H.S. FOOTBALL: Comets make stand against Colts
KENWOOD — It might still be August, the humidity and the bugs replacing the classic football weather of November, but on opening night, Penns Manor and Northern Cambria tangled in another memorable battle, with the Comets coming from behind in the fourth quarter and hanging on by the skin of their teeth.
Penns Manor overcame a seven-point deficit, coming alive in the fourth quarter and holding off Northern Cambria for a 21-20 victory Friday night at Pat Corrigan Field.
“It feels great to get a ‘W,’” Lucas Kowalski said after his first start at quarterback for Penns Manor. “We were down there for a while, but everyone was like, Let’s pick it up. Let’s get the win.”
It’s the second straight year the Comets and Colts opened the season with one of the best back-and-forth battles of the year. Northern Cambria upset Penns Manor, 28-20, at home in Week 1 last year.
“We knew we were in for a battle tonight,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “Northern has a big front line up there, and they did a real nice job moving us around a little bit, too. It was going both ways tonight. It’s just a big win for us to come out with that one. We owed them from last year, really, when they came back on us. When we went down 14-7 these kids didn’t quit, and I’m proud of them that they came back.”
Trailing by seven going into the final quarter, Penns Manor was able to find success running to the outside. Kowalski gained 104 of his game-high 157 yards rushing in the second half, scoring on runs of 62 and 17 yards, respectively, to give the Comets a 21-14 lead with less than three minutes to go.
“Lucas did a real nice job running with the ball tonight,” Packer said. “He can run with the ball, so that’s why we said we’re going to run our same offense. If we get some of these other guys going a little bit, we’ll be all right.”
Northern Cambria bounced right back after falling behind after Kowalski’s second touchdown. Mac Novella returned the kickoff 69 yards to the Penns Manor 9-yard line, and the Colts pulled within one on Dartagnan Suchar’s 2-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal.
“We kept (Novella) on the bench,” Taranto said. “I saw Penns Manor over there cramping up, getting tired. I said, ‘Let’s get some fresh wheels on the field.’ He did exactly that. Unbelievable for a sophomore to come out and make a play like that.”
Derek Baker, who missed his kick after the Colts’ first touchdown, lined up to go for the tie, but with the play clock running down, Northern Cambria burned its final timeout. When the Colts came back out, it was to run the ball, and Kowalski stopped Tyler Pershing on the left edge but was flagged for grabbing the facemask.
From the 1?-yard line, Suchar went up the middle, running straight into a wall of Penns Manor defenders.
Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto felt good about going for two, but he didn’t even wait for others to second-guess his play call.
“In scrimmages, kicking extra points we struggled,” he said. “Tonight we shanked the first one. I’d rather go for two and go for a win, which I think we have a better chance at sometimes than kicking the extra and tying. My last play call there, I definitely should’ve rethought the QB sneak. They can pin their ears back and come on up. Maybe I should have come up with a little misdirection, something quick, still power but quick enough to get them stepping the wrong way for a second. Their linebackers play really downhill. In hindsight, sure. Not only I think that, but so do probably three quarters of our fans. So it’s going to be a rough week next week. We’ll get it done, though.”
It was going to be difficult for whichever team came up on the losing end of such a seesaw game.
“It was definitely rough,” Taranto said. “The kids played their hearts out. Penns Manor’s a good squad.
“When we were shaking hands, coaches said, ‘We’ll see you in the playoffs.’ It’s high school football. Only God knows what will happen week to week. … But we definitely match up well. Last year we had some unbelievable athletes, and they had Danny Ferens there for four years and he did real well. They’ve got a heck of a line right now, and our line’s pretty decent, too. We knew it was going to be a good ballgame tonight: very similar offenses, pretty good running backs on both sides, excellent running quarterbacks and a big line up front. We’re a carbon copy of each other, pretty much.”
Penns Manor started off slow and methodical on offense, riding its strong offensive line as it plowed downfield, opening the scoring on Tate’s 2-yard run. But Northern Cambria took away the trap plays the Comets so often run to perfection, and the Colts took advantage in the middle quarters, building a 14-7 lead on a 50-yard dash by Nolan Paronish and Suchar’s first touchdown run, also from 2 yards.
“We were getting guys that were cramping up a lot, and we were throwing different guys in there,” Packer said. “I have to take a little blame. Some of the play-calling wasn’t the best. But you’ve got to give Northern Cambria a lot of credit. They did a nice job on us there for a while. The kids just didn’t give up. They knew they had a whole other quarter to play. They got down but never gave up. They played hard and things started clicking.”
“As much as a loss can help, it has to,” Taranto said. “We didn’t come out here and get blown out. We didn’t come out here and win and not get work. Heartbreaking, but these kids are resilient. They’ll forget about it by tomorrow at noon. Something else will be going on. I hope we come out Monday and work hard. It’s good, especially because we were lacking game experience with some guys, and they were just in a ballgame. They were in the fire tonight and they responded well, so we know they can do it on Friday nights.”
Suchar, strictly a running back in the past, led Northern Cambria with 93 yards on 20 carries in his first start at quarterback. He and Penns Manor’s Kowalski, also a converted running back, finished a combined 0-for-10 passing, though.
The Comets also got strong running from Tate (70 yards) and Stephen Dumm (63), usually a tackle. The line, Penns Manor’s strength entering the season, was crucial in the Comets’ success Friday night.
“The backs run hard,” Packer said. “(Guard) Luke Ruddock had a heck of a football game tonight, and Steve Dumm. That front line did a nice job.
“We put that series in for (Dumm). Usually we put it in if we need to get a couple yards, but, man, he just went. Nobody could put him down.”