SALTSBURG — The Saltsburg Trojans can strike quickly and often.
The Trojans, behind senior quarterback Josh Gibbons, turned a handful of big plays and beat Northern Cambria, 35-24, in a Heritage Conference football game Friday night.
Gibbons passed for 251 yards and four touchdowns, including 54 and 85 yards to Cade Grguric and 39 yards to Nathan Slapinski, and Gino Bartolini returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. Gibbons’ shortest scoring toss of the night, 4 yards to Grguric followed by Colin Roessler’s extra-point kick, gave the Trojans a 7-6 lead in the first quarter, and they never let it slip away.
“They’re a big-play team,” Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty said. “I don’t think they’re going to be a consistent beat-you-up team, and they’re not going to chew clock. They’re not that team. They’re a big-play team. And in order to beat those teams you have to at least limit them. And we didn’t do that. We had guys out of position tonight. We had breakdowns defensively. And they capitalized.”
Gibbons completed 8 of 12 passes and also rushed for 73 yards, giving him 324 total yards. Grguric caught six passes for 193 yards. Slapinski hauled in the other two. Gibbons was intercepted twice.
“Gibbons is our guy,” Saltsburg coach Mike Leasure said in his return to the sideline after missing last week’s season opener with a back injury. “He makes plays. He had a couple of picks. But he makes plays when he needs to. And he’s got some skill guys, like Slapinski, Grguric and (David) Stuller. Josh was able to do it, and our coordinator puts his guys in good places.”
Northern Cambria totaled 433 yards to Saltsburg’s 407 but lost two fumbles. The most costly came in the third quarter, when Saltsburg sophomore Rocco Bartolini recovered a fumble by Adam Kopera at the Northern Cambria 15. Gibbons fired his third touchdown pass to Grguric, the 85-yarder, on the next play to put the Trojans ahead, 35-24.
Northern Cambria senior Adam Kopera rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts. Isaac Noll also scored a pair of touchdowns.
The Colts failed on all four of their two-point conversion attempts. Northern Cambria has converted only once after 11 touchdowns this season.
“We had situations, we had plays and our kids didn’t execute,” Shutty said. “They got nervous, they got anxious, and they didn’t execute.”
A key point came in the fourth quarter with Saltsburg up 35-24. A facemask penalty against the Trojans pushed Northern Cambria to the Saltsburg 1-yard line but did not result in an automatic first down. While the Colts voiced their displeasure, Saltsburg held on downs and ran off nearly the remaining seven minutes.
“I was confused there. I didn’t understand how we got a face mask and ended up losing a down in the situation. And I didn’t really understand the explanation, either,” Shutty said. “I think we lost momentum,” Shutty said. “But that’s not the reason (we lost).
“We checked with (the officials),” Leasure said, “and they said it was the rule. And we went with what the refs said.”
Northern Cambria opened the scoring on Kopera 37-yard run.
Saltsburg answered with Gibbons’ short strike to Grguric and Roessler’s first of five extra-point kicks to take a 7-6 lead.
Gibbons hooked up with Slapinski for 39 yards to make it 14-6, but Northern Cambria responded with Noll’s 68-yard scoring pass from Mike Hoover to make it 14-12.
Gibbons and Grguric struck again, this time from 54 yards, for a 21-12 lead.
After Kopera scored again to make it 21-18, Bartolini struck with his kickoff return to put the Trojans up 10 at 28-18.
Noll’s second touchdown made it 28-24, and Gibbons and Grguric connected on the longest play of the night to put the Trojans up 11.
“The kids came out and they played tough,” Leasure said. “That was a team win. We used our roster, and we had different guys stepping in.”