BLAIRSVILLE — Efficiency secured the Blairsville Bobcats a 36-7 victory Friday night at Ernie Widmar Field.
The Bobcats defeated the Blacklick Valley Vikings in their Heritage Conference-WestPAC crossover game and also secured the No. 10 seed in the District 6 1A playoffs, thanks to the efficiency of Blairsville’s first-team offense, its quarterback, its tailback and its defense.
Blairsville’s first-team offense scored on all of its five possessions but one, and that one was a short, three-snap series — including two kneel-downs — to run out the last few seconds of the first half.
“With our first team on the field, we never had to punt, so you can’t ask for better than that, and there were no turnovers,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “We wanted to win, knowing we were guaranteed playoffs that way and nothing could be taken away from us. So that was our goal.”
Junior quarterback Zak Artley completed 6 of 8 passes in the first half for 80 yards and finished 9 of 11 for 160 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, by far his most efficient performance of the season.
Sophomore tailback Sincere McFarlin gained 175 total yards on 29 touches, including two receptions, and he made them count. He gained 6 yards per attempt and scored three times.
The Blairsville defense stopped the Vikings on three of four fourth-down attempts while the game’s outcome was still in question. All of Blacklick Valley’s first three possessions ended on fourth-down stops.
The Bobcats covered 49 yards on 10 plays to score on the game’s opening possession. McFarlin scored on a 2-yard run, and Zak Artley added two points with a pass to Isaac Witmer.
Defensive end Cody Mocek stopped Blacklick Valley quarterback Dom DiPaolo for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-2 on the Vikings’ first possession.
Blairsville went back to work on a 76-yard drive. On the 14th play, tight end Devon Witmer broke free of the coverage up the middle and pulled down a 30-yard touchdown catch. Witmer, who caught five passes for 73 yards in the first half, caught the two-point pass as well, and Blairsville led 16-0 four minutes into second quarter.
“There were three people on me at the beginning of the play,” Witmer said. “One dropped back in coverage with me and I just ran by him. It was a good throw by Zak.”
Blacklick Valley moved the chains four times and gained 69 yards on its second possession, but the Blairsville defense held again. This time DiPaolo rolled out to his left from the Blairsville 5, and Witmer met him at the 1 and forced him out of bounds to end the series.
“In that first half, they moved the ball and we just bent, bent, bent, but we didn’t break,” Rick Artley said. “That’s probably the game changer, not giving up a score in the first half.”
The Blairsville defense didn’t give up a score to open the third quarter either and once again made a stop on fourth down. This time, DiPaolo’s pass to running back Isaac Thomas fell incomplete.
After two long drives to score in the first half, Blairsville looked to strike quickly off another Blacklick Valley fourth-down failure. On the first play, Zak Artley connected with McFarlin down the Blairsville sideline on a 62-yard touchdown reception.
McFarlin added a 3-yard touchdown run on Blairsville’s next possession. Blairsville used 16 plays and consumed 11 minutes and 22 seconds on the drive.
Blairsville finished its scoring with Mocek and defensive lineman Gabe Citeroni combining for a touchdown for the second time this season. Against United, Mocek blocked a punt that Citeroni returned for a 37-yard touchdown. This time, Mocek sacked DiPaolo and forced a fumble at midfield that was picked up by Citeroni. He ran it back 47 yards for the score with 7:58 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I just picked it up and started running,” Citeroni said. “I didn’t learn until after the fact that a kid almost caught me at the 10. … (Two career touchdowns) is pretty good for a lineman.”
DiPaolo finally broke Blairsville’s shutout bid with a 7-yard run with 4:34 left.
Blairsville won for the third time in four games to finish the regular season at 4-6.