SALTSBURG — It looked like a cog in Saltsburg’s field goal unit blew an assignment, but in reality, Marion Center lineman Phil Crook just blew through a double team with extraordinary ease.
With the Stingers clinging to a 21-18 lead, Crook broke through Saltsburg’s line and blocked Steve Richards’ field goal attempt as time expired to preserve a breathtaking 21-18 win in a Heritage Conference football game Friday.
The lead changed six times, with Marion Center taking it for good with 1:23 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I got double-teamed, but I came through,” the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Crook said. “I just knew that was the sealer of the game. If we blocked it, we had the win. It’s just something I had to do for the team.”
Quarterback Tyler Frassenei gave the Trojans a glimmer of hope on the final drive when he hooked up with Lucas Mowery for a 19-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 at the Stingers’ 25.
After Frassenei spiked the ball to kill the clock on first down, and then threw an incomplete pass on second down, Trojans coach Tim Frassenei elected to kick a field goal on third down with four seconds to go.
Richards barely got the kick off because of a high snap. The slight delay, however, gave Crook a window to get through the line of scrimmage, extend his arms and get his hands on the ball.
“I just dropped a shoulder and went right through,” Crook said. “I stretched right out and laid myself out to get it. I just felt glory. I saw the win in my head.”
“Honestly, there should never be that situation,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “The pressure, if you get any, should come from the outside. You should never have anything from your tight end down. There shouldn’t be any pressure inside.”
Although the Trojans outgained Marion Center 303-216, including 222-131 in the rushing department, they allowed the Stingers to mount a 10-play, 50-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-18 lead.
Marion Center ran the ball 10 consecutive times on its last drive, with quarterback Blake Orr finishing the march with a 6-yard run on a sweep around left end with 1:23 to go. Running back John Lucas amassed 32 of his 49 yards on the drive.
“The defense obviously won the game at the end, but we also had a nice drive to take the lead,” Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said. “They really executed well inside of two minutes, but you’ve got to give Saltsburg a lot of credit; they were tough to stop all night long.”
Tyler Frassenei put Saltsburg on the board first when he threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mowery with 5:30 left in the second quarter to cap a 16-play, 61-yard drive and make it 6-0.
The Stingers answered on their ensuing possession, and Noah Hoover capped a seven-play, 66-yard drive with a 6-yard run, and Crook booted the extra point to give Marion Center a 7-6 lead.
But Tyler Frassenei helped the Trojans regain their momentum on the ensuing kickoff. Frassenei corralled Crook’s kick at the Trojans’ 10 and almost immediately recognized a seam in the middle of the field. Frassenei shifted gears and hit the hole, racing untouched for a 90-yard touchdown to make it 12-7 with 2:20 to go in the first half.
“The boys up front did a nice job,” Tim Frassenei said. “That was a middle return we had on at that time, and he hit the crease pretty fast, which is good. When you’re returning kicks you better be downhill. Lateral really doesn’t cut it on kick returns. … He just found the seam and made a nice move to finish it off.”
Orr hit Bothell for a 38-yard touchdown on the third play of the third quarter to put the Stingers ahead 13-12. Bothell caught a 5e-yard slant, cut toward the left sideline and outran two defenders for his first touchdown of the season.
The Trojans responded on their next possession, driving 70 yards on 18 plays, 17 of which were runs. The drive ended with a 1-yard run from Tyler Frassenei that put the Trojans ahead 18-13 with 1:38 left in the third.
Tyler Bendis led Saltsburg with 82 yards rushing on 15 carries. Frassenei tacked on 77 yards on 19 carries, and Richards had 61 yards on 16 attempts.
Bothell paced Marion Center with two catches for 52 yards.