KENWOOD — As the saying goes, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
Watching diminutive Northern Cambria senior running back Adam Kopera push the pile to finish off a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, you could tell there’s a lot of fight in him, too.
“That kid’s all heart. All heart,” Colts coach Sam Shutty said. “He’s 135 pounds. He runs like a 225-pound truck. He just has no quit in him.”
Kopera turned in a larger-than-life performance at Pat Corrigan Field on Friday night, rushing for 314 yards and two touchdowns as Northern Cambria got healthy in more ways than one, closing in on a postseason spot with a 42-19 Heritage Conference victory over host Penns Manor.
The Colts snapped a five-game losing streak.
“This is definitely helpful,” Kopera said. “The playoff hunt is still alive.”
The Colts need to finish in the top 12 to qualify for the District 6 Class 1A playoffs. They entered the night in 12th but jumped over Blacklick Valley for 11th and closed in on Blairsville for 10th by virtue of Friday’s results. A win next week over Ferndale in the Heritage-WestPAC crossover game will wrap up a berth.
Kopera and company made that a lot more likely. The Colts rolled up 563 yards in total offense, including 473 yards on the ground. Owen Prasko, who finished with 81 yards on 10 carries, scored on a 6-yard run and a 79-yard pass from Mike Hoover — Hoover reached the 1,000-yard passing mark for the season on the play, set up by a terrific play-action fake.
Kopera also came into the game looking for 1,000 yards. He did it as part of a 115-yard first quarter and just kept going. He carried the ball 29 times, scoring on runs of 10 and 6 yards in the third quarter to break open what had been a seven-point game at halftime.
“I never imagined anything like this. It’s just insane. They just kept feeding me the ball, and my line was doing a great job,” Kopera said.
Isaac Noll and Eric Lubert got into the act with touchdown runs in the fourth quarter. Even tackle Joe Wagner got into the end zone, running in a two-point conversion.
“It shows how much work we did this week,” senior guard Jorden Wise said. “We knew we needed to buckle down, and that’s what we did.”
The Colts (3-6) had been beset by injuries much of the middle of the season but had almost everyone back last week and were largely competitive for much of the game in a loss to conference champion and District 6 powerhouse Ligonier Valley. Northern Cambria ran for first downs on their first four plays and wound up with 22 rushing first downs by the final horn.
“We were able to persevere,” Colts senior lineman Joe Rezk said. “We’re playing more like a family now.”
Penns Manor dropped to 2-7, falling for the fifth straight game and probably having whatever slim playoff hopes it maintained dashed. The Comets managed to play Northern Cambria to a scoreless tie through one quarter and only trailed by seven at halftime when Zack O’Neal scored from the 4 with less than 30 seconds left in the second quarter after Dimitri Lieb returned a kickoff 59 yards in the final minute.
Conner Keith scored a pair of touchdowns and finished with 107 yards on the ground for Penns Manor, which was celebrating senior night. Comet quarterback Max Hill clicked on 13 of 25 passes for 123 yards.
“We hung in there in the first half a bit, but they came out in the second half and really pushed us around,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said.
Northern Cambria ran 17 plays in the third quarter to the Comets’ seven.
Penns Manor also had a golden opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter slip away when Wagner belted Keith, jarring the ball loose. The Colts’ Zach Daisley fell on the ball at the Northern Cambria 9, leading to the Hoover-to-Prasko scoring pass that made it 14-0.
“That’s momentum for you there. It keeps the kids going and feeling like they can be in the game,” Packer said. “We’ve turned the ball over way too many times this year. That’s been a killer. We put together some drives, and we can’t finish them off.”
Northern Cambria, by contrast, was able to finish off drives and is hoping to finish off the 2019 regular season strong.
“Tonight, it kind of came together. Our line was working well with the quarterbacks and the running backs,” Shutty said.