ARMAGH — The mercy rule was supplemented with a mercy agreement Friday night at Thomas J. Madill Field.
The Blairsville Bobcats defeated a United Lions team with an ever-shrinking roster, 36-6, in a game in which the second half was shortened by the mercy rule but also by a halftime decision.
United, which started the season with 18 players, intended to begin the game with 16, but by halftime the Lions were down to just 14.
Tailback Hunter Cameron, still suffering from a high ankle sprain in the team’s preseason scrimmage with Conemaugh Township, was a game-time decision, and when it was decided that he couldn’t go, it cut the number of suited players to 15. Then quarterback Eli Clevenger went down with a right knee injury late in the first quarter, leaving the team with just three reserves on the sideline.
With Blairsville holding a commanding 28-0 halftime lead, United requested that the third and fourth quarters be shortened from 12 minutes to eight in the interest of preventing a further depletion of the Lions’ ranks, and Blairsville agreed.
“That’s where we finished the game, with 14, and we got some kids dinged up,” United coach Kevin Marabito said. “Hey, it’s tough, but I give our kids a lot of credit. They battled. We did what we could do with what we had.”
That was not nearly enough to hold off Blairsville, which rushed for 246 yards, including a career-high 219 by sophomore tailback Sincere McFarlin to go with his three touchdowns. He scored the third time late in the third quarter, triggering the actual mercy rule for the remainder of the second half.
Blairsville coach Rick Artley expressed empathy for United’s situation. The Bobcats struggled with low numbers in 2017. But Blairsville also hasn’t been on the winning side of many games the past two seasons, so the Bobcats did what they had to for a win.
“For a team that has two wins (in each of) the last two years, we just did our job and that’s all you can do,” Artley said. “You can only play the team that is on the field, and we did exactly what we needed to do as a team.
“I feel sorry for those guys. I mean, as bad as it’s been for us, we’ve never had those kind of numbers, and there’s just nothing they can do. But we did what we were supposed to do.”
McFarlin staked Blairsville to an 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter when he scored on a 5-yard run, then took the ball again for the two-point conversion with 6:23 remaining.
On the first play of Blairsville’s next possession, McFarlin appeared to be caught in the backfield by United’s penetration, but he picked up blocking to the left side and ran up the United sideline 87 yards for another score.
Blairsville’s Eli Clevenger saw progress in Blairsville’s running game, even if the dwindling Lions weren’t the best measuring stick.
“I’m really proud of the whole line tonight,” the senior center said. “The left side (tackle Konnar Cahill and guard Gabe Citeroni) and the center are always expected to do a good job, but I’m really proud of the right side (guard Jake Faser and tackle Lucas Chambers). This is their first year on the field, and they seem to putting everything together week by week.”
Junior quarterback Zak Artley didn’t show much ability to run the ball last week in Blairsville’s loss to Penns Manor, but he capped the Bobcats’ next possession with a 24-yard run, tight-roping the sideline on the last 10 yards to put Blairsville up by three scores early in the second quarter.
The special teams play of the game was made later in the quarter when defensive lineman Cody Mocek blocked Max Clevenger’s low punt and Citeroni found himself alone with the ball and no Lions between him and the end zone.
“I was in punt hold, so I’m blocking my guy for the punt return coming back,” Citeroni said. “Well, Cody blocked it and it just fell into my arms. I was just as confused as everyone else. I just started taking off with it.”
Citeroni returned the ball 37 yards for Blairsville’s fourth touchdown, and the Bobcats led, 28-0, with 8:46 remaining in the second quarter.
United sophomore Jacob Boring took over at quarterback when United’s Clevenger went down on a 3-yard run in the first quarter. Boring brought no prior experience to the position, but the Lions didn’t ask him to throw the ball. He took his snaps in the shotgun and handled the majority of the carries, rushing for 102 yards on 28 attempts.
McFarlin redeemed two fumbles with another touchdown on a 7-yard run and added a two-point run, and Blairsville led, 36-0, to trigger the mercy rule.
United maintained possession for almost the entire shortened fourth quarter against Blairsville’s reserves. Boring led the Lions on an 80-yard drive on 16 plays, all rushing split between Boring and Sam Weaver. Boring capped it with a 7-yard run with just seconds left on the clock.