NORTHERN CAMBRIA 29, BLAIRSVILLE 26: Colts beat the clock, Bobcats
NORTHERN CAMBRIA -- The time was flying Friday night, but Paul Taranto wasn't having fun.
The fifth-year Northern Cambria football coach watched nervously as his Colts inched down the field little by little, hoping they wouldn't run out of time in their comeback effort against the Blairsville Bobcats.
And they didn't. Senior Nate Zachesky scored on a 1-yard plunge with 20.7 seconds to play, completing Northern Cambria's comeback from a two-touchdown deficit and sending the Colts to a 29-26 win in a Heritage Conference football game.
Zachesky's touchdown capped a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive and came just in the nick of time.
The Colts had fallen behind 26-21 with 5:01 to play when sophomore quarterback Scott Thompson restored Blairsville's lead with an 8-yard scoring run.
Northern Cambria received the ball back with 4:54 to play and needed just about every second of the remaining time to rally.
"(Time) always goes faster when you're a coach," Taranto said. "I thought we had a lot more time than we did. Next thing I know, it's 1:03, and I'm like, 'Wait a second. That's going to turn to 59 seconds.' Fortunately, we got the first downs when we needed to … and the first downs really saved us and made the clock management a lot easier. It gave the kids time to get set. … If we wouldn't have gotten those first downs, we would have been scrambling. We would have been in a bad situation there."
Dartagnan Suchar rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown, Zachesky played for the first time since Week 1 and rushed for 106 yards, and Northern Cambria rode its powerful ground game to victory.
The Colts owned a 287-102 edge in rushing yards.
Northern Cambria overcame another mistake-prone performance, one that included 11 penalties for 97 yards, two turnovers and a special teams blunder.
"We're struggling a little bit, you know, (with) sloppy play," Taranto said despite his team's 3-1 record. "I think in the big win against Penns Manor (in Week 1), we still played sloppy -- a bunch of turnovers. At Homer-Center (in Week 2), we played sloppy and they put it to us. United, I think it's a young football team and we did pretty well against them, but there was still sloppy play. And we did the same thing here.
"A win like this is great, but they'll also forget all about the sloppy play because they won a big game by three points. So it's going to be my job to remind them on Monday in a decent way to try to relieve that. Blairsville has a great team, and I really thought sometimes we looked great, like we could go to anything we wanted to go to, and other times, we'd just shoot ourselves in the foot. A lot of penalties, a lot of turnovers."
Blairsville played a cleaner game, but the Bobcats' weren't mistake-free, either.
And although they made fewer mistakes than the Colts, the last one was costly for the Bobcats.
"Here's how it is: The team that made the last mistake loses. And we made the last mistake," Blairsville coach Ab Dettorre said. "Could have gone either way tonight. I'm pleased with the way we played in the second half. … Like I said earlier, we made the last glaring mistake. Unfortunately, we didn't get the stop, but there was a lot to contend with there.
"I still think we're going to win a lot of football games. But we've got to grow together and learn from this. It's a tough one to take because there was a lot of personal effort that went into this in the second half."
Clinging to a 20-14 lead with 8:14 to play in the game, Blairsville faced fourth-and-7 at its own 41 and sent Colton McMillan out for the punt. McMillan's kick was blocked and recovered by Northern Cambria's Josh Platko, setting up the Colts at Blairsville's 14.
Three plays later, senior quarterback Jeff Hogan connected with senior Adam Polites for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Also the kicker, Polites converted the extra-point attempt to give Northern Cambria a 21-20 lead, its only one prior to the final minute.
But Blairsville didn't need long to respond.
Thompson connected with another sophomore, Cameron Livingston, for a 64-yard reception on third-and-17 on the ensuing drive to set up his go-ahead 8-yard run.
Then, needing just one defensive stop to pull out the win, the Bobcats couldn't come up with it. The Colts methodically drove the ball, getting at least four yards on every carry and stopping the clock on every first down.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get the stop, but there was a lot to contend with there," Dettorre said. "They have the ability to throw deep, good receiver, good throwing quarterback.
"A lot of mistakes. A lot of missed tackles. Good backs make you miss, and we've just got to quit doing that. We're beyond the point of saying that we're a young team."
"Our coach came in the huddle and he told us this was a complete gut check," Northern Cambria offensive lineman Alex Atkins said. "He said, 'If you want it more than this team right now, then you're going to drive down, five yards every play, just eat away at the field and eat away at the clock and score a touchdown.' And that's exactly what we did."
Blairsville reached midfield with 4 seconds remaining, but Suchar knocked down Thompson's last-second heave near the Colts' 20-yard line to end the game.
A junior running back, Suchar replaced senior Jeff Hogan at quarterback in the second quarter and provided the Colts a needed spark with a variety of direct-snap plays designed to utilize the shifty back's speed.
It took the Bobcats by surprise.
"No, I'd never seen that (formation)," Dettorre said. "But really, it's nothing more than run the football. Run right, run left, run a counter."
"We practice it," Taranto said. "Dartagnan is our second-string quarterback, and he got reps this summer when Jeff was away a few times. … And he just has another aspect with his legs. We run a belly game with the keeper. Guys respect him with the spread (offense). It was just a change of pace. We were struggling a little bit running the ball, couldn't get the edge so we figured get Suchar back there."
Thompson finished 9-for-21 passing for 212 yards with two interceptions, but he was running for his life all night long. A legitimate threat as a ball carrier, Thompson was under pressure all game and managed just 43 rushing yards.
"We knew we had to contain him," said Atkins, who had one of the Colts' several sacks. "He can beat you with his arm, and he can beat you with his legs. It was a total effort. Defensive line played well, all linebackers played well, corners played well. I mean, we gave up a few big passes, but we stopped the run enough to get the win. So we're really happy."
Cameron Livingston had a team-high 61 rushing yards for Blairsville and scored a pair of touchdowns, a 15-yarder in the second quarter that gave the Bobcats an early 14-0 lead and a 46-yard dash in the third quarter that put Blairsville back ahead after the Colts had rallied to tie it by halftime.
A penalty on the point-after attempt proved costly for the Bobcats, who couldn't convert on the two-point conversion, and their lead stood at 20-14.
Junior linebacker Luke Ratkus returned an interception 15 yards for a touchdown with 3:49 to play in the opening quarter to open the scoring for the Bobcats.
Derek Bearer scored on a 27-yard scamper in the second quarter to begin the Colts' comeback, and Suchar's 51-yard dash down the left sideline tied the game at 14 with 3:43 to play in the first half.