HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: DISTRICT 6 CLASS A PLAYOFFS -- Blairsville set for rematch with top-seeded Mustangs
Two weeks ago, Blairsville was preparing to face off with Portage, a powerful WestPAC team that was averaging more than 250 rushing yards per game.
Not much has changed since then, and the Bobcats are getting ready to play the Mustangs again — this time in the first round of the District 6 Class A playoffs.
“We’re excited about it,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said of the rematch. “We’re just happy that we got in (the playoffs). We didn’t really care who we played because all the teams are difficult, and we knew it would be a tough game either way.”
With a dominating 40-19 win over Moshannon Valley last week, the Bobcats secured a spot in the playoffs by finishing in the top eight in the District 6 rankings. The Mustangs, who scored a win over then-unbeaten Homer-Center, took over the No. 1 spot.
Blairsville needed some help, and when Northern Cambria lost to Cambria Heights, the Bobcats slid into the No. 8 slot.
“Last year, we took our destiny out of our own hands,” Artley said. “We didn’t get the help we needed, and we fell short of the playoffs. When we lost to Portage, we did the same thing, but then things fell into place for us this year, so we’re happy with it.”
What the Bobcats aren’t happy with, though, is their previous performance against Portage. Blairsville allowed 241 rushing yards in a 38-6 loss.
“Honestly, we played as bad as we could have against them,” Artley said. “So the good thing is we can look at film from that game and recognize our mistakes. They’re a good team, but as long as you don’t turn the ball over, you have an opportunity to score. We had four turnovers, and they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Blairsville had two fumbles and two interceptions but still managed to rack up 317 yards on offense and had one more first down than the Mustangs.
Quarterback Scott Thompson led the Bobcats with 84 yards rushing in just his second game on offense after having knee surgery. Their only touchdown came on a 9-yard pass from Thompson to Colton McMillan.
“Hopefully, we can see the mistakes we made,” Artley said. “We want to redeem ourselves. We have nothing to lose, and the pressure’s on them. We’re the underdog, and we can only be better. It’s tough for them because they’re the top seed and they’re coming off a 30-point win.”
The Bobcats are still trying to overcome some injuries, which have been plaguing them since the beginning of the season. McMillan, who sat out four games early in the season with ankle injuries, broke his ankle against Portage and is done for the season.
Anthony Faulk, who was hurt in the first scrimmage of the year, returned in Week 8 against United.
“Colton is done, but we’re looking to get more production from Anthony Faulk,” Artley said. “He brings a lot to us with his speed. There have been several guys for us that have missed playing time, but we think we can overcome it.”
Portage enters Friday’s game averaging 284.6 rushing yards per game and has a plus-15 turnover margin, but Artley thinks his team can overcome that, too.
“We have to stop their running game and key on their linemen a little more this time,” he said. “They’re a good football team, but if you watch their linemen, you can tell where the ball is going to go. We have to tackle better and stop the run. If we do that, and don’t turn the ball over, anything can happen.”