HOMER-CENTER 22, BISHOP GUILFOYLE 12 -- Wildcats storm back late to capture District 6 crown
ALTOONA — For the better part of Saturday night, it seemed the only lasting image of Homer-Center’s appearance in the District 6 Class A championship game would be a picturesque snow-covered football field.
Then came Aaron Berezansky’s dramatic fourth-down pass over the middle to Ean Lee, Lee’s go-ahead touchdown run and Shawn Steffee’s safety to make sure Homer-Center made an impression by beating Bishop Guilfoyle, 22-12, for the District 6 Class A championship at a bitter-cold, snowy Mansion Park.
Homer-Center trailed most of the night, getting little offensive traction against Bishop Guilfoyle, and faced a 12-8 deficit with the clock running down. Then the Wildcats came alive for two touchdowns and a safety in the game’s final 3:40.
“When we turned the game around, it was surreal,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said, tears streaming down his face, in the middle of a jubilant celebration by players, family and fans.
“Just looking around at all of this, this is what Homer-Center’s all about right here, this kind of atmosphere. They crave a winner. They deserve a winner. Our kids never gave up, and we turned the momentum when we had to and made the plays. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of a community like this.”
The Wildcats fell behind 12-8 on Brandon Chadbourn’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Sam McCloskey at the 5:22 mark of the second quarter, and the score stayed the same well into the fourth quarter. Homer-Center was losing the field-position battle, but eventually took over on its own 43-yard line after a failed fake-punt attempt by the Marauders. Homer-Center didn’t get far and faced fourth-and-3 from the 50-yard line when Page called timeout.
Out of that break, Berezansky made his first and only completion of the night, a bullet to Lee over the middle for a 10-yard gain and the first sign of life in Homer-Center’s offense in the better part of three quarters of play. Berezansky had been 0-for-6 with an interception.
“That was a great pass,” Page said. “We called a timeout because I didn’t think it was going to work, and we said we were going to try to run the seam to the other side to Lee. Chadbourn slid over and kind of played center field, and Aaron threw the ball right on a rope and Ean made the catch. That’s a hard catch to make in these conditions.”
“They called me for that seam and Aaron made a great throw,” Lee, a junior running back, said. “It’s awesome.”
With that spark, Lee broke free for an 18-yard run on the next play, and 15 yards was tacked on due to a facemask penalty. He then followed a wall of blockers on the right side for an 11-yard touchdown run that put Homer-Center up 14-12.
“It was a hole that I saw outside,” he said. “I just cut through it, the blocking was great, and I got the touchdown. … There’s no better feeling.”
Bishop Guilfoyle was stunned.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball rolled through an up-man’s legs, past the deep returners and back to the 6-yard line before Chadbourn picked it up, getting only to the Marauders’ 10-yard line to start the Bishop Guilfoyle drive with 3:28 left.
On the second play, Steffee mauled Chadbourn in the end zone to extend the lead to 16-12 with 3:17 left.
“I knew that was the clincher right there,” Steffee, a 6-foot-1, 244-pound senior defensive tackle, said. “That was the best thing that ever happened to me. That was unreal.”
After the Marauders sent an onside-kick attempt out of bounds, Berezansky added an 11-yard touchdown run with 1:53 to seal the win.
Matt McAdoo then intercepted Chadbourn, and the Wildcats took over and ran out the clock.
“They made some plays they needed to at the end,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “It was just two great football teams battling out. We played well, they played well, we all made mistakes in the conditions, but they made some plays when they needed to, and hats off to them for playing a great game and hanging in there.”
A snow squall blew through the Altoona area Saturday evening and blanketed the field, making for tricky footing for the players but an all-around excellent atmosphere for high school football.
“It was unbelievable,” Page said. “It was like Christmas morning when we came out. It was crazy, and the wind was blowing. Both teams had to deal with it, though.”
“We do like to open it up and do a little bit (offensively), but we both played in the same conditions tonight, and we both played hard,” Wheeler said. “The weather was not great, but it wasn’t great for either of us. To use the weather would cheapen it for Homer-Center. It was what it was supposed to be.”
The Marauders opened the scoring with D.J. Kitt’s 74-yard run in the first quarter. Chadbourn’s pass on the two-point attempt fell incomplete. In slick conditions, only one extra-point kick attempt was made on the night.
Homer-Center pulled ahead 8-6 on Lee’s 1-yard run and Newhouse’s two-point conversion burst, but Bishop Guilfoyle drove 64 yards on its next series and scored on Chadbourn’s pass to McCloskey for a 12-8 lead, which stood until late in the fourth quarter.
Much of the second half was played in Homer-Center territory, but the Wildcats forced two punts and two turnovers on downs. They also picked up two Marauders fumbles in the first half.
Homer-Center couldn’t overcome the poor field position on offense, but the defense held Bishop Guilfoyle to just 33 yards in the second half to keep hope alive for a comeback.
“We were able to hold them, and that was the key,” Page said. “They had times when they were really moving the ball on us, and we held them and we made some plays. We got a couple breaks with a few penalties and such and were able to bust Ean like we normally do.”