PURCHASE LINE — Just like some of the lights at Barry T. Madill Field on Friday night, the Purchase Line offense took a little while to turn on.
Once it got going, though, the Red Dragons shined, and there wasn’t anything that Saltsburg could do about it. Purchase Line dominated the running game and rolled to its third win in four games, 41-0, in the teams’ Heritage Conference finale.
Grant Syster rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns, and Todd Greene added 154 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Red Dragons (4-5), who are working toward their best record since finishing 11-1 in 2008. They were winless in 2009 and ’10 and had two wins in each of 2011 and ’12.
“We didn’t expect a big blowout because we knew they were a physical team,” Syster said. “We knew we had to come with our ‘A’ game, and we did. We’re definitely getting better.”
Purchase Line outgained Saltsburg 473-25 on the ground and racked up 17 rushing first downs.
“You knew on film that they were a power running team, and we’ve had difficulty stopping the run all year long,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “I was very pleased at halftime because we only gave up a few big plays in the first half. That was probably our best defensive half that we’ve played in a long time. Then we came back out for the third quarter and they just started dominating us up front.”
The Red Dragons led just 14-0 at the half but exploded for 27 points in the third quarter to all but put the game out of reach. The defense scored its first shutout of the year by forcing four turnovers and recording nine tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Saltsburg (1-8), which hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, hopes to squeeze out a second win next week against Blacklick Valley to put a positive spin on an otherwise disappointing season.
“We still have next week, and we need to keep the kids positive moving forward,” Frassenei said.
The Trojans have turned to their passing attack in recent weeks after struggling with the running game. Steve Richards led Saltsburg with just 33 yards on eight carries. Quarterback Frankie Plowman completed 15 of 36 passes for 117 yards but threw three interceptions. Purchase Line’s Gavin Ewing picked off Plowman twice.
“We’re getting better at it,” Frassenei said of the passing game. “The more you do it and the more you practice, the better you’re going to get. They did a nice job tonight getting some pressure on us. We had some open receivers, but we just weren’t able to hook up with them. When you throw the ball as much as we do, there’s a lot of bad things that can happen.
“Sometimes passing is good, and sometimes it’s bad. Tonight, we had a little of both. We made some big plays in the passing game, and we also got caught up in the passing game a couple times. We gave up some big sacks and a couple picks. It’s give and take. We just weren’t as consistent with it as we needed to be.”
Syster scored early in the second quarter on a 6-yard run to put the Red Dragons up 6-0. Greene then added a 46-yarder with 7:38 left in the half.
“We’re definitely a run-first team,” Purchase Line coach Brandon Overdorff said. “We want to have a power run game, and we’re getting better on the offensive line each week. That’s why we’ve been having success. The line played well tonight. They threw a bunch of different fronts at us, and our offensive line picked that up.”
Greene put Purchase Line up 21-0 on a 23-yard run on the Red Dragons’ second possession of the second half. Hunter Rice broke loose for a 61-yard touchdown on the next drive, Greene had a 25-yard touchdown on the drive after that, and Syster finished it off with a 26-yard score with 36.6 seconds left in the third quarter. The clock didn’t stop in the final quarter due to the mercy rule.
Rice finished with 85 yards on five carries.
“I thought we were physical again tonight, and that made me happy,” Overdorff said. “I thought we ran the ball well, and we ran to the football on defense. We got like eight or nine guys to the ball, and that’s what we want.”
The Red Dragons visit Conemaugh Valley next week in hopes of clinching a .500 season.
“The win was great, but we have to let this one past us,” Syster said. “Our heads can’t be too big going in or they’ll run all over us. We have to go in wanting to win.”