HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Key Blairsville starters set to return Friday
The Blairsville Bobcats of the past three weeks haven’t looked like those of the three games before that. Injuries, especially in small-school football, have a way of doing that.
Blairsville should get a big boost for the stretch run — just in time, as the Bobcats are on the fringe of the District 6 playoff race — in quarterback Scott Thompson and wide receiver Colton McMillan.
Thompson injured his right knee in an off-field incident three weeks ago and underwent a minor medical procedure.
“Colton should be back and Scott is going to be cleared as well,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said following the Bobcats’ 34-7 loss to Penns Manor last Friday. “He’s fitted for his brace. He’s actually cleared; he just has to get the brace for next week. He definitely will be back.”
Blairsville opened the season 2-1, with a 21-17 loss to undefeated Ligonier Valley the only setback, but has since gone 1-2, losing to two more undefeated teams in Homer-Center and Penns Manor. Getting back the two biggest components of its passing attack should be a boon for Blairsville, which sits ninth in the District 6 Class A rankings. The top eight make the playoffs.
In three games Thompson was 37 of 59 passing for 557 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions. McMillan had eight catches for 140 yards. Blairsville still ranks second in the Heritage Conference in passing offense.
Of course, it’s never that easy.
Cameron Livingston, who had four catches for 56 yards in last week’s game, didn’t play after the first quarter, and offensive tackle Rahdezz Henderson missed the game for undisclosed reasons.
“(Livingston) got hit in the stomach,” Artley said. “I don’t know if it was a helmet to the stomach or what, but he was struggling and had to come off the field. … He wasn’t coming back into the game, so he went to the hospital at halftime.”
FUMBLE-ITIS: A heavy downpour hit Blairsville for about five minutes, just before kickoff of last Friday’s game between the Bobcats and Penns Manor.
The Comets proceeded to fumble an uncharacteristic four times, including three times in the first half — all three were recovered by Blairsville, which helped keep the game close into the fourth quarter.
Blairsville also lost three fumbles.
The pregame burst of rain was relatively short, as was the next that hit early in the second half — not enough to cause that many fumbles alone, the coaches said.
“A lot of them were strips,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “They were going for the football, and with a sloppy night, that ball pops out fairly easy. Part of the problem was we were getting dragged a few times there, but we still were staying with the football and got them to put it on the ground, and we were there to pick it up.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “Usually these guys are pretty good at keeping the ball tight to their body, but I don’t know what was going on. It was just one of those nights. You can’t turn the ball over like that and have penalties and get yourself in a hole against good teams.”
STOPPAGE IN PLAY: Homer-Center’s 37-0 win over United last week was ugly, but it could have been even worse for the Lions.
On the second play of the second quarter — during a torrential downpour — United faced third-and-inches from its 35-yard line. Lions quarterback Matt Dill fumbled a bad snap and chased the ball back to about the 20-yard line. But the play suddenly stopped, with Dill looking like he was down, and the Wildcats’ Lucas Monko looking like he had a fumble recovery.
After a few moments of confusion by players, coaches and fans, the ball was placed back at the 35-yard line, and the down was replayed.
“It was an inadvertent whistle,” explained Homer-Center coach Greg Page. “I’ve seen that a few times, and when it does happen and the ball is not secured by either team, it turns out to be null and void, and you replay the down. I guess if the inadvertent whistle had occurred when he had possession where it was, then they would’ve spotted the ball where he was. But it was still loose, and he was trying to recover it.”
After the official’s gaffe, Dill rushed for 2 yards on the second third-and-inches to give United a first down.
Homer-Center thought it had the Lions stopped on the previous play, and the Wildcats could have been set up for another score.
“It was unfortunate because they did get the first down after that,” Page said. “That would’ve been a good way to escape that drive. … But luckily, we did end up stopping them a few plays later.”
QUICKLY EVOLVING: Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel didn’t envision freshman Collin Smith taking on such an integral role on both sides of the ball at the onset of the season.
Then again, Beitel didn’t foresee junior running back/defensive back Michael Keller breaking his leg in the preseason.
The 10th-year coach also didn’t genuinely know what he had in Smith until seeing the Ohio native play and score a touchdown in Week 1.
Smith has continued to evolve, playing his most vital role of the season in last week’s win over Saltsburg. He reeled off a 58-yard touchdown and finished with a team-high 61 yards on seven carries. He has 323 yards on 50 carries and has scored two touchdowns.
Smith, an outside linebacker/strong safety who plays in specific defensive packages, also batted down four passes from Saltsburg’s Frankie Plowman.
“You got a chance to see the future,” Beitel said of Smith after Friday’s win. “Collin’s only a freshman, and he’s got a tremendous future in football. He’s a quarterback by trade, but we moved him to running back when we lost Michael Keller. He’s still a young buck, but he’s very electrifying. He’s a game-changer, and we’re phasing him in more and more to the offense.”
STEPPING IN: When Indiana takes on West Mifflin on Friday, coach Mark Zilinskas will have a vested interest beyond the norm in his team’s starting quarterback.
That’s because it will be his son, Jacob, taking snaps.
Zilinskas, a sophomore, will get his first career start because senior Sean Thompson, who had been the starter since midway through last season, is unavailable because of a broken finger that required surgery.
Thompson, who has thrown for 620 yards and five touchdowns this season, suffered the injury while playing defense last week in a 28-21 loss at Greensburg Salem. Jacob Zilinskas played the second half and completed 9 of 15 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown.
Mark Zilinskas said a change at quarterback won’t mean anything changes in terms of the Indians’ scheme.
“We’re never going to stray too far from our base offense,” he said. “It’s always tough being a backup, just like it was for Sean last year. But we’ll still run the option. A lot of (the pressure) will be on Jake, but we’ve got to establish that run first.”