H.S. FOOTBALL: Wildcats' line leads way past Trojans
HOMER CITY — The veteran players on Homer-Center’s roster have taken a lot of hits in the past couple seasons. They went 0-9 one year, fell just short of the playoffs the next and have had a hard time keeping their best player on the field.
But the Wildcats seem to have put all that behind and hope to build off past misery to breeze to the top of the Heritage Conference. That quest started Friday night with a 48-6 romp over Saltsburg in a muggy season opener at Memorial Field that was ruled by the Wildcats’ offensive line.
“We thought we could do it, we hoped for it,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said of the line’s dominating play. “We have an experienced line. We have a couple guys that are four-year guys, and we have a couple three-year guys. They take a lot of pride in what they do. They work well together, and they’re a good unit.”
That unit, with all of its starters returning from last season, led the way for the Wildcats’ workhorse, Mike Newhouse, who finished with 93 yards and two touchdowns. The senior has struggled with knee problems throughout his first three seasons, but said he is finally healthy and able to play up to his potential.
“It’s nice to be back,” Newhouse said. “I’m enjoying it, and I’m loving it. I’m glad I’m back to 100 percent, and I can’t wait to go more.”
Newhouse teamed up with Ean Lee in the backfield. Saltsburg defenders had a hard time catching up with Lee in the secondary. He rushed for 68 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries, and Mark Coleman added a 75-yard touchdown the only time he touched the ball.
“I know my line is going to do what they’re supposed to do, and I know the holes are going to be there,” Lee said. “I know we’re going to do well this year.”
Homer-Center gained 322 yards of total offense, almost double Saltsburg’s 168. Backup running back Tanner Yard led the Trojans with 46 yards on just three attempts, while starter Steve Richards managed only 16 yards on 12 carries.
“The offense we run is fundamentally sound,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “We are to take advantage of the things that are given to us, and to Homer’s credit, they didn’t give us a whole lot tonight. They were able to match up man to man and basically just beat us. And that’s exactly what they did.”
After losing quarterback Tyler Frassenei to a knee injury in the first quarter, the Trojans fumbled twice in the second quarter. The third-year starter never returned to the game, and Tim, his father, said that “only time will tell” what the injury is.
Freshman Frankie Plowman took over under center and went 5 of 8 for 45 yards.
“It’s not because we didn’t execute,” Tim Frassenei said. “We were technically sound, but they just didn’t allow us to do anything. We had a great week in practice and were fundamentally sound. Our offense is based on double teams and slides and audibles, and they just didn’t let it happen.”
Saltsburg didn’t run a play on Homer-Center’s side of the field until the 2-minute mark in the first half.
“Tonight ended up being lopsided on the scoreboard, but they’re not all going to be that way,” Page said. “We can get better on both sides of the ball. Some of our timing offensively was off a little bit, and defensively, there’s times we didn’t break down and tackle well. We’re going to see teams that will make us pay for that.”
Aaron Berezansky completed a pass to Jim Bence for a first down on Homer-Center’s first play from scrimmage, and the Wildcats never took their foot off the gas. They scored on five of their first six possessions and tacked on punt return for a touchdown to race to a 35-0 lead at halftime. Berezansky finished 2 of 2 for 56 yards, but that was all Homer-Center needed to do through the air.
Lee opened the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run with 7:33 left in the first quarter on the Wildcats’ fifth play of the game. On their next possession, Berezansky hit Kolby Skultety for 44 yards, and Newhouse punched it in from the 2-yard line.
“I love our O-line,” Newhouse said. “They work hard and they make it happen for us. Without them, we wouldn’t be doing too much of anything. They definitely made it happen tonight.”
Plowman fumbled a snap on the ensuing possession, and Homer-Center’s Shawn Steffee covered it up at the Saltsburg 35-yard line. Eight seconds later, Newhouse was in the end zone again, giving the Wildcats a 20-0 lead.
The Trojans then went three-and-out, and Lee returned Lucas Mowery’s punt 54 yards for a touchdown.
“Special teams is just another phase of the game,” Page said. “We put a lot of time into them. We emphasize that we want to do something positive rather than just sit someone back there and field a punt. Same thing with kickoff. We want to try to make it a weapon, and tonight it happened. In a couple instances, it went in our favor.”
Anthony Caruso tacked on a 2-yard touchdown with less than three minutes to play in the second quarter, giving the Wildcats a running clock for the rest of the game due to the mercy rule.
Lee scored a 27-yard touchdown halfway through the third quarter to put the Wildcats up 42-0.
The Trojans answered this time, though, and Yard scored from 41 yards to end the shutout bid.
“They are a very tough team,” Tim Frassenei said. “We knew they were going to be tough, but they are definitely as good as advertised.”
Coleman scored his 75-yarder with 36 seconds left in the third quarter to put an exclamation point on an important opening win for the Wildcats.
“We have to be ready to play every week,” Page said. “I tell them they don’t need much more motivation other than the fact that we only get to play one time a week and we get to play under the lights on Friday night. That should get them excited enough. It’s one week at a time, but we’re looking forward to getting better every week.”
PHOTO: Homer-Center running back Ean Lee celebrated a touchdown with Jim Bence.