NORTHERN CAMBRIA — Northern Cambria is walking with the carriage of an elite through the first month of the high school football season.
“Northern Cambria has the swagger going right now,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said, “and they’re playing like that.”
Falisec became the most recent Heritage Conference football coach to experience that in person on Friday night.
The unbeaten Colts made short work of Falisec’s visiting Red Dragons. Ben Vasil and Logan Onkst both had surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark by early in the third quarter, and Mark Marino intercepted two passes, returning one 35 yards for a touchdown as Northern Cambria posted an impressive 35-0 victory on homecoming night at Duffy Daugherty Memorial Stadium.
The last time Northern Cambria began the season 4-0 was 2003. That year, the Colts made it to the District 6 Class 1A championship game.
“Obviously, it means a ton. Our motto is “Make history,” Vasil said after rushing for a game-high 113 yards on 17 carries and scoring on a 7-yard option pitch in the first quarter. “The confidence is getting up there, and we believe in ourselves.”
The Colts’ optimism is not misplaced. They haven’t had a game closer than 22 points so far.
The entire second half was played under the mercy rule’s running clock after Northern Cambria erupted for 28 second-quarter points, scoring three touchdowns in a 2:48 span early in the period. Onkst’s 3-yard touchdown run was set up by Marino’s 34-yard return of an interception. Moments later, Marino jumped a route, picked off Purchase Line quarterback Jacob Barnett’s pass in stride just beyond the line of scrimmage and took it 35 yards for a score.
Onkst needed just 11 carries to net 104 yards on the ground, breaking off a 26-yard jaunt that put the Colts in the doorstep for Tyler Dumm’s 2-yard touchdown run that made it a 35-point difference. Northern Cambria rushed for 292 yards and put the ball in the air only twice — both times in the second half by backup quarterback Mike Hoover.
“The confidence is putting us over that edge where we’re finishing teams,” Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty said. “In years past, we were good enough to win, but we just let teams hang around. I think now our guys have a real understanding of what they need to do, and they’re showing the desire and the will to just get things done.”
Befitting of a regal performance, Marino, Onkst and Vasil all were part of the homecoming court, but it actually was two-way starting lineman Zach Malicky, who was crowned king at halftime. Raeley Hollingsworth was queen.
“We knew this game was going to be a grind: short gains, keep running it,” Malicky said. “They came out (on offense) in something we didn’t expect, but our defense adjusted well. We had good communication.”
A week after holding previously undefeated West Shamokin to 104 yards, Northern Cambria pitched its first shutout since 2014. The most points the Colts have surrendered in a contest is 14.
“It’s nice knowing if we’re not going to put up a lot of points on a given night because our offense isn’t working, our defense is going to keep us in the game and make plays for us,” Marino said.
Purchase Line managed just 141 yards and four first downs as it dropped to 0-4. The Dragons gained 35 yards on a quick pass from Barnett to Conner Goncher on their first play but were stopped for a 4-yard loss on the next snap and wound up turning the ball over on downs at the Northern Cambria 26.
Northern Cambria covered 74 yards on 11 running plays to grab a two-touchdown lead on Henry Dumm’s 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter, and the Colts never looked back.
Purchase Line was averaging just 203.7 yards per game coming in.
“We didn’t have school Monday and Tuesday, so we only had Wednesday and Thursday to get ready for a pretty good team,” Falisec said. “We’re young. We only have three seniors on the roster. We’ve got to look for something positive.
“It would have been huge (to score on that first drive). The kids need something to go their way.”
Purchase Line shut down the Colts in last year’s meeting, 20-6, spoiling the Colts’ homecoming.
“I told our linemen, ‘If I was you, I’d have this game circled in a bright red marker, because you have to redeem yourselves,’” Shutty said.
“I’m interested to see how Northern does the rest of the year,” Falisec said. “They have a really nice team.”