MARION CENTER — Cambria Heights used its trademark ground game, churning out 298 rushing yards, and its stubborn defense to earn its sixth win of the season and mark its first ever 6-0 start in school history with a steady 36-18 victory over Marion Center at Dr. John E. Mallino Stadium on Friday night.
The Highlanders received solid performances on the ground from senior workhorse Ryan Haluska, who carried the ball 26 times for 111 yards and junior quarterback Ty Stockley, who toted 32 carries for 186 yards and four touchdowns.
“They are our one-two punch right now,” Heights coach Jarrod Lewis said. “We are just a well-balanced team with guys stepping up and making plays every week.”
“Our offensive line was the real MVP of the game,” Stockley said. “The did an amazing job chopping up front and clearing the way for us to run. They were just outstanding.”
The visitors were stopped on their first offensive series by an aggressive Stingers defense, which despite the 36 points allowed, matched the intensity of the undefeated Highlanders for much of the game.
“We knew this was going to be a battle,” Lewis said. “They are much better than their record indicates and a dangerous football team. Credit to Coach Rising and his staff, they played us tough and made us earn every bit of this win.”
After a quick three-and-out on the Stingers’ first possession, Cambria Heights returned a Zack Lutz punt inside the Marion Center 35-yard line, and five plays later Stockley found the end zone on a 17-yard run for the first score of the game. Junior Zechariah Scott drilled his first of 4 PATs to make it 7-0 at the 4:30 mark of the first quarter.
It was a rare turnover by the Highlanders early in the second quarter that set up the Stingers first scoring opportunity. On third-down and long, Stockley’s pass was intercepted by linebacker Dixon Harkins and returned 51-yards all the way down to the Highlanders 9-yard line.
The Stingers actually lost 5 yards on their first three attempts in the red zone, forcing Stingers coach Adam Rising to burn a timeout before fourth down. From the 14-yard line, the Stingers executed their gadget play to perfection when Ryen found wide receiver T.J. Lynn for a 4-yard catch and lateral to Brady Tonkin, who sprinted the final 10 yards down the visiting sideline untouched for the touchdown to make it 7-6.
That score was just the second touchdown allowed by the Highlanders in the first half this season. Coming into this week, Cambria Heights had outscored their opponents 100-7 during the first two quarters of play.
The Stingers’ score awoke the Highlanders and their offense. Using the entire 8:07 remaining in the second quarter, Haluska and Stockley took turns picking up six rushing first downs on their 15-play, 86-yard scoring drive.
From the Marion Center 1-yard line, the Highlanders were assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball back to the 16. On their next play, Stockley pitched the ball to Tanner Trybus, who tossed it to the corner of the end zone, where Tyler Della Valle outjumped the Marion Center defensive back for the touchdown. Stockley picked up a bad snap on the extra point and slammed the ball into the end zone for the two-point conversion to make it 15-6 at halftime.
Rising pointed out the momentum swing after the late Cambria Heights touchdown.
“We missed the runner in the backfield after the pitch and our defensive back came up but credit to Cambria Heights,” Rising said. “They made the play that they had to going into halftime.”
The first-half statistics clearly favored the visiting Highlanders, as they held a strong advantage in total yards (190-23) and total first downs (11-2).
Both Stockley and Haluska rushed for 87 yards at the half to pace Cambria Heights.
Seven plays into their initial second half possession, Cambria Heights hit paydirt once again when Stockley followed his line from 8 yards away for his second touchdown of the game. Scott was perfect on the extra point to widen the advantage to 22-6 early in the third quarter.
Marion Center answered on its second drive of the third quarter when Ty Ryen found TJ Lynn on back-to-back 30-yard passing receptions, the second of which landed perfectly in the arms of Lynn as he was crossing the goal line. The pass on the two-point conversion was defended but the lead was cut to 22-12.
“Our defense has been solid all year, but we uncharacteristically allowed a couple of Marion Center receivers behind us tonight,” Lewis said. “We have a couple of things to get cleaned up on defense.”
After the Stingers forced Heights to punt for the first time in the game, Ryen’s next pass was intercepted by Trybus near midfield.
Stockley and Haluska alternated carries on their 15-play scoring drive that ended with the Highlanders quarterback crossing the end zone from 2-yards away. After Scott’s PAT, the score moved to 29-12.
A debated backward lateral on the Stingers’ next possession gave Cambria Heights great starting field position and set up their next score. Stockley’s 15-yard touchdown run two plays later and Scott’s extra point gave Heights a 36-12 lead.
“The call was debatable at best,” Rising said. “But we have to make the plays when we are given the opportunity.”
The Stingers answered again later in the fourth quarter when Ryen completed five straight passes, including a 24-yarder to Lynn for a touchdown and the final score of the game 36-18.
Cambria Heights looks to push its undefeated streak to seven games at home next week against Penns Manor.
Rising was impressed with the poise and character of the undefeated Cambria Heights team.
“They are very complete, very simple but extremely efficient in what they do,” Rising said. “Congrats to them in making history tonight. Coach Lewis does an excellent job with that team.”
“We love playing at home,” Stockley added. “We are really looking forward to that game and taking care of business week by week.”
Marion Center will travel to Northern Cambria in search of snapping their current four-game losing streak.
“All in all, I was proud of our guys tonight, Rising said. “They took a big step forward tonight. We look forward to getting back on the field this week in preparation for Northern Cambria next week.”