H.S. FOOTBALL: Slow start dooms Saltsburg
SALTSBURG — The second-half version of the Saltsburg Trojans football team looked like it could compete with the best of them, but it was the first-half version that sealed their fate in a 28-14 non-conference loss to North Star on Friday night.
If only they had a chance to redo their first-half performance.
In the first half the Trojans were held to just 82 yards of total offense and lost their best offensive player, Tyler Frassenei, to injury. North Star held the ball for nearly twice the amount of time that the Trojans did, which led to the Cougars 21-0 advantage at halftime.
Turning the ball over multiple times and numerous penalty flags didn’t help matters, either. North Star took full advantage of the Trojans multitude of first-half mistakes.
North Star’s Thomas Miller took a handoff off right tackle and left defenders in his wake on a 31-yard touchdown run to start the scoring just under four minutes into the game.
Miller added another score just over 30 seconds into the second quarter, giving the Cougars a 14-0 lead.
But, it wasn’t just Miller having success on the ground. His backfield mate, Zach Maluchnick, also found running room early and often, which made the play-calling easy for Cougars coach Stacy Schmitt.
“They’re good running backs,” Stacy said. “They had daylight all day. If it wasn’t for some ankle tackles, we could have potentially had a few more scores. Our offensive line just did a great job all night.”
Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei knew just how good the Cougars’ running backs were.
“We knew it on film,” Frassenei said. “You watch those guys, you know they’re solid ballplayers. They’re physical kids with athletic abilities, which is a solid combination. We knew what they were going to do coming in, and they didn’t change a thing. They just beat us at their own game.”
With the loss of Frassenei to what appeared to be a head injury in the first half, all hope appeared lost for the Trojans, but freshman quarterback Frankie Plowman emerged as a leader of the offense. In the second half, Plowman showed poise in the pocket and directed the Trojans down the field.
Trailing 21-0 after a scoreless third quarter, the Trojans began to move the ball consistently on the right arm of Plowman. He hooked up with Zack Sinclair for a 14-yard touchdown on a back-corner fade along the right sideline, getting the Trojans on the board with more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“Frankie is a quality kid,” Frassenei said. “You have a freshman who is going to make mistakes, but he is going to overcome those mistakes and more than make up for it. He’s an intelligent kid. He does a lot of nice things for us and is advanced beyond his years.
“He’s no longer a freshman in my eyes. All I see are positives in the future with Frankie.”
With the offense heating up late, the Trojans needed a big stop defensively, but Cougars running back Levi Albright — who started the game at right guard — carried the load as the offense moved without Miller and Maluchnick for extended periods in the second half.
Albright gained 81 yards on just seven carries in the second half. His 9-yard run on which he broke multiple tackles near the goal line put the Cougars up 28-7.
“He usually plays guard,” Stacy said. “But, we were dealing with some injuries in the backfield, and you saw that he was a strong, fast runner.”
Plowman and the Trojans responded. The quarterback hooked up repeatedly with Lucas Mowery, who finished with six catches for 62 yards. Saltsburg scored when Plowman tossed a 14-yard thread-the-needle-type pass to Steve Richards, bringing them within two scores.
The Trojans then recovered an onside kick, but Plowman was intercepted on the Trojans’ last possession.
“This team, these kids, man, they have unbelievable heart,” Tim Frassenei said. “They refuse to quit, and that is something that you just can’t teach.
“I can’t tell you how proud of them I am. They’re all tough kids. We’re better than we were in Week 1, so we just need to keep advancing and turn the positives into wins.”
Next week, the Trojans travel to United in a matchup of winless teams.
“It’s another game in the conference and you know exactly what you’re going to get,” Frassenei said. “It’s going to be a tough ball game.”