HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Bobcats overcome slow start against Lions
ARMAGH — The Blairsville Bobcats went on an unwanted roller-coaster ride Friday night.
They were up, then down, then up again.
Coach Rick Artley wasn’t thrilled by the outing, but the Bobcats ended up right where they wanted to be — with a win.
Blairsville overcame a battle from winless United and walked away with a 34-14 victory in a Heritage Conference football game at Thomas J. Madill field.
The Bobcats looked to be in control from the get-go, but the Lions, who have lost 18 straight games, were resilient throughout the middle two quarters and ruled up front to keep themselves in the game through three quarters.
“The first drive, we did pretty well, but after that, we kind of went in a hole,” Artley said. “And (United is) a team that isn’t going to quit because they want that win.”
Blairsville struck early when Deion Robinson scored on a 1-yard run to finish off the Bobcats’ first drive of the game. They then made it 14-0 when Scott Thompson hit Cameron Livingston with a 35-yard pass at the 6:45 mark in the second quarter.
But United answered with a 74-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard run by Tyler Mack. Two plays later, the Lions’ Weylon McGeary intercepted a Thompson pass that gave them the momentum.
“We played with a lot of confidence tonight,” United coach Lance Holupka said. “We thought coming in that we could move the ball on these guys. We had a really nice week of practice, and it showed tonight. … The more we were successful you could see them start to get a good attitude.”
The Lions then opened the second half with an 81-yard drive and tied the game on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Matt Dill to McGeary.
“We didn’t get it done on either side of the ball,” Artley said. “I don’t care who you are, sometimes you look at a record of 0-7 and sometimes it affects the way they’re going to play. And it’s the responsibility of the coach to get them ready to play that team, and honestly, we just left them in it too long.
“We were in a position that we left them tied in the third quarter, and we could’ve went one of two ways, but luckily, we got a gut check and were able to finish it off.”
Blairsville rattled off 20 unanswered points to improve to 5-3 on the season and keep its District 6 Class A playoff hopes alive. Anthony Faulk caught a 55-yard pass from Thompson with 3:13 left in the third quarter, Robinson scored from 1 yard at the 9:51 mark in the fourth, and Colton McMillan tacked on a 32-yard catch with 3:53 left to put the game out of reach.
“It was a situation at 14-14 that could’ve went either way, and the kids decided to come back with 20 unanswered,” Artley said. “They figured out that this team wasn’t going to quit, and we made some nice plays.”
“We realized how bad it would’ve been if we would’ve lost,” McMillan said. “So we came out in the second half and did what we had to do. We had a lot of mistakes, but we were still up on top, and that shows we had a lot in us.”
United outrushed Blairsville 182-179, but the Bobcats gained 204 yards through the air compared to the Lions’ 28. Robinson finished with 101 yards on 20 carries, including 75 in the second half. Thompson, who missed three weeks with a knee injury before returning last week, went 9 of 19 for 204 yards and three touchdowns.
Blairsville’s statistics were mostly solid, but the Bobcats were penalized 11 times for 97 yards.
“We have some good athletes, but we just have to limit some of the penalties,” Artley said. “We have to understand that each game is different and that’s something we have to overcome, and we did. But we can’t allow ourselves to be in that position next week, I can promise you that.”
The Bobcats will now face Portage (6-1) in a non-conference matchup next week. In the latest District 6 rankings, Blairsville was tied with Williamsburg in the eighth spot, and Portage was sitting at No. 4. The top eight qualify for the playoffs.
“That’s not the way we wanted to do it going into a game against Portage because if we play anything like that next week, we’ll be on the wrong end of that score,” Artley said.
The Lions, on the other hand, were fairly satisfied with their performance despite suffering another loss. United gained two more first downs against the Bobcats than they did in their previous two games combined. Tyler Oliver led the Lions with 89 rushing yards on 12 carries.
“At times, we were in a look that allows that,” Artley said of United’s success with running the football. “We’re in that 3-5 and we’re a little wider, and we’re not a big team up front.
“Our linebacker play tonight wasn’t great. We ran past some things, and with that 3-5, you have to make plays with those backers.”
“We were working on the inside run game all week,” Holupka said. “I just thought that our line matched up really well with their line. I thought if we could come up off the ball with aggression we’d be all right, and that’s what happened.
“I understand right now that we’re 0-8, but we have a lot of young kids. We’re building for something down the line. It’s not paying off right now in varsity wins, but we’re building confidence.”