ALTOONA — Few teams have found a way to slow Homer-Center’s dynamic offense over the last four seasons.
On Friday night, two of them took the field at Mansion Park in Altoona.
At the same venue where record-setting quarterback Ben Schmidt and the rest of his senior classmates helped battle for a district title as freshmen, the Wildcats appeared far from familiar against a Bishop Guilfoyle team they’ve come to know too well.
And the defending champion Marauders forced multiple Homer-Center miscues, cashing in on each opportunity to earn revenge three years in the making with a 48-13 victory in the District 6 Class A title game.
“It was just not executing,” Schmidt said. “They’re going to pounce on your mistakes. We came here pretty confident, but obviously, Bishop Guilfoyle is a powerhouse and they showed that tonight. They were just the better team.”
“They just came out playing better than we did,” Homer-Center senior wide receiver Drew Kochman said. “I felt like we were prepared, but maybe not. I think it was jitters in the beginning. It was a huge game and we let it get the best of us.”
Homer-Center (6-2), the second seed, entered the title game on a four-game winning streaking, including postseason victories over Williamsburg and Juniata Valley.
None of the Wildcats’ opponents, though, carried the playoff pedigree of fifth-seeded Bishop Guifoyle (7-2), which outscored Conemaugh Valley and Purchase Line 76-0 on the way to its seventh District 6 championship appearance in the last eight years.
Homer-Center defeated Bishop Guifoyle, 22-12, to begin that streak in 2013 before the Marauders won three straight titles, capped with a 52-6 win over the Wildcats in 2016.
Schmidt led Homer-Center back to Mansion Park the following year, beginning a four-year starting varsity career with the program’s fourth district championship in a 20-14 victory.
But while Wildcats’ upperclassmen were aiming to bring their careers full circle, it was the Marauders who again flipped the pattern in their favor.
“It’s not how I wanted my career to end, but it will be something nice to look back on when I’m older,” Schmidt said. “I’m blessed for my career and I’m just thankful for my teammates.”
Bishop Guilfoyle scored touchdown on all five of their first-half possessions after Homer-Center opened the game with back-to-back three-and-outs and built a 35-7 lead at the break.
The Mauraders used a 50-yard pass on third-and-7 to held set up their first score and drove 57 yards on their next drive.
Schmidt connected with Kochman for a 68-yard touchdown on third-and-11 — taking a hard hit under pressure before his receiver adjusted deep over the middle and shook off his defender — to respond and cut the deficit to six, 13-7, late in the first quarter.
But after Bishop Guilfoyle quickly answered once again with its third touchdown, an interception two plays later set up the Marauders at the Wildcats’ 2-yard line for an easy score that put the game well in-hand, 28-7.
“I thought we were ready,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “Our kids are usually loose. We didn’t have a good series offensively, but we were OK and stuffed them on a couple runs. And then they hit a big pass, and you can’t give that stuff up against them. It’s big plays or turnovers, and they both happened at inopportune times and it puts you behind the eight ball. I give them a ton of credit. They have a fine football team. They usually do. And they were ready tonight and they kind of pounced on us.”
Bishop Guilfoyle senior running back Keegan Myrick rushed for 136 yards, led the Marauders with 58 receiving yards and scored four of his team’s seven touchdowns.
The key for the Marauders was clogging up the engine of the Wildcats’ offense, their senior quarterback.
The Marauders held Schmidt to a season-low 34 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
He completed 10 of 17 passes for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Our team speed on defense is pretty good, and Schmidt is good enough to make one or two or maybe even three guys miss,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. “But for us, we’re lucky to have those third and fourth guys there to make the play. He’s a tremendous player and makes it hard, but we were able to get a lot of guys to the ball. They were able to get a few big plays on us, and that’s something we’ll have to work on, but we were able to get that back.”
Schmidt ends his varsity football career having rewritten a few records that he had a hand in breaking as a freshman.
During last Friday’s semifinal-round win over Juniata Valley, he broke the Homer-Center career record for rushing yards set by Jesse Lee in 2017, when Schmidt was just beginning to build his own stat sheet as a freshman.
The record for career rushing yards at Homer-Center is now 3,404.
Schmidt also threw for 5,354 yards over four seasons, giving him 8,758 career yards of offense, which is not only a record for Homer-Center, but also the entire Heritage Conference and all of Indiana County.
Homer-Center’s kicker, to boot, Schmidt had a hand or football in all but seven of the Wildcats’ last 169 points this year — not bad for finishing up with a truncated regular season that once appeared in jeopardy due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“To even have a season, I’m grateful,” Schmidt said. “Even though it didn’t end the way we wanted, we were lucky to even have a season, and we still did a lot of great things with what we were given. Overall, it hurts now, but I’m happy.”
“It was a season of uncertainty,” Kochman said. “We were blessed to make it this far and to be able to play the game in general.”
Taking the bulk of Schmidt’s targets throughout the season, Kochman pieced together once of the most accomplished receiving careers in Homer-Center history.
A 5-foot-10 two-way starter who also lines up at safety, Kochman scored both of Homer-Center’s touchdowns Friday on catches of 68 and 3 yards, giving him 15 touchdowns in 2020 and 20 for his career.
Kochman caught five passes for a game-high 138 yards against Bishop Guilfoyle, increased his four-year total to 1,224 receiving yards, a credit he gives not only to his quarterback, but also to an offensive line that will return four starters in 2021.
“I’m so thankful to have my senior players like Ben and our linemen just getting everything done,” Kochman said. “That’s what gives me all those receiving yards.”
Senior center Micah Hurd anchored a unit that helped pave the way for one of the area’s most balanced offensives this season.
And he will leave the Wildcats in capable hands up front with another year of experience for juniors Mike Yount and Sage Bernard and sophomores Isaiah Bence and Vinny Tagliati.
That core will surely provide strong stability in 2021 for a trio of junior running backs — Colin Troup, Justin Walbeck and Cole McAnulty — who combined for 532 rushing yards this season.
Sophomore Mike Krejocic finished second on the team in receiving yards this season with 386, and senior Travis Mock added 265.
Of course, Homer-Center isn’t yet ready to move on from a senior crop that helped piece together one of the strongest runs of four years in recent program history.
And the Wildcats, particularly their coach, are sure to give all 10 their due credit both now and as they prepare for their next chapter.
“We’ve got some headliners with Ben and Drew,” Page said. “Ben’s career here was just unbelievable. Unbelievable. Drew Kochman and Travis Mock elevated their games. They were go-to guys all the way around, not just in the receiving corps, but defensively and leadership-wise. I saw Travis Mock really grow up more as a leader.
“Our fourth captain was Micah Hurd, who’s just a quiet kid that comes to work every day and just continues to get better. He was the anchor of our line. And then you’ve got guys like Nick Manzanilla, Brock Houser, Brennan Mogle, Shane “Shady” McCoy. Those guys, they were fighters. Bryson Graham, he loved this. This was him. He loved being around this and working hard every day. He improved himself tremendously. And then we got Caden Brown to come back and he did a nice job for us. There are 10 guys right there.
“Houser, McCoy, Mogle and Manzanilla — those guys are gritty. Those are gritty guys that just battle and battle. All 10 of them did. I couldn’t be more proud of a group. I’m always proud of our senior guys, but they set a standard for our program.”