HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Comets beat Trojans in tale of two halves
SALTSBURG — The Saltsburg Trojans are 0-3, and they have a lot of work to do.
So do the Penns Manor Comets, even though they are 3-0.
Penns Manor jumped on Saltsburg during a big first half and moved within striking distance of enforcing the 35-point mercy rule before the Trojans staged a spirited comeback, ultimately falling short in the Comets’ Comets’ 28-12 victory in a Heritage Conference football game Friday night.
The Comets had their way with Saltsburg in the first half, bolting to a 28-0 lead while rushing for 253 yards and holding the Trojans to 17 passing yards and 0 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Penns Manor forced Saltsburg’s offense into six straight three-and-outs before the Trojans’ final penalty-aided drive of the first half stalled.
At that point, it looked like Penns Manor was going make short work of Trojans, but the second half was a different story. Penns Manor gave away two fumbles, Saltsburg forced two turnovers on downs, and the Comets continued to hurt themselves by committing penalties, finishing with nine for 63 yards.
“I’m not happy with the second half at all,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “I told them they have to play four quarters of football. I’m just not happy about that second half.”
The momentum shifted in Saltsburg’s favor early in the second half. Penns Manor drove to the Saltsburg 26-yard line on its first possession, needing only a touchdown and an extra point to put the mercy rule into effect. With his team facing third-and-6 from Saltsburg 26, Penns Manor quarterback Lucas Kowalski dropped to pass, but the protection broke down, and he was caught by blitzing outside linebacker Tyler Frassenei. Frassenei forced a fumble, and Steve Richards scooped up the loose ball and scampered 73 yards for a touchdown to make the score 28-6.
“We told them, ‘Right now, you’ve got to come and put this game away,’” Packer said. “We drove it down and then they had the big play, and it just seemed like we were a different football team after that. We have a lot of work to do.”
Both teams were different after that. Unable to mount any kind of offense in the first half, Saltsburg counted on its defense to lead way in the second half and its passing game to pick up the offense because the running game was more than nonexistent and finished with minus-26 yards.
“We made a couple adjustments defensively,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “We told the kids X’s and O’s are fantastic, but it has to come from inside. You have to want to get to the ball. A lot of it was heart. We showed a lot of heart in the second half.”
The fumble return set the stage for most of the rest of the second half. Saltsburg’s defense stiffened, forcing a turnover on downs and a fumble before pinning the Comets deep in their own territory to set up another score.
“Defensively we needed a spark, and the spark came in the second half,” Frassenei said. “I told them we needed to find a spark early and told them you can’t give a good team a half lead on you, and that’s what we did tonight. We played a solid second half. If we had played the entire game that way, we would have given them a good game — not that it didn’t turn out that way — but you can’t spot a team a lead like that and try to overcome it every time.”
“The momentum changed,” Packer said. “We knew we were in a ballgame.”
Saltsburg kept the heat on. After forcing the second fumble, this one at the Penns Manor 43, freshman quarterback Frank Plowman hit Frassenei for a 25-yard gain to the 18. The Comets’ Louis Tate stopped the threat on the next play with an interception at the 4.
But Penns Manor couldn’t move out of the poor field possession, and Saltsburg set up again after a short punt to the 27. Plowman and Frassenei hooked up two plays later to make it 28-12 early in the fourth quarter.
Penns Manor looked to regain the momentum on the ensuing kickoff when Cyrus Lieb turned in a 29-yard return to the Saltsburg 43, but the Saltsburg defense rose to the challenge again and forced a turnover on downs at the 10.
Saltsburg took over, but a bad snap in shotgun formation left the Trojans facing third-and 21 from their own 21. Plowman hit Lucas Mowery to pick up half the distance required for a first down and then connected with Mowery again on fourth-and-8 to keep the drive going. Two more completions, one each to Frassenei and Tony Salandra, helped Saltsburg get inside the Penns Manor 10.
With Saltsburg needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game, Penns Manor’s Steven Dumm intercepted Plowman near the goal line to end the threat with 2:41 remaining. The Comets ran out the clock from there.
“It seemed like we could do different things in the first half,” Packer said. “But you have to give Saltsburg a lot of credit. In the second half they started blitzing and did a nice job in the hole. And we made too many mistakes— fumbling the ball, penalties big-time. We’ve got to clean that stuff up.”
The poor second-half performance overshadowed the Comets’ rushing offense, which accounted for 428 yards. Tate finished with 177 on 15 carries and scored on 48- and 41-yard runs, and Kowalski racked up 136 on 20 carries and scored on a 3-yard keeper. Dumm, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound senior who splits time at guard and running back, gained 44 yards on eight carries and scored a 4-yard plunge.
Penns Manor did not complete a pass, dropping two that would have accounted for first downs.
“Give Saltsburg a lot of credit,” Packer said. “They didn’t quit and outplayed us in the second half. If we played the first half like we did the second, we would have lost the football game.”
Plowman finished 6-for-18 for 121 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted three times. Frassenei was 4-for-10 for 23 yards. Nathan Dumm had the other interception.
“Frankie does a real nice job for us,” Tim Frassenei said. “Him doing what he’s doing allows us to utilize some kids in other ways. For a freshman to step in and do what he’s doing is not an easy thing. Give credit to him and credit to his teammates for rallying around him.”