BLAIRSVILLE — The last time the Saltsburg Trojans won in Blairsville, Ernie Widmar wasn’t the name of the field. He was still the coach.
Saltsburg defeated Blairsville, 45-24, Friday night at Ernie Widmar Field at Memorial Stadium. The Trojans’ victory was the first on that field since 1982, when Widmar was actually on the other sideline and the score was a little closer at 13-12.
Saltsburg scored 85 points in nine games that year. Thirty-seven years later, just three games into the season, the Trojans have already scored 114 points, the most of any Class 1A team in the Heritage Conference. The 45 points on Friday were the most scored by Saltsburg against its intradistrict rival.
The Trojans established control with three touchdowns in the first quarter and added two more in the second quarter to take a 35-6 lead to halftime. Blairsville outscored the Trojans 18-10 in the second half, but by then the hole was too deep.
Saltsburg presented a balanced attack behind its young and developing offensive line. The Trojans rushed for 228 yards, led by Angelo Bartolini with 91 yards, and quarterback Josh Gibbons completed 6 of 10 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for two touchdowns.
“We were able to move the ball early,” Saltsburg coach Mike Leasure said. “Our run game was working well with Gino Bartolini and Angelo Bartolini. And Josh made plays again. They did some things that we weren’t expecting defensively, but our kids made plays and we made adjustments. I was very happy with our offensive effort tonight.”
Blairsville coach Rick Artley thought Saltsburg’s biggest advantage was an intangible.
“They definitely wanted it more than we did,” Artley said. “They came in here with a lot of seniors on that team, we have a few seniors. We didn’t match their intensity. They wanted this game more than we did.
“We had a lot of mistakes on the offensive side. We got them to punt off their first drive and we turn it over on the first play.”
Blairsville committed six turnovers in the 1982 game. The Bobcats lost only two possessions this time, but the first one hurt.
Saltsburg stumbled through the game’s opening possession, committing two penalties and punting from its own 30. Gibbons’ punt took a Saltsburg bounce all the way to the Blairsville 21. Tailback Sincere McFarlin fumbled on the first play of the series and Saltsburg recovered.
With a shortened field, the Trojans started from the Blairsville 24 and punched in a touchdown just four plays later. Fullback Alex Lassick bulled into the end zone from 2 yards, and the first-half rout was on.
Wideout Cade Grguric led the conference with 10 catches after two games. But it was Nathan Slapinski who caught touchdown passes of 63 and 12 yards on Saltsburg’s next two possessions. The 63-yarder came off a flea-flicker pass.
Gibbons scored on a 2-yard dive midway through the second quarter to give Saltsburg a 27-0 lead.
Blairsville had hoped to establish the running game early and keep Saltsburg’s offense off the field. The Trojans put as many as nine players in the box to keep McFarlin bottled up, and he finished the first half with minus-7 yards rushing on 12 carries.
The first half wasn’t a complete loss for McFarlin, however, as he caught a screen pass from quarterback Zak Artley late in the second quarter, weaved his way through defenders, picked up a couple downfield blocks and scored on the 54-yard play with 1:20 remaining.
Saltsburg answered quickly before the half. Gibbons completed a screen pass to Bartolini for 17 yards, then Grguric got behind safety Jesse Klingensmith to catch a 39-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left.
Blairsville lineman Jacob Faser was injured late in the half when he was apparently hit in the head. He left the game at halftime and was transported via helicopter to an undisclosed hospital. A Facebook post by a family member shortly after midnight indicated that Faser was “in good spirits and doing a lot better.”
Blairsville came out for the second half still determined to establish the run, and McFarlin rushed for 80 yards to finish with 73. His 39-yard run on the second play from scrimmage set up a 17-yard pass from Zak Artley to Devon Witmer, cutting Saltsburg’s lead to 35-12.
The Bobcats made an impressive goal-line stand on Saltsburg’s next series, stopping the Trojans twice from the 1. After an illegal motion penalty, Saltsburg opted to kick and Colin Roessler booted a 23-yard field goal for a 38-12 lead.
“We didn’t quit and we held them to three,” Rick Artley said. “We had some good plays there. That’s the one thing about a team that has been 2-8 two years in a row. This could have very easily been a mercy-rule game.
“I thought we did some good things in the second half. I just don’t think we matched their intensity. Against a good team, you just can’t allow that to happen.”
The rest of the scoring was done by the quarterbacks. Zak Artley scored on touchdown runs of 1 and 27 yards. In between, Gibbons added an insurance score with a 15-yard run.
Zak Artley came into the game with the fewest completions of any starting quarterback in the conference with six on just 17 attempts. With Saltsburg taking a commanding lead, Zak Artley was forced to throw much more and finished the game 9 of 24 for 127 yards and two touchdowns but also an interception to end the first half.
Gino Bartolini added 76 rushing yards for Saltsburg and Gibbons rushed for 63.