KENWOOD — Penns Manor didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but the ones it made were costly.
Unfortunately for the Comets, when those miscues come in the playoffs, it means a prompt end to the season.
Penns Manor, the No. 4 seed, could never fully overcome a few key errors and lost to No. 5 Bishop Guilfoyle, 25-0, in the District 6 Class A football quarterfinals Saturday night at Pat Corrigan Field.
With little outside expectations, the Comets finished 9-2 and ended their season at the same stage as last year’s highly regarded Heritage Conference championship squad finished.
The air was let out of the crowd right away, though, when Bishop Guilfoyle’s Sam McCloskey intercepted Lucas Kowalski’s pass on the first play of the game and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.
Penns Manor hung tough in the first half, but never got the big play it needed. The Comets lost two fumbles in the second half, falling further behind as its season faded to dark.
“It just seemed like things that usually happen for us didn’t happen tonight,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “Like I told these guys, it was a heck of a season. These kids weren’t expected to do this this year. We believed in them and they believed in themselves, too. We based it around all of these seniors. They did a good job picking some of these younger guys up. It was a pleasant season for us.”
The game-opening pick set the tone, but Penns Manor played better than the Marauders for the most part in the first half, outgaining them 144-63.
Jared Verba put Bishop Guilfoyle up 10-0 with a 30-yard field goal in the second quarter, but the Comets nearly cut the lead with a two-minute drive at the end of the half. Louie Tate was stopped just short of the pylon on a screen play as time expired, though.
“We thought we outplayed them in the first half,” Packer said. “We felt that at halftime, even not getting that one in, we had a shot to beat them.”
Feeling good about themselves, the Comets stopped Bishop Guilfoyle’s first drive of the half relatively quickly, but Ethan Marshall fumbled on Penns Manor’s second play and the Marauders recovered at the Penns Manor 12-yard line.
After two plays and a penalty, Bishop Guilfoyle’s Brandon Chadbourn hit tight end Matt Gormley over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown pass, and a two-point conversion gave the Marauders a 16-0 lead.
“We’d made the stop and we made them punt, but you fumble the ball two times, and you can’t do that,” Packer said. “I think momentum just turned on us, and we got down and never came back.”
“They played a tough game and gave us everything we could handle,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said, “but it was just a night when we got some breaks and took advantage of those breaks.”
Penns Manor ended up gaining just 47 yards in the second half, losing another fumble late, after the Marauders took their final lead on a Chadbourn touchdown pass to McCloskey. The Comets were shut out for the first time in 31 games, since a 28-0 loss to Ligonier Valley in Week 3 of 2011.
“When you don’t play a team throughout the season and don’t know much about them, the first half tells you a lot about what’s going on,” Wheeler said. “We went in at halftime — we have a great group of coaches — and we made some adjustments to things we thought we could do better and take advantage of some things they were doing, and our kids came out in the second half, just got the nerves out and really executed the way they know they can.”
“Give Bishop Guilfoyle a lot of credit,” Packer said. “They played a good ballgame, adjusted in the second half and they did a nice job on us.
“They took away our belly series a little bit. They adjusted to that and then we couldn’t seem to get consistent getting out to the edge. They did a nice job bringing a backer up in that hole, and we had a tough time with it.”
The Marauders won their ninth straight game since starting the season 0-2. They are the hottest team in the District 6 Class A bracket heading into a showdown with top-seeded Portage in the semifinals.
McCloskey set the tone with his interception.
“(McCloskey) made a great read and came up and made that play,” Wheeler said. “It was such a momentum swing and it got our guys going. You’re always nervous coming into a playoff game, and to have something like that happen pretty quick, it was definitely good for the entire team.”
Chadbourn had a game-high 81 yards rushing and was 6 of 12 passing for 69 yards with the two TDs.
Kowalski led Penns Manor with 77 yards on 23 carries and was 4 of 11 passing for 42 yards.
The senior ran for more than 1,000 yards in his first year as starting quarterback, replacing program legend Danny Ferens admirably. The senior-laden offensive and defensive lines were crucial in maintaining the Comets’ success, as well.
“This was a great group of seniors,” Packer said. “When you get (Luke) Ruddock, (Stephen) Dumm and (John) Stupic, those guys have been through this for three years of playing in these games. It’s tough on them now, being their last game.”