HOMER CITY — Fans of Homer-Center and Purchase Line have learned to expect a shootout whenever the two teams meet annually.
This year’s matchup between the Wildcats and Red Dragons offered more of the same.
Homer-Center quarterback Ben Schmidt had a career night as he had a part in scoring every one of his team’s points in a 44-40, home-opening victory over Purchase Line in a Heritage Conference game at Memorial Field.
Schmidt rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns, passed for 146 yards and a touchdown, returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown, kicked four extra points and completed two passes for two-point conversions.
“I’m just really excited we were able to pull out this win,” the junior said. “All the stats don’t really mean anything if you lose.”
The Wildcats scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Schmidt to Travis Mock on a fourth-and-14 with 1:39 remaining in the game. Schmidt’s extra-point attempt then went through the uprights to give Homer-Center a 44-40 advantage.
Purchase Line got the ball back with 1:31 left but went four-and-out and allowed the Wildcats to run out the clock.
“I think I can speak for all of our guys: It feels great,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “We beat a quality opponent tonight. Coach Falisec and his staff do a great job. They’ve got good physical players. It was tough going both ways for both teams in the second half. After a barrage of points in the first half, it seemed like it wasn’t going to end.”
“Give credit to our kids and staff because we found a way. Certainly both teams made a ton of mistakes and had a lot of breakdowns. I’m really glad we were able to come out on the good end.”
Homer-Center drove 55 yards on the first possession of the game, and Schmidt scored from a yard out to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with 8:18 left in the first quarter.
Purchase Line answered, with Jacob Barnett hitting Kyle Day three plays later on a 76-yard touchdown pass that gave the Red Dragons an 8-7 lead after the conversion.
The Wildcats quickly regained the lead when Schmidt took off for a 47-yard touchdown run that put Homer-Center up 15-8 with 5:33 on the clock in the first.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Wildcats were flagged for back-to-back 15-yard penalties that gave Purchase Line the ball at the Wildcats’ 23-yard line. A few snaps later, Cullen Goncher scampered 16 yards for a TD to pull the Red Dragons within one, 15-14, with 4:10 left in the opening quarter.
“We knew we were having a tough time shutting down their offense, so we knew that every time we had the ball, we had to get in the end zone for us to have a chance to win the game,” senior receiver Cobe Daugherty said.
Schmidt scored his third touchdown of the game on a 27-yard run that gave the Wildcats a 22-14 lead with 8:34 remaining in the second quarter.
“I saw it coming all week,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said. “We were having trouble at practice stopping our own quarterback, so obviously that made it harder to stop Schmidt. This might be the best thing for us because these kids need to work a little bit harder.
“He put on a clinic — returning kicks, running the ball, passing the ball — he single-handedly ran all over our defense. We tackled poorly. It was an embarrassment the way we tackled. We had guys trying to tackle around the head and getting stiff-armed to the ground. Credit Schmidt. He played a great game. ... He pretty much ran over our whole defense.”
Purchase Line answered again, and the Red Dragons’ 52-yard drive was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Barnett, and Homer-Center led 22-20 with 3:24 left before halftime.
On the next play from scrimmage, Schmidt took off again, this time for a 63-yard touchdown run that gave the Wildcats a 29-20 lead with 3:07 remaining in the second quarter.
“Tonight I thought we’d be able to move the ball,” Page said. “The success of it just depends on the looks you get and the reads we make. We were able to do that. It all started with our quarterback, who did a tremendous job managing the game and then he did a tremendous job imposing his will during the game too.”
Of course the scoring in the first half wasn’t over just yet.
The Red Dragons put together a 57-yard touchdown drive, and Goncher scored on a 1-yard run with 39 seconds left in the second quarter, making the score 29-26 at half in favor of the Wildcats.
“We did some good things,” Falisec said. “Maybe if we could convert our two-point conversions I think we’d be a lot better. If we could kick an extra point, maybe we could’ve won the game. But that’s been the thing for two years — you have 40 kids on your team but can’t kick the extra point. We have a lot of work to do.”
The shootout continued early in the third with Purchase Line capitalizing on its first possession of the second half. Barnett scored from the 1-yard line, and a two-point conversion gave the Red Dragons a 34-29 lead at 8:03 of the third quarter.
But Schmidt was not to be outdone and returned the kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown to put the Wildcats on top, 37-34.
The score held until the end of the third quarter, but Purchase Line took back the lead with 5:21 left on a 3-yard run by Barnett.
“I thought we could score 44, but I didn’t think we’d give up 40,” Schmidt said. “But that’s a great Purchase Line team — Goncher, (Josh) Syster and Barnett — they ran hard and are very tough to stop. We didn’t really even stop them, we just got lucky we were able to score once more than them.”
The Red Dragons rolled up 361 rushing yards and had 24 rushing first downs. Goncher ran for 147 yards on 23 carries, Syster had 112 yards and Barnett and Day teamed up for 102 yards on the ground.
Then, with 1:39 left in the game, Homer-Center faced a fourth-and-14 from the PL 16. Page sent out the field goal team, but after two timeouts decided the angle was not favorable.
Schmidt scrambled on the play before hitting Mock in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“We were in a Cover 2, and one of our d-backs fell down,” Falisec said. “That’s what happened. He was laying in the end zone, and they caught the ball right behind him. He slipped and fell trying to make a cut and left the guy wide open in the back of the end zone.”
“We were thinking we had to get in the end zone if we’re going to win,” Schmidt said. “It was a really fortunate play and really good catch by Travis.”
Homer-Center moved to 1-1 and was glad to get the win after being pummeled by Ligonier Valley 67-0 last week.
“Last week left a bitter taste in all of our mouths,” Schmidt said, “and we wanted to show we’re not that team. We’re not a 67-0 team. I think we did a good job of that tonight, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
“Let’s face it, 1-1 is a lot different than 0-2,” Page said. “We’re still going to question things. We still maybe have to make some changes, but going forward, I think these guys know what it takes.”
The Red Dragons, who are also are 1-1 and take on an upstart Marion Center team next week, will look to get back on track after entering the season with high expectations.
“Marion Center is a really good team, and we have a lot of work to do if we want to get where we want to be,” Falisec said.