KENWOOD — It began with a shutout, followed by a shootout, and then a blowout.
The Homer-Center Wildcats have experienced an unprecedented start to the 2019 season. From losing 67-0 in the season opener against the Ligonier Valley Rams to surviving an offensive thriller against the Red Dragons, the Wildcats earned a 35-7 victory with a relentless first-half assault against the Penns Manor Comets.
Though Penns Manor’s defense stopped the Homer-Center offense with a strong goal-line stand on the opening drive, the Wildcats’ next five possessions told a different story. Quarterback Ben Schmidt racked up 367 total yards and had a hand in all of his team’s points for the second straight week, rushing for two touchdowns, passing for three as well as a two-point conversion and kicking three extra points, and Homer-Center enforced the mercy rule through the entire second half while coasting to its second victory of the season.
“You know they are going to do things the right way,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “We talked all week that Penns Manor is hard to prepare for because they’ve been so consistent with what they do offensively every year. It worries you ... but we didn’t let them get any sustained drives going, and when they did, we were able to shut the door on them.”
The Comets deferred to Homer-Center after winning the coin toss. On the opening kickoff, Penns Manor appeared to have a well-executed onside kick, but because of an illegal touch by Penns Manor, the Wildcats began the game with possession at midfield. A 38-yard pass to Cobe Daugherty put Homer-Center in goal-to-go territory. The Wildcats reached the 2-yard line in the next three plays, but Schmidt’s attempt to fight through the Comets’ wall of defenders was unsuccessful.
Pinned with their backs against the wall, the Comets had no choice but to take a conservative approach at the beginning of their drive. Penns Manor started with five carries, but on third-and-10 from the 13-yard line, Max Hill’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Daugherty. Shortly after the turnover, Schmidt scrambled from the Comets’ 35-yard line to score the first points for Homer-Center. The extra point attempt was blocked, keeping the score at 6-0 midway through the first quarter.
On its next possession, Penns Manor went three-and-out, largely because of a 12-yard sack by a host of Homer-Center defenders. Homer-Center started its next drive with four consecutive runs, but when faced with third-and-5, Schmidt threw a 17-yard pass to Daugherty for the second touchdown of the quarter. A pass to Travis Mock on the two-point conversion put the Wildcats ahead 14-0.
A return of 42 yards by Mason Engel put the Comets in Homer-Center’s territory late in the first quarter. Throughout the drive, Hill and Bryce Chiodini shared the wealth under center. Consecutive sacks by the Wildcat defense led to third-and-17 at the 35-yard line, and Chiodini’s mobility helped move the chains with a 17-yard scramble. On the next set of downs three runs by Zack O’Neal led to fourth-and-2 from the 3-yard line. On the final play of the drive, Chiodini threw to the end zone to Mike Rizzo, but the pass fell incomplete.
Still with a 14-point lead, Homer-Center was backed up at the 3-yard line as a result of the turnover on downs. The Wildcats escaped danger with a 41-yard run by Schmidt to midfield. The drive seemed doomed to failure on fourth-and-15, but the Comets were caught off guard and allowed a 17-yard gain on the fake punt by Daugherty, creating a new set of downs. Schmidt followed the surprise play with a 32-yard rushing touchdown. His extra point kick bumped the Wildcats’ advantage to 21-0.
The situation for the Comets went from bad to worse in the next 10 seconds of action. On the first play of the Comets’ next drive, Dimitri Lieb fumbled the ball, and Homer-Center recovered. Schmidt and Daugherty again torched the Comets’ secondary with a 43-yard touchdown pass-and-catch with more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. Despite trailing 28-0, the Comets began their following possession by gaining 26 yards on the opening four plays, but the drive crashed in Wildcats territory after Chiodini threw an interception to Shane McCoy at the goal line.
Starting from the 9-yard line, Travis Mock picked up 65 rushing yards on two carries to put Homer-Center at the 26-yard line. Four plays later, Schmidt threw his third and final touchdown pass of the night to Drew Kochman, with the extra point initiating the mercy rule for the second half.
With a lopsided 35-0 lead entering the third quarter, the Wildcats had an opportunity to give some of their backup players experience on the field. The battle-worn Comets opened the half with possession and fought to their 40-yard line before getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-2.
Homer-Center did not attempt a pass in the second half with Frankie Maratita and Anthony Rowland taking over at quarterback for Schmidt. In positive field position, the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs with three minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. Penns Manor was forced into another turnover on downs on their next possession, and the Wildcats followed by going three-and-out from midfield. Their punt traveled to the Comets’ 1-yard line before coming to rest.
Almost identical to their only score in Week 1 against Ligonier Valley, Penns Manor successfully completed a freshmen-exclusive 99-yard drive in the late stages of the game. Running on every play, the Comets pushed their way through Homer-Center’s defense for the full length of the field. The drive was aided by a 28-yard pickup by Justin Marshall, followed with a 36-yard run from Ashton Courvina. To essentially end the game, Hill pushed himself into the end zone for Penns Manor’s only score of the night.
Schmidt rushed for 237 yards and completed 8 of 11 passes for 130. Daugherty hauled in three passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.
“Ben put them on the money,” Daugherty said. “He made it easier for me, and we’ve had really good chemistry with each other these last few years.”
“Ben can throw, and Cobe can run good routes and catch the ball, and so can some of our other guys,” Page said. “It was good to hit those big plays and finish some drives and put the heat on them a little bit.”
Comets coach Bill Packer was aware of the challenges he faced against Schmidt and Daugherty.
“We knew we were in a battle with them, but you can’t play like we played tonight,” Packer said. “We didn’t show up to play football tonight. I’m really disappointed in the kids, and that’s not taking anything away from Homer. They have a very good football team, and Schmidt is a heck of a runner and he had some beautiful passes, and Daugherty had some great catches.”