BLAIRSVILLE — The Blairsville Bobcats didn’t exactly shut down the Northern Cambria Colts’ passing game Friday on Ernie Widmar Field at Memorial Stadium. “Picked” apart might be a better way of putting it, as the Bobcats came away with a 22-12 win.
The win snapped Blairsville’s 10-game home losing streak to Heritage Conference teams and was the first on the home field since the Bobcats defeated Conemaugh Valley in a Heritage Conference-WestPAC crossover game on Oct. 27, 2017.
Colts quarterback Mike Hoover, back after missing two games with a high ankle sprain, held the distinction of being the only Heritage Conference quarterback this season with 50 or more pass attempts and no interceptions. Hoover was quite efficient, too, completing a conference-best 69 percent of his passes.
Blairsville middle linebacker Devon Witmer took Hoover’s impressive numbers down a peg or two … or three. Hoover still completed 16 of 29 passes for 176 yards, but Witmer intercepted him three times, including twice to thwart Northern Cambria drives late in the second quarter.
“In recent weeks at middle linebacker, I had been playing not deep enough,” said Witmer, who also caught three Zak Artley passes for 48 yards. “I deepened up this week and I started making a lot more plays.”
“You know, Devon missed a couple days of practice this week with an elbow injury and he came back and picked off three passes,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “He did some great things tonight.”
The two second-quarter picks gave the Bobcats three takeaways on consecutive Colts possessions, including a toss to running back Adam Kopera that was ruled a lateral and a fumble, covered by Blairsville’s Hank Skirboll. A third
Witmer interception in the fourth quarter gave the Colts four turnovers in all, half of their season total through the first six games.
“It was turnovers, but it was also execution,” said Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty. “That had been the theme all week, that we had to execute better. Realistically, we have not been able to execute at all. We’ve had some injuries and then we were piece-mealing an offense and defense together and we’re making mistakes.
“This (game) was a reset button. I told the guys that we had all the guys back (from injury) who were going to be back. This is our team. This is the team that has to sustain offensive drives and be solid on defense. So we had really focused practices (this week) on getting better and not making mistakes. I was really optimistic with this game, and we get here and it’s penalties and turnovers and mistakes.”
Northern Cambria nearly doubled Blairsville in total yardage, 329-165, and, remarkably, tallied 20 first downs to Blairsville’s seven. But in addition to the takeaways and seven penalties for 76 yards, the Bobcats also made defensive stops in significant places, including a big hold on fourth-and-1 at the Blairsville 14 to open the third quarter and forcing the Colts into a fourth-and-30 situation later in the quarter.
Blairsville defensive end Cody Mocek turned in two tackles for loss or no gain and a tipped pass during those two defensive stands of the third quarter.
“Defensively, we made so many good plays tonight,” Rick Artley said. “(The Colts) are big, and we were able to hang on and continue to make plays down the stretch.”
With Blairsville leading 8-6 to start the fourth quarter, the game seemed destined to be the lowest-scoring affair in the conference since Saltsburg beat Homer-Center by the same score to end the 2011 season.
Neither team seemed able to take control. While Northern Cambria struggled with turnovers and execution, Blairsville was playing behind the chains for much of the night. In the first three quarters, Blairsville started 11 plays needing 11 or more yards for a first down.
The Bobcats finally broke out with a pair of long touchdown runs in the fourth quarter.
Blairsville needed 3 yards on third down at the Northern Cambria 31 early in the quarter and Zak Artley picked up 2 of them on a keeper. He went under center again on fourth down and looked like he was going to follow center Eli Clevenger into the line once more, but the call from the sideline — a “39” — was for a pitch to tailback Sincere McFarlin, who had 0 yards on 10 carries thus far.
“(Zak) actually didn’t check the ‘39,’ which is the outside,” Rick Artley said. “He checked the ‘37,’ which is the outside zone instead of the toss.”
Regardless, it worked. McFarlin took it around the left end and down the Colts sideline for the 29-yard touchdown. A two-point pass to Isaac Witmer gave the Bobcats a 16-6 lead with 8:50 remaining.
The Colts came back quickly. They fumbled the ball twice on the next play from scrimmage, but on second down, Hoover tossed up a long pass for fullback Gavin Dumm, who was challenged by corner Cage Kinney but came down with the ball and ran away for a 42-yard score.
Northern Cambria trailed by just four points with 7:35 to play, but McFarlin wasn’t done. After Skirboll recovered a short kick at the 50, McFarlin took a pitch to the right this time, picked up blocks from Blairsville receivers on the corner and ran down the Blairsville sideline for the game’s last touchdown.
“The big blocks were all the outside guys,” Rick Artley said. “Our tackle, Konnar Cahill, did a nice job to seal, but it was Devon (Witmer), Isaac (Witmer) and either Ashton (Perfetti) or Cage (Kinney), but those three actually set that play up for us to get down the sideline.”
Until McFarlin’s two scoring runs, almost all of Blairsville’s offense came through the air. Zak Artley was sacked four times but completed passes to six different receivers and finished 10 of 17 for 108 yards. He connected with Isaac Witmer on a 7-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and threw a two-point pass to McFarlin to give Blairsville an 8-0 lead.
The score marked the first time Blairsville had grabbed the early lead in a game since Sept. 13 against West Shamokin.
The Colts scored their first touchdown on a 9-yard pass to Owen Prasko in the second quarter. Prasko, who took the snaps for Hoover during his injury absence the previous two weeks, caught six passes for 37 yards.
Kopera led the Colts with 116 rushing yards on 21 carries.