HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Unbeaten Wildcats stay on track
ARMAGH — The play in the first half of Friday night’s game was sloppy, and the weather was even sloppier.
Neither seemed to matter, though, as Homer-Center cruised to its first shutout of the season, a 37-0 win over United on rainy night in a Heritage Conference football game at Thomas J. Madill Field.
With the win, the Wildcats improved to 6-0 for the first time since 1994 and set a school record with four or more touchdowns in six straight games.
The Lions, on the other hand, dropped to 0-6 and lost their 16th straight.
“I thought we did great tonight, especially with the conditions,” Homer-Center’s Ean Lee said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we got the win.”
The two teams combined for just five completed passes and 293 total yards. The Wildcats entered the game averaging 347.2 total yards per game.
“Statistically, we’ve been in few games this year where the numbers could’ve been better, but we’ll definitely take the ‘W,’” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “We know what we’re capable of, so we don’t get too excited about the stats. The guys like to spread the ball around.”
Lee rushed for 69 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Mike Newhouse added 70 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats, who outrushed the Lions 166-70. Neither player ran the ball in the second half.
Homer-Center certainly didn’t get the start it wanted when Lee ran the opening kickoff back 94 yards for a score that was called back on a holding penalty. The Wildcats finished their first drive with minus-16 yards due to two high snaps, but they bounced back to score on their next four possessions.
Lee put the Wildcats on the board first with a 6-yard run at the 6:44 mark in the first quarter. Aaron Berezansky added a 1-yard touchdown with a little over a minute left in the quarter to cap a drive that was hampered by unexpected pouring-down rain and wind.
“We had a touchdown called back, then we had a snap over our head, and then we had a bad snap on the punt,” Page said. “That looked like the storm that actually happened 10 or 15 minutes later. To our kids’ credit, we held them and we were able to get the ball down the field and score. And then the drive in the rain, we got a second score, which was very big at the time. Once we got our footing a little better, figuratively, we ended up taking control of the game.”
“They set us up really nice at the beginning there,” said United coach Lance Holupka, whose team started its first drive at the Homer-Center 37-yard line. “We had nice field position, but we had a bunch of no-catches. We had some stuff on them, but they’re tough. They’re older and we’re younger, but we are where they were a few years ago, and hopefully we can build they way they built and get to where they’re at now.”
The Lions fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Berezansky connected with Jim Bence two plays later for a 22-yard touchdown pass. Berezansky finished 2 of 3 passing for 31 yards.
Newhouse then put the Wildcats up 30-0 with a 6-yard run midway through the second quarter after Lee extended the drive with a 33-yard run on a fake punt. Ten players ran the ball for Homer-Center, whose strong offensive line and running game has been dominant through the first six weeks of the season.
“The line was getting good pushes tonight, and the holes were great,” Lee said. “All that us running backs have to do is read the holes and run through them.”
“It’s been the same basic steps on the line from week to week,” lineman Cody Miller said. “We just try to keep everything simple, and we try not to overcomplicate everything.”
United went three-and-out to start the second half, and Lee then returned a Seth McLendon punt 51 yards for a score to give the Wildcats the 37-0 advantage and a running clock due to the mercy rule.
“He’s a great athlete,” Page said of Lee. “It’s something you’d like to take credit for as a coach, but he has great vision. His cutting ability is very subtle, but effective. With the guys that we have, all our backs bring a little something different to the table, and we try to take advantage of that. He did a nice job. You can see why he’s back there on the return teams and why he’s the tailback. It’s definitely a weapon for us.”
The backups from both teams played most of the second half, with Homer-Center’s reserves holding on for the shutout.
“That (shutout) hinged on a lot of our younger guys there from the early third quarter on,” Page said. “They did a nice job and held them off. Our first-team defense did a nice job, and there have been times that our backup guys have let a score or two in, and that’s fine. That happens, but it is nice to get the goose egg.”
Homer-Center has scored 225 points this season, while United has allowed 225 points. The Wildcats have given up just 30 points.
United’s best shot at scoring was on a field goal attempt. The Lions faced fourth-and-3 with 22 seconds remaining in the first half, but Jake Beacker’s 32-yard try sailed wide left.
The Lions tried to throw the Wildcats’ defense off by passing the ball 18 times, but they converted only three times for 24 yards.
“We’re so close,” Holupka said. “We’re good for two plays, and then we have a letdown. That kind of hurts us. Once we put it all together, they’re going to be all right. I’ve got some young puppies, but they’re getting there. They’re starting to understand it. … Four more weeks, and we’re looking for four wins. The schemes looked pretty good tonight, we just didn’t execute.”
“His kids are playing for him,” Page said of Holupka’s team. “They’re battling. They’ve got a lot of young kids playing, and we were certainly in that situation a few years back. All you can ask is that they go out and lay it on the line for you, and I saw that with them tonight. United is a scrappy team that could get you.”
Homer-Center will go out of the conference next week in search of its seventh win, which would surpass its total wins from the past two seasons. The Wildcats will face off with Conemaugh Township (1-5) before a gauntlet in their final three games with Ligonier Valley (6-0), Penns Manor (6-0) and Portage (4-1).
“We’re a one-week-at-a-time-team, but you can’t help but take a peek at the schedule,” Page said. “It’s going to get tougher for us. It’ll definitely keep our attention.
“We want to treat every week like a playoff game, so that’ll be good for us. But it is going to get tougher. We’re doing what we need to do. Hopefully we can keep putting points on the board, but we know that’s not always a guarantee. We have to work for it.”