BLAIRSVILLE — Penns Manor remained unbeaten heading into next week’s showdown with Ligonier Valley.
The Comets might not be so lucky to keep a perfect record if they turn in another offensive performance like the one they had Friday in Blairsville.
Penns Manor played excellent defense, making up for a clumsy showing on offense for most of the night before the Comets pulled away for a 34-7 win over an ailing Blairsville team at Memorial Stadium.
Penns Manor limited the Bobcats to 10 yards rushing and 116 yards overall, but the Comets also fumbled four times and lost three of them. Despite a litany of injuries, Blairsville trailed Penns Manor by just 13 points with 10 minutes to play.
“Defensively we did a heck of a good job,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “Offense, that’s another story.”
Penns Manor and Ligonier Valley, two of the three unbeaten teams in the Heritage Conference, square off in their always-important meeting next week in Ligonier.
“I feel pretty confident defensively,” Penns Manor offensive tackle/outside linebacker Mitch Hamilton said. “Offensively we still need some work, and I personally believe that we can handle them. I don’t have any doubt in my mind. We just need to work this week in practice.”
“It’s nice to be undefeated, but you’ve got to think about who you’re playing (next week),” Packer said. “We’ve got to clean some things up or we’re not going to be thinking undefeated anymore. We have to play a good football game next week, and I think we can give them a good game, but if we play like that offensively, we might as well forget it.”
Lucas Kowalski intercepted a pass by Blairsville quarterback Jaylin Rydbom on the third play of the game and returned it 56 yards to put the Comets up 6-0, but Kowalski also lost three fumbles in the first half, and the whole offense was out of sorts for most of the game.
“I thought we could’ve really put them away early, but when you turn the ball over, bad things happen,” Packer said. “They got us out of sync, and we never did get back to our offense, how we wanted to run it.
“One guy would miss a block, one guy wouldn’t block, and when that happens, bad things happen. We just couldn’t get it going. We’re going to work really hard offensively. We’ve been really practicing defense a lot, but we’re going to have more time offensively. We’ve got to get back to where we were at.”
Hamilton spent a lot of the night in the Blairsville backfield, pressuring Rydbom and leading a defense that held its opponent to under 10 points for the third straight game and the fourth time this season.
“(Defensive lineman) Brandon Alter, he’s on my side and he was really pressing down the tight end,” Hamilton said. “We were working on it in practice and it’s really helped out. It’s just something our team’s good at. That’s what our team’s based around, getting pressure instead of standing back for pass coverage.
“I just worry about getting to the quarterback. It really helps our team out, because it gives their quarterback a little less time, and when we gave him time he completed every pass.”
Rydbom finished 13 of 31 passing for 106 yards with two interceptions. He hit Dylan Dirienzo for three passes on a second-half drive, capping it with a 9-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Bobcats within 20-7 with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Rydbom was playing in place of injured starter Scott Thompson for the third straight game. Blairsville coach Rick Artley said Thompson should return next week, as should top receiver Colton McMillan.
“These guys gave it everything they had with the limited resources we have right now,” Artley said.
“I’m possibly the happiest you could be after a final score of 34-7, but with the injuries, literally we had two skill guys on the field that have played a decent amount in the last two years.”
Blairsville couldn’t get the running game going, even with starting running back Deion Robinson in the fold. With all these advantages, Penns Manor still didn’t put the Bobcats away until the last five minutes of the game, when Bailey Mumau and Kowalski ran for touchdowns.
Louie Tate, who led the Comets with 93 yards on 11 carries, and Stephen Dumm, ran for Penns Manor’s other scores.
“Anytime you come out with a win, you have to be happy about that,” Packer said. “The game, to me, was actually closer than the score.”
“I’m as happy as I can be with a loss like this, just because of the fact they could’ve quit and they didn’t,” Artley said. “So we can build from that, and we’re young. We had three freshmen today on the field. At times we had several sophomores on the field and we had a quarterback that’s a backup, so there are a lot of things there that we can pull from.”
As important as Penns Manor’s next game is, Blairsville will be in deeper need of a victory next week when it plays host to Saltsburg.
“As bad as things are, we definitely have some athletes coming back, starting next week, hopefully,” Artley said. “The bottom line is I still believe at 6-4 you’ve got a shot at the playoffs. We get some guys healthy and we get back into it, we still have a shot to be 7-3 or 6-4. You never know what might happen down the stretch, but we’ve got to take care of business next week, that’s for sure.
“I’m hoping we can be our best at the end of the season, but we’ve just got to find a way to right the ship right now to give us a shot to be in the playoffs later.”