PATTON — After Friday night’s Heritage Conference road game at Cambria Heights, Penns Manor High School football coach Bill Packer promised his Comets they’d go to the District 6 Class 1A playoffs if they could end the regular season with wins against Northern Cambria, United and whoever they draw from the WestPAC in Week 10.
“I think that’s fair. It’s a young team,” Packer said.
The Comets made strides offensively in their latest contest. However, Penns Manor’s defensive issues persisted, as undefeated Heights broke big play after big play in rolling to a 49-12 victory.
“All year, our tackling’s been really bad,” Packer said after his team surrendered 456 yards and six touchdowns of 10 yards or more. “We’ve been trying to work on that and trying to get guys to the ball. We’re not getting enough help with the defensive backs coming up. We’re missing tackles. I’m just not happy with our tackling.”
Penns Manor fell to 1-6 overall and 1-5 in the Heritage Conference.
Cambria Heights did its damage on just 42 plays. The Highlander starters didn’t log a play on offense over the final two quarters after Tanner Trybus ran under a long pass from Ty Stockley and got to the end zone just ahead of the defense for a 75-yard touchdown with just 33.6 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 41-6 and bring the running clock into play for the fourth time this season for Heights.
Earlier in the quarter, Trybus took a jet sweep 40 yards to the house and Tanner Hite picked his way and broke a tackle on his way to a 57-yard scoring run.
Cambria Heights scored 35 points in the second quarter.
In advance of their Heritage showdown at River Valley next week, the Highlanders broke open their playbook. Ryan Haluska, who carried the ball 125 times in Cambria Heights’ first six games, logged just five against the Comets, although he did score on runs of 12 and 11 yards. Haluska’s 53 yards were fifth on the Highlanders on Friday; Hite led the team with 79 on four carries.
Trybus finished with 143 yards from scrimmage for Heights, while Stockley contributed 148 yards in total offense, opening the scoring on a 12-yard run to finish a 10-play, 5-minute, 3-second drive to open the game.
Penns Manor, though, answered back and looked like it was going to make it a game when it responded with a 10-play drive of its own, culminated on Ashton Courvina’s 18-yard run against the grain on a handoff from backup quarterback Justin Marshall; Marshall was in the game because starter Max Hill had been injured earlier on the series.
Cambria Heights’ Bailey Horvath blocked the extra-point, though, allowing the Highlanders to maintain the lead.
Even without Hill, Penns Manor managed to rack up 125 yards on just 28 rushing attempts. The Comets also were a perfect 6-for-6 passing. The Comets are just the fourth team to score on Cambria Heights this year.
“Offensively, this is maybe one of our best games,” Packer said. “Losing our quarterback really hurt, and I thought we were doing a really nice job moving the ball.”
Marshall rushed for a team-high 69 yards on 12 carries — scoring on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter — and completed both his passes for 12 yards. Courvina and Alec Johnson teamed up for 60 more yards on the ground.
“Our line really stepped up tonight. We were able to move the ball better than previous weeks. That set up our passing game,” Marshall said. “A lot of guys stepped up when Max went out.”
Although the Comets were having some offensive success early, Packer declined to roll the dice on fourth-and-1 at his own 41 trailing 14-6 early in the second quarter. After Trybus returned Marshall’s punt 10 yards and Hite and Haluska ate up another 29 on two running plays, Trybus took the jet handoff to cover the final 40 yards.
“Some of the kids wanted to go for it there, too. I thought maybe we’d put them in a hole. They were moving the ball too well. I thought we could make them have to try to pound it all the way down the field,” Packer said.
Although the outcome ended up one-sided, Highlander coach Jarrod Lewis praised the Comets for pushing his team harder in the early going than many expected.
“I have a lot of respect for Coach Packer and his staff. Those boys were ready to play,” Lewis said. “They were able to get their athletes in space.”
The Comets know they have something still to play for, so long as they can put the disappointments behind.
“We have to just keep our heads up when we get down. That first wave comes at you. You just have to keep your head up and do your best at that point,” Marshall said.