HOMER CITY — Their emotions got the best of the Homer-Center Wildcats early on, but once they stopped tripping over their own feet, Blairsville had little chance of keeping up.
The Wildcats put a mistake-filled opening half behind them and rode a huge second half to a 41-16 victory over the ailing Bobcats in a Heritage Conference football game at Memorial Field on Friday.
In addition to improving to 5-0 and keeping pace with Penns Manor and Ligonier Valley, the Wildcats got an added element of satisfaction from thrashing their closest conference rival on Homecoming.
“You’ve got to love rivalry Homecoming win,” senior running back Mike Newhouse said. “There’s nothing better in the world. It was definitely a big win.”
Newhouse and Ean Lee ran for more than 100 yards each and the Wildcats piled up 371 rushing yards in another workmanlike performance by their offensive line.
Newhouse finished with 156 yards and two touchdowns, Lee had 123 yards, and Matt McAdoo added 55 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown run.
“One of our strengths is our offensive line,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “They’re older guys that have been around for a few years. They take pride in what they do, and if we can do that, if we can get a push, and we can get some seams for our backs, then we feel good about that.”
While there was a lot to feel good about for the Wildcats, there were plenty of forgettable moments. The Wildcats fumbled the ball three times in the opening half, including once at the Blairsville 1-yard line, and had an interception return for a touchdown wiped out by a penalty on a night they committed four personal-foul penalties.
Blairsville carried a 14-3 lead into halftime that could have been bigger if not for all the miscues.
“Just getting too emotional in the game,” Homer-Center’s Cody Miller said of the penalties. “There’s a point where you can go so far, and when you go over that, that’s when you start making stupid mistakes. You’ve just got to keep your head.”
“That’s the rivalry,” Newhouse said. “It’s there. It’s always been there, and it probably always will be. Two emotional teams going at each other, sometimes people lose their cool, and we’ve got to do our best to cut down on that.”
The Wildcats didn’t exactly regain their composure after halftime, committing three of their personal-foul penalties, but they piled up 27 points in the first 14ﾽ minutes of the second half to make the matter irrelevant.
Junior quarterback Aaron Berezansky connected with Kolby Skultety for a 26-yard touchdown pass just 2ﾽ minutes into the second half to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 20-3.
Later, Berezansky scored on a 6-yard quarterback keeper with 2:49 to play in the third quarter, Newhouse had a 49-yard touchdown run early in the fourth, and Berezansky added a 17-yard touchdown run with 9:32 to play to make it 41-3 and enforce the mercy rule.
Berezansky’s second touchdown came just 1:14 after Newhouse’s 49-yarder, after Blairsville fumbled on the ensuing kickoff following Newhouse’s touchdown. Both teams had three turnovers.
“They left us in the game with a couple turnovers or it would have been a lot worse at halftime,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “We just didn’t get it done. We had opportunities. We missed a lot of open receivers. We have to complete that pass. We’re not going to live by running the ball against teams. … We’re not going to be able to live and die by just running the football. We got away with it last week.”
Blairsville’s Deion Robinson rushed for 182 yards in last week’s win over Northern Cambria, but Homer-Center’s stout defense had Robinson’s number all night. The junior finished with 44 yards on 15 carries, and backup quarterback Jaylin Rydbom was 6 of 21 passing for 98 yards with two interceptions in his second start replacing injured Scott Thompson.
Blairsville finished with 227 total yards a week after mustering 218 yards against Northern Cambria.
Artley knew his team needed to have its passing game clicking to have a chance against the Wildcats, who boast one of the best rushing defenses in the conference. But the Bobcats couldn’t run the ball with much efficiency; nor could they get enough production from their passing game to pose a threat to Homer-Center.
“Obviously, this week, we had to throw the ball, and we had some guys open,” Artley said. “We’ve just got to be able to hit them. I know it’s tough on Jaylin, not really having an opportunity to play much, but when there’s receivers there, as a quarterback, you’ve got to be able to hit them. We just didn’t take advantage of some of that early, and then it just started steamrolling. They’re a good team, and they dominated us up front.”
McAdoo opened the scoring midway through the first quarter with his 39-yard run around left end. Newhouse scored his first touchdown on a 4-yard run with 3:03 to play in the first quarter to push Homer-Center’s lead to 14-0, but the Wildcats spun their wheels the rest of the half.
With Homer-Center threatening to take a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, Berezansky fumbled the ball on a quarterback keeper at the Blairsville 1-yard line as he tried to stretch for the goal line. Newhouse had a fumble, and the Wildcats also lost the ball on a muffed punt.
“We had some very poor penalties, uncharacteristic, undisciplined,” Page said. “We laid the ball on the ground twice, we fumbled a punt. We can’t do those things. We really can’t. It was a close ballgame at halftime. I felt like we could come out and continue to do things in the second half. But we’ve got to cut those mistakes out.”
Freshman kicker Andrew Stipcak kicked a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to get Blairsville within 14-3 at the break.
Cameron Livingston scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and Joseph Faulk added a 9-yard scoring run in the final 5:33 of the game to make the final score more respectable for the Bobcats.
Even without Thompson, top receiver Colton McMillan and lineman Jarod Dick, the Bobcats presented the stiffest challenge yet for the Wildcats, who cruised to a 4-0 start with little trouble.
“I think it was a good yard stick,” Page said. “They have some guys banged up. It happens. Fortunately, we’re pretty healthy right now, and teams go through these phases. I know they had some key guys out tonight, but I’m proud of our guys.”