HOMER CITY — When Homer-Center coach Greg Page was planning a revamp of the Wildcats’ offense in the offseason, he could have only hoped it would work out as well as it did Friday night.
With a dual-threat quarterback and three-year starter at the helm, Page was looking to spread out the offense, and through the first four weeks of the season, his vision is coming to fruition.
Ben Schmidt rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats to a 35-13 victory over Marion Center in a Heritage Conference game at Memorial Field.
“This was a great win for us, beating a team like Marion Center,” Schmidt said. “We need to take the next step and keep winning.”
Schmidt continued his streak by having a hand in each of Homer-Center’s 114 points this season, and the Wildcats upped their win streak to three games.
“Playing against and being able to come out on top against a very good football team that has earned my respect, it’s just a good night all around,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said.
Marion Center, which entered the game unbeaten, was able to slow the Wildcats’ rushing attack but struggled to contain the passing game.
Schmidt finished 14 of 25 and hit four different receivers for big gains.
“I have so many weapons on the outside,” the junior said. “Especially when they’re double- and triple-teaming Cobe (Daugherty), it opens up so much more for all the other receivers, and they make the most of it.”
Daugherty had eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, Drew Kochman caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown, Travis Mock had two receptions for 36 yards and a score and tight end Noah Henry caught a 17-yard pass on a scoring drive.
“Defensively, we got after it at times,” Marion Center coach Adam Rising said. “We were fortunate we didn’t give up the big runs we’ve seen the last couple weeks from them, but on the flip side, they were able to throw the football and open it up. Homer-Center was playing on four cylinders this evening.”
On the opening possession, the Wildcats went 64 yards in 11 plays, a drive that was capped by a 3-yard Schmidt run.
“We were trying to put our best on their best,” Rising said. “You could see on the flip side tonight, momentum was a funny thing. They came out, opened up the game and drove it down our throat really. We eventually responded offensively by driving it right down the field down their throat. We had it at times, it just wasn’t consistent enough, and then we were working behind the sticks offensively and trying to battle back from that, which isn’t good. We definitely need to clean that up.”
Garet Wells rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries to lead the Stingers, who had some success with their running game but failed to capitalize on some of their more promising drives.
“We were preparing all week for Wells,” Mock said. “We knew that he is a good running back. He runs hard. We knew if we were able to stop their outside run, we should be good.”
“Wells is Wells,” Rising said. “He ran hard. The effort was there. The fullback ran the ball — (Clayton) Coble hit it up in there with some nice runs. They were getting after our quarterback, and he has to grow as a junior. There was a lot of happy feet back there, and he just has to get better. There’s a lot of facets of our football team right now. I don’t want to say stagnant, but we have to get climbing the ladder here week in and week out. Unfortunately this week, we didn’t make that step.”
Marion Center turned the ball over on downs on its first possession after advancing to the Homer-Center 23-yard line, allowed back-to-back sacks on its second possession and was forced to punt and then turned the ball over on downs on its third possession at the Wildcats’ 22.
Homer-Center also had some mistakes early with their second, third and fourth drives ending with an interception, a punt and an interception, in that order.
“Up front, for the most part passing-game-wise, we gave (Schmidt) time,” Page said. “They stopped our run. We tried to stay basic with some of our run game and our run reads, but at times, they only had six guys in the box and they were still making good plays defensively, so we have to look at that.”
Marion Center got on the board with 5:40 left in the second quarter on a 7-yard touchdown run by Wells. After the extra point, the Stingers held a 7-0 lead, but that lead didn’t last long.
Seven plays later, Schmidt scored on a 1-yard run with 3:25 left in the first half. The Wildcats drove straight down the field, and after a two-point conversion, Homer-Center led 14-7.
Marion Center then went three-and-out, and the Wildcats tacked on another touchdown before halftime when Schmidt hit Kochman on an 8-yard pass for a 21-7 lead at the break.
“I don’t think we were planning on throwing that much, but we had to make some adjustments with the way they were playing us,” Schmidt said. “We just had to find different ways to win and get the ball in the end zone.”
“Schmidt and Daugherty and other receivers hooked up really well,” Rising said. “They ran clean routes, we gave too much cushion, and they executed throwing the football tonight. That was definitely a strength — them throwing the ball — and Schmidt running it.”
Schmidt threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mock with 6:07 on the clock in the third to give the Wildcats a 27-7 lead, and then connected with Daugherty on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds left in the quarter to increase the lead to 35-7.
“It should make us harder to defend because it stretches the field horizontally, and then sometimes you can get a guy kind of over the top like we did with Mock early in the second half,” Page said of utilizing the run and the pass equally. “It’s good to be able to do both things.”
Marion Center scored on a 4-yard run by Wells with 11:32 left in the game, and Homer-Center held on from there for its third straight win since losing the season opener to powerhouse Ligonier Valley.
“The only place better than 3-1 is 4-0. We’re 3-1, and Ligonier is such a good team,” Page said. “That’s one that — looking back — you think maybe that helped us grow a little bit, playing them early and exposing a lot of weaknesses we had and things we can do better. From there, you just try to keep rolling. You just try to win every week. It’s not easy. It really isn’t easy in this conference. It’s good small-school football. When you talk about that situation there, you have to be ready every week.”