NANTY GLO — With one last chance to try and erase some of the melancholy memories created in the last four years, Saltsburg team captain Steve Richards played every down against Blacklick Valley like it was his last.
Richards’ do-or-die approach paid dividends, and the senior running back/linebacker played arguably the best game of his career to spearhead a 28-14 win over Blacklick Valley in a non-conference football game Friday night.
Richards amassed a career-high 206 rushing yards on 34 carries. He also scored a pair of touchdowns, one running and another receiving, picked off a pair of passes and recovered a fumble.
“It’s no secret: We struggled around here for four years,” Richards said. “But to have a game like that and to go out with a win, there’s nothing better than that.
“That’s all we thought about all week in school, that we only have one of these left. You just have to make the most of it, and that’s what we all tried to do here. The senior class, this is just a good way for us to go out.”
Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei added these bitter-sweet sentiments regarding Richards: “He is a team kid and a team kid deserves a night like this. This game was his. He did it offensively, and he had a couple picks. I just thought he played a hell of a game. He’s a senior, and this is his last game, and I’ll tell you what, I’m going to miss watching that kid play on Friday nights.”
Although the Trojans piled up over 200 rushing yards in the first half, including 168 from Richards, and limited Blacklick Valley to just 121 total yards, neither team managed to get on the scoreboard.
Saltsburg quarterback Frankie Plowman threw interceptions on the Trojans’ first two drives. Later in the half, Saltsburg lost a pair of fumbles, one when Lucas Mowery muffed a punt and another when Tyler Gados stripped a ball from Richards.
“There were very few adjustments we made offensively at halftime. I thought we did a real nice job going up and down the field,” Frassenei said. “We left them in the game in the first half by committing turnovers and things like that. But we came out and played a much cleaner second half, I thought.”
Tyler Frassenei caught a pass for a first down on the fourth play of the Trojans’ opening drive of the third quarter, only to fumble and allow Galko to recover at the Saltsburg 35.
Five plays later, running back Garrett Smith took a toss sweep around right end and leaped into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 6-0 lead with 6:33 to go in the third quarter. Quarterback Blake Ray then hit Galko on the two-point conversion to make it an 8-0 game.
Saltsburg answered on its following drive and finally got on the board, marching 72 yards on nine plays and scoring a touchdown to cut its deficit to two points, 8-6. Plowman capped the drive by throwing a 5-yard pass to Richards on third-and-goal. Plowman again hit Richards on the same play on the two-point conversion to tie the game 8-8 with 2:53 to go in the third quarter.
“Richards is a pretty big boy, and he had a lot of yards after contact,” Blacklick Valley assistant coach Garry Wurm said. “He’s a big boy, and those yards after contact were impressive with him. You have to hit a guy like that low, and sometimes we were hitting too high.”
But the resilient Vikings needed just seven plays on their ensuing drive to move 66 yards for another score. Ray finished the march when he hooked up with tight end Joe Lesso for an 18-yard touchdown with 15 seconds to go in the third quarter to give Blacklick Valley a 14-8 lead.
Saltsburg once again responded, though, this time driving 64 yards on nine plays to score another touchdown on its ensuing drive. Senior Lucas Mowery scored on second-and-goal from the 3 on a jet sweep around left end to tie the game at 14 with 9:09 left in the game. Jimmy Beitel then booted the extra point to give Saltsburg a 15-14 lead, its first of the game.
“Lucas does a nice job. He’s just a headsy, headsy football player,” Tim Frassenei said. “He’s a tough kid, an undersized kid, but he has the mindset that he’ll give you everything he has, and he’s been doing that for three years now.”
Richards made a breathtaking one-handed catch to intercept a Ray pass on a fourth-and-21 on the ensuing drive before returning it 36 yards to the 50.
Then, following eight straight rushing plays, Richards plowed into the end zone from 8 yards on a fourth-and-1 to put the Trojans ahead 22-14 with 39 seconds to play.
River Shindledecker recovered a Vikings’ fumble on the following drive and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
“Fourth-and-1, you just have to want the ball in that situation,” Richards said. “Anybody who plays football has to want that ball. If I was going to have a last carry, that was a good one to have. It’s just great it worked out that way.”
Mowery racked up 82 yards on 13 carries, and Plowman completed 8 of 12 passes for 155 yards.