kept them out on fourth down.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Jaymar Pearson broke the game open by bouncing a run to the outside and going 98 yards TO THE HOUSE. Sto-Rox would get another chance before halftime but came up short of the end zone on the two-minute drill.
Sto-Rox’s passing game wasn’t quite clicking as it had in prior weeks (to their credit, McGuffey’s defense was doing a pretty good job tackling in space). However, what makes this Vikings team a serious WPIAL title contender is they are not solely reliant on one phase of the game. Jaymar Pearson took over the game in the second half, scoring on touchdown runs of 41 and 75 yards, finishing the night with 263 yards and 3 TDs. Sto-Rox was flying around on defense and while McGuffey was able to occasionally find some success on the ground, was never able to sustain a drive long enough to score (nor were they able to break any long runs). At the end of the day, Sto-Rox’s explosive offense lived up to its billing with all 5 of their touchdowns coming from over 40 yards out. The Vikings defense was equally impressive, matching McGuffey in the trenches and playing a physical, emotional, and hard-hitting brand of football. Sto-Rox certainly has the look of a team that is capable of winning their first WPIAL title since 1987.