JOHNSTOWN — The playoffs were in sight for the Purchase Line High School football team, and not even a little mud in their eyes — or a lot of mud on their uniforms — was going to keep the Red Dragons from realizing their vision.
“We were hyped,” Dragon senior lineman and captain Quinn Scalese said. “Once we knew (on Friday night) that we had a chance for the playoffs, we were shooting for it. We knew we had to get stuff done.”
The Dragons didn’t waste any time doing just that. Purchase Line scored on long runs on four of its first five plays before the field turned into quagmire that made it difficult for either team to move the ball and rolled into the District 6 Class 1A playoffs with a 50-6 rout of homestanding Ferndale in a steady rain on Saturday afternoon.
Purchase Line needed 130 points to catch Blacklick Valley for the 12th and final playoff berth coming into the last week of the regular season and got exactly that: The Dragons received 110 points for beating the Yellow Jackets and 20 more points because Blairsville and Saltsburg — which Purchase Line had beaten earlier — won on Friday night.
Purchase Line had the better record against common opponents, and the Red Dragons’ opponents had a better winning percentage, giving them the tiebreaker over the Vikings. Although sporting just a 3-7 record, the Dragons appear to be headed to Armagh for a rematch with United on Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs. District 6 will make those pairings and seeds official today.
“It feels good. It feels good,” Dragon sophomore running back Josh Syster said. “Our whole team came in knowing we had to make the playoffs, and that we needed this win. So the whole team came in ready to go.”
Syster rushed for a game-high 153 yards on 17 carries, scoring on first-quarter runs of 30 and 54 yards. However, Purchase Line was firmly in control of the contest already by the time Syster began to get warmed up; Cullen Goncher took the handoff on the Dragons’ first snap of the game 52 yards to the end zone. Then, after the Purchase Line defense forced a three-and-out, Goncher got the ball on the second play of the next series and rambled 47 yards to paydirt.
Purchase Line led 30-0 after one quarter.
“It’s cold, but it’s pretty fun,” said a mud-encrusted Goncher after running for 117 yards on nine carries through the muck. “We won last week. We figured if we’d win today we were going to make the playoffs. That’s what we did.”
All 331 of the Red Dragons’ yards came on the ground. The first four touchdowns were on plays that essentially went to the same spot: off left tackle.
“To be honest, I wasn’t even looking. I turned my head and (Goncher) was running for a 50-something-yard touchdown,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said. “The field conditions were muddy. It was hard to run anything wide, so, basically everything was from tackle to tackle. But our offensive line did a great job, and the backs ran hard.”
Quarterback Jacob Barnett capped the scoring for the Dragons on two short runs after Cameron Yoder scored on a 20-yard jaunt midway through the second quarter. The clock ran the entire second half after Purchase Line took a 43-point lead into the intermission.
Purchase Line will enter the playoffs with a bit of steam. Not only did it beat Saltsburg in its ninth game, but the Dragons only lost to Penns Manor — also playoff-bound — by six points in their seventh game.
“We’re very lucky. We got a second chance, and we don’t want to squander it,” Scalese said. “We’ll make every play count.”
Nothing was going to take the luster off this feeling for the Dragons. Not even caked-on dirt.
“It was amazing,” Scalese said. “Can’t get enough of it. The muddier, the better.”