BLAIRSVILLE — Penns Manor quarterback Max Hill and his Blairsville counterpart, Zak Artley, came through with big throws late in the fourth quarter for their respective teams Friday night at Ernie Widmar Field at Memorial Stadium.
Artley gave the Bobcats a lead by completing a fourth-down pass with 1:06 remaining in the game. But not to be outdone, Hill threw the game-winner to Dimitri Lieb with just 17 seconds left and the Comets came away with a 16-14 victory.
Hill, a freshman, didn’t start the game. He came on to replace injured Bryce Chiodini in the third quarter and made his mark in the fourth quarter. Hill completed a fourth-and-7 pass to his brother, Austin Hill, for 18 yards to the Blairsville 1 and scored two plays later on a dive between his center and left guard.
That touchdown and a kick by Justin Marshall gave the Comets a 9-6 lead with 2:47 left to play, and it put pressure on Artley, a junior who was making his first varsity start.
Artley teamed with junior Devon Witmer for three completions on a 59-yard drive to take back the lead. The duo started the series with an 18-yard completion, aided by a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty, and Witmer caught a second pass to the Comets 17. But three incompletions later, including two passes intended for Witmer, the Bobcats were down to their last play.
On fourth-and-10, Artley found Witmer across the middle. Witmer pulled out of Max Hill’s grasp and broke one more tackle to score the go-ahead touchdown. Artley completed a two-point conversion pass to tight end Cole Townsend, and the Bobcats led, 14-9.
“I told Zak the last two months, it’s about managing the game, keeping our running game going and hitting some shots when you have the opportunity in the play-action,” said Blairsville coach Rick Artley, who is Zak’s father, said. “He did a heck of a job there on that last drive to drive us right down the field, and that was a great throw to hit Devon for the score. He played above my expectations. I’m pretty proud of him, as a dad, but also as a coach.”
The Bobcats left the Comets only 66 seconds to work with, but Max Hill needed only 49 of them. He gained 12 rushing yards on a second-down play and 15 yards on a controversial pass interference call. Defensive backs Jesse Klingensmith and Hank Skirboll appeared to break up a pass intended for Lieb, but the flag came out and the Comets had a new set of downs at the 28.
A pair of sacks by linebacker Sincere McFarlin and defensive lineman Jacob Faser pushed the Comets back to the 35. But Lieb had a message for his young quarterback.
“Dimitri came into the huddle right before the play and said, ‘Throw it up to me, I’ll be wide open, this kid … I can get him,’” Max Hill said. “I rolled out (to the right), saw him, threw it up, he caught it and took it into the end zone.”
Lieb, who scored three touchdowns against Blairsville in the season opener last season, outjumped cornerback Jacob Mocek inside the 10 to come down with the ball.
Penns Manor took the first lead on a safety in the second quarter. The Comets scored on a safety when Zak Artley was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone. It was one of at least three pivotal calls that didn’t go the Bobcats’ way, and Rick Artley took issue with the officiating.
“That’s an absolute joke,” he said of the officiating. “(The catch by Austin Hill) on fourth down was dropped, plain and simple. That pass interference call (on the winning drive) was an absolute joke. And lastly, the white hat, down here on the safety, he thought 68 (Gabe Citeroni) got hit with the ball. It was 88 (Isaac Witmer), our fullback that was hit with the ball. So he ended up blowing that one. So they got points everywhere from those officials.
“I am not usually going to complain. I’ve been here too long, I’ve been around too long and I always tell our guys the same thing: Officials are going to make mistakes. But when it’s just constantly compounded and it leads to scores, it’s a different story.”
Lieb led the Comets with 103 total yards — 48 rushing and 55 receiving. He didn’t win every battle with Mocek. In the second quarter, Chiodini attempted to lob a short touchdown pass to Lieb just inside the goal line, but Mocek jumped in front to pick off the pass and end a drive that lasted two secnds shy of 11 minutes and covered 71 yards.
McFarlin led all rushers with 87 yards. But Devon Witmer made the biggest impressive for the Bobcats. He caught all four of Zak Artley’s completions for 58 yards, but he also was front in center for a pivotal third quarter.
Devon Witmer sacked Chiodini for an 11-yard loss with 5:32 remaining in the quarter, forcing Chiodini to leave the game with an apparent lower body injury. But before Chiodini could leave the field, the lights went out on the home side of the field, causing a 25-minute delay in the game.
When play resumed, the Comets punted three plays later. Lieb’s kick was fielded by Devon Witmer at the Blairsville 30 and the Bobcats would have been happy with the change in possession. The return turned out to be much more, as Devon Witmer bounced outside to the right and raced 70 yards for Blairsville’s first score.
The field at the stadium was officially named Ernie Widmar Field in honor of the longtime Blairsville coach of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. A parade in downtown Blairsville and a pregame and postgame reception at the Blairsville Elks were held.