H.S. FOOTBALL: Blairsville wins without key starter
BLAIRSVILLE — Losing starting quarterback Scott Thompson to a freak accident was the last thing the already ailing Blairsville Bobcats needed, but the offense seems to be safe in the hands of Jaylin Rydbom and Deion Robinson.
Robinson scored two touchdowns and rushed for 182 yards to account for most of Blairsville’s yardage, and the patchwork Bobcats held off Northern Cambria for a 24-19 win in a Heritage Conference football game at Memorial Stadium as first-year coach Rick Artley prevailed in his first encounter with his alma mater.
Pressed into the starting role after Thompson was shelved earlier in the week, Rydbom handled the moment admirably, even if his stats don’t reflect it.
He scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak in the first quarter and finished 1 of 6 passing for 13 yards, but there was more to his performance than stats show, Artley said.
“He was calling a lot of plays on the line of scrimmage, getting us in the right running plays,” Artley said.
“I know Jaylin can handle the game, and honestly, in most teams in this league, he could be a starter. … But he did such a great job of controlling the game and putting us in the right play on the line of scrimmage. We’d give him a few options, and he was able to put us in the right play based on their defensive looks.”
Robinson did the rest.
The junior running back powered the Bobcats by scoring a pair of second-half touchdowns, including a highlight-reel 28-yarder on a broken play midway through the fourth quarter that gave the hosts a 24-12 lead.
For an offense missing its starting quarterback, a key offensive lineman and its No. 1 receiver, Robinson was the workhorse the Bobcats needed him to be. He carried the ball 26 times, averaging 7.0 yards per run, and broke four runs of 25 yards or longer. He had 182 of Blairsville’s 218 total yards.
“Deion did a great job of putting us on his back,” Artley said. “Deion did a heck of a job early, and our line did a heck of a job without Jared Dick. He was out. Josh Brown really stepped up this week at right tackle. So our offensive line really helped cover some of the problems that we were in.”
Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto knew stopping Robinson was the Colts’ top priority, even with Thompson out of the lineup.
“I anticipated a lot more running even if (Thompson) wasn’t out,” Taranto said. “They haven’t been throwing the ball as much as I expected them to anyway. I mean, I wouldn’t either. They have a great running back who does a nice job making cuts. … We knew stopping the run was essentiall. We knew that going in this week before we even knew (Thompson) was out. … We knew what we had to do. We just didn’t get it done.”
The Bobcats got a huge lift from their special teams, too.
Blairsville recovered two muffed punts by Northern Cambria and got a momentum-shifting 71-yard kickoff return from Cameron Livingston moments after Northern Cambria took a 12-10 lead in the third quarter.
Senior Preston Brida recovered both Northern Cambria fumbles, and both turnovers led to touchdowns.
“During the beginning of the week, obviously, Scotty went down, and we knew somebody had to step up and make a play, be it on special teams, defense or offense,” Brida said. “And I was just lucky enough to be there.”
The Colts’ first muffed punt came in the opening quarter, after they took a 6-0 lead and held Blairsville to a three-and-out on the Bobcats’ first possession. Blairsville recovered the ball on the Colts’ 46-yard line and scored six plays later on Rydbom’s 1-yard plunge to take a 7-6 lead after freshman kicker Andrew Stipcak’s extra point.
But the second muffed punt was perhaps even costlier for the Colts.
With Northern Cambria trailing 17-12 early in the fourth quarter, Nolan Paronish misjudged the incoming punt and tried to field it well above his head. Paronish got his fingers on it but couldn’t corral the ball, and Brida pounced on the loose ball at the Colts’ 28.
Robinson made the Colts pay on the next play with his highlight-reel 28-yard scoring run.
After colliding with Rydbom in the backfield, Robinson recovered, ran to the left side and was greeted by a defender for what appeared to be a 5-yard loss. But Robinson shed the tackler, ran away from a few others and won the footrace down the left sideline to give the Bobcats a 24-12 lead with 7:08 left in the game.
“Running the ball, you can’t ever think you’re down until you’re on the ground,” Robinson said.
Blairsville fell behind early in both halves.
Northern Cambria marched 47 yards in 11 plays on the opening drive of the game and took a 6-0 lead on Dartagnan Suchar’s 1-yard quarterback sneak midway through the first quarter.
Rydbom matched Suchar with his short touchdown late in the first quarter, and Stipcak added a 25-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half as Blairsville took a 10-6 lead into the locker room.
The second half got off to a promising start for Northern Cambria.
Robinson fumbled on the fifth play of the half, and the Colts responded with an eight-play, 62-yard scoring drive to take a 12-10 lead on Suchar’s second touchdown, a 13-yarder, with 5:57 to play in the third quarter.
But Blairsville regained the lead 44 seconds later when Robinson scored from 8 yards for a 17-12 advantage. Livingston’s 71-yard kickoff return set up the Bobcats at the Northern Cambria 16.
Northern Cambria got within 24-19 on backup quarterback Tyler Pershing’s 62-yard touchdown pass to Joe Olish with 4:29 to play. Pershing stepped in to replace Suchar, who didn’t return after suffering an ankle injury late in the third quarter.
The Colts got the ball back at their own 20 with 1:54 to play, but Pershing was intercepted near midfield with 1:07 left, and Blairsville ran out the clock to improve to 3-1.
Suchar led the Colts with 88 rushing yards, and Paronish had 86.
“We’re a team that needs some work,” Taranto said. “We’re a team that needs to get focused. We have athletes. They need to step up a little bit.”
Thompson injured his right knee in an off-field incident Tuesday and will miss at least two more weeks. He is scheduled to undergo an arthroscopic procedure next week to remove a piece of cartilage that’s been bothering him for some time.
In the meantime, the Bobcats’ offense will remain in the capable hands of Rydbom.
“It happened in chemistry class,” Artley said of Thompson’s freak injury. “He turned around in his seat and it popped out. It got locked. There is a piece of cartilage there that’s locking it in. He had the MRI done. It’s stuck and he can’t get it loose. The doctor said if it were to loosen up, he wouldn’t feel the pain and he could play. He can squat down. He can’t extend his leg. It’s such a freak accident.
“He literally turned around — somebody was answering a question — he turned around to look back at that person and it got locked. He went to the emergency room, and then, he went and got an MRI done, and now on Wednesday of next week, he has to go get scoped. So he’s going to be out for a couple weeks.
“And Jaylin is going to be someone that we’re going to have to continue to work with and give him his shot.”