NORTHERN CAMBRIA -- The stage is set for next week's key Heritage Conference showdown, and the Northern Cambria Colts couldn't be feeling any better heading into it.
The Colts scored on their first six possessions Friday, including all five in the first half, and breezed past Saltsburg, 40-3, in their most complete performance of the season to set up next Friday's clash with defending conference champion Ligonier Valley.
The Colts are feeling as confident as they have all season, and they have their sights on the conference title.
"We're starting to click," senior receiver
Adam Polites said, sporting a big smile. "It's starting to all come together. It should be fun to see next week. The stage is set."
"It's real nice to have a big blowout like this," senior running back Nate Zachesky said. "Our team finally came together and just played a good, solid game. Everybody did their jobs, and everyone just performed tonight.
"We're playing Ligonier next week, and we wanted to fine-tune ourselves. We just wanted to get through this game and then go to Ligonier. And we finally came out and played our 'A' game."
With one conference game remaining, Northern Cambria, Ligonier Valley and Penns Manor all have identical 6-1 conference records.
Penns Manor plays Homer-Center next week, another key clash in addition to the Northern Cambria-Ligonier Valley game.
Regardless of what Penns Manor does, though, the Colts can clinch the conference title with a win over Ligonier Valley because they won the head-to-head matchup with Penns Manor in Week 1.
After a performance like Friday's, the Colts have full confidence that is possible.
"I have nothing, not even any constructive criticism, to say tonight," Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto said. "I thought the kids came out and played well. Saltsburg is a good football team. I thought we fired on all cylinders. … I expected to be in a little bigger battle than I was."
Instead, the game was all but over by halftime.
The Colts needed eight plays or fewer to score on all five of their first-half possessions, building a 34-3 halftime lead. They tacked on a score on their first possession of the second half to enforce the mercy rule and the running clock.
Nate Zachesky scored on a 36-yard run, and Derek Bearer caught a diving 20-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone as the Colts built a 15-3 lead after the first quarter.
Derek Baker scored on an 8-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, and Jeff Hogan threw his second touchdown pass of the game a few minutes later, a 56-yarder to Polites.
Hogan then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from halfback Dartagnan Suchar with 1:43 to play in the first half as the Colts pulled out a few trick plays.
Suchar scored on a 17-yard run with 6:22 to play in the third quarter to round out the scoring and enforce the running clock.
Northern Cambria had a balanced offensive attack, compiling 450 total yards -- 192 rushing and 228 passing.
Zachesky had a team-high 69 rushing yards, Suchar added 50, and Baker had 40.
Hogan finished 8-for-10 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns, and he didn't attempt a pass in the second half. He also had two receptions for 26 yards, his 10-yard touchdown catch and another 16-yard catch on a halfback-option pass.
Four Northern Cambria players had at least one completion.
Polites hauled in four receptions for 130 yards.
"I thought we played a pretty complete game, offense, defense and special teams," Taranto said, though he admitted the three missed extra-point attempts gnawed at him. "I can't ask for much more."
About the only bright spot for Saltsburg was kicker Glenn Ritchie.
The senior booted a 41-yard field goal with 2:56 to play in the first quarter to put Saltsburg on the board and provide their only scoring offense of the night.
Even the perpetual optimist in Trojans coach Tim Frassenei took this beating hard.
"I'm speechless," Frassenei said. "That's a very good ball club we played. That has to be stated. … They're physical up front, good athletes, execute very well, very physical defensively. We knew that going in. We just didn't respond very well tonight. And that goes from top to bottom. That's from the coaching staff all the way down through."