ARMAGH — Compared with a 67-0 loss to Ligonier Valley to begin the 2019 season, it is safe to say that the Homer-Center Wildcats will be very pleased with the results from this year’s season-opening 46-12 win against the United Lions.
From the beginning, it was a game of catch-up for the Lions. They had given up a touchdown to junior running back Justin Walbeck on the Wildcats’ opening possession, but the seven-point deficit eventually devolved into an insurmountable 26-0 defecit.
Moreover, the Wildcats constructed this advantage entirely within the first quarter, with senior quarterback Ben Schmidt scoring two rushing touchdowns and a 20-yard passing touchdown to Drew Kochman.
The onslaught continued into the second quarter with an additional three touchdowns, largely dominated by an invincible passing attack. Within the first half, Schmidt completed all of his eight passes for two touchdowns and over 200 yards to establish a 46-6 lead, one that the Lions would not cut against until a final-second touchdown pass to tight end Dylan Ambrose.
“I didn’t expect the outcome to be the way it was,” Wildcats coach Greg Page said.
Homer-Center received the opening kickoff, and a blistering return by sophomore Michael Krejocic put Homer-Center at midfield before the possession began.
Fueled by an early completion to Kochman for 27 yards, the Wildcats had quickly driven to Lions territory. Schmidt converted a third-down conversion with an 11-yard scramble to get inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Walbeck scored on a 2-yard run on second-and-goal.
Both teams exchanged punts after the Lions’ offense opened with a three-and-out, while a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct against the Wildcats derailed a set of downs from inside their own territory.
United’s possession would ultimately collapse on the initial play after Cameron fumbled inside Wildcats territory. Caleb Brown recovered to put Homer-Center at the Lions’ 37-yard line.
Initially, a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kochman appeared to put the Wildcats ahead by 14, but the play was called back for offensive pass interference.
This did nothing to knock Homer-Center off tempo, however. On the next play, Schmidt connected with Krejocic for a 51-yard reception, falling just a yard short of the touchdown. With over five minutes remaining in the quarter, Schmidt scrambled into the end zone for the 1-yard score on first-and-goal.
The situation became dire for the Lions after the Wildcats’ defense forced another turnover. Faced with first-and-33 after suffering consecutive penalties, Eli Clevenger threw an interception to Krejocic at the 35-yard line. Weaving through traffic, Krejocic was eventually taken down, but not after netting a 17-yard return.
In five plays, another rushing touchdown by Schmidt gave Homer-Center a 20-0 lead.
Following another three-and-out, Homer-Center returned to business with back-to-back completions by Travis Mock and Kochman, the latter for a 20-yard touchdown. A gruesome first quarter for the Lions had come to an end, stained by two turnovers and zero first downs.
The cadence remained consistent to begin the next quarter. Another punt by the Lions yielded a 36-yard run by Schmidt to put the Wildcats in goal-to-go territory. Collin Troup scored a 5-yard touchdown on the next play.
A weak kickoff by Krejocic allowed the Lions to start at midfield. From there, Cameron was the only position player to get the ball throughout the drive, running it on seven plays. The one-dimensional drive proved to be effective, with Cameron scoring United’s first touchdown of the season, leaving a small dent in Homer-Center’s 39-6 advantage.
Homer-Center still managed to squeeze in another touchdown in the final two minutes of the half. Positioned at the 45-yard line, Schmidt threw to Kochman, who then sliced through the Lions’ secondary en route to a 55-yard touchdown.
The Lions were not aggressive in the closing minute before halftime, keeping Homer-Center ahead with a monstrous 46-6 lead.
The Lions punted on their first possession of the second half. Homer-Center sidelined Schmidt for the rest of the game after an unforgettable performance to begin the season.
“We saw some matchups that we liked, and our playmakers are going to make plays,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt’s departure made way for junior Anthony Rowland, a quarterback with slim playing experience at the varsity level. Homer-Center punted under Rowland’s first drive, and United did the same after an additional three-and-out.
Troup became the centerpiece of the Wildcats’ next series. The drive started from United’s 36-yard line, but in five consecutive carries, Troup racked up 15 yards before failing to convert third-and-5 from the 19-yard line. An ineffective scramble on the fourth-down conversion attempt by Rowland ended the drive, along with the third quarter.
United remained committed to the rushing attack, though an 8-yard run by Cameron would mark the end of his disappointing night.
In 17 carries, Cameron was held to 54 yards.
“Hunter will bounce back,” Lions coach Kevin Marabito assured. “They knew Hunter was going to get the football, and they were just taking off on him. They had a great defensive plan for him, and Hunter didn’t have a lot of running space.”
Modest gains by tailback Caden McCully and tight end Zachary Travis allowed the Lions to pick up two first downs, though the drive eventually faltered prior to reaching midfield. Homer-Center failed to convert fourth-and-10 from within its territory, giving United valuable field position with approximately three minutes left in the game.
United’s drive began with two carries by McCully for a combined gain of 2 yards. An incomplete pass on third-and-8 from backup quarterback Isaac Worthington forced the Lions to attempt a fourth-down conversion.
Worthington’s pass was caught by Dylan Ambrose for a 10-yard gain, moving United near the 10-yard line. Ambrose secured another pass for only 3 yards, putting the Lions at the 9-yard line with only seconds remaining.
On the final play, Worthington connected with Ambrose for the third play in a row, this time resulting in a touchdown to lessen the wounds of the defeat.
Following the victory, Page attributed much of Homer-Center’s success to Schmidt’s ability to assess the Wildcats’ offensive strengths.
“It’s good to get him going,” Page said. “He knows who we want to get the ball to and make some good reads. It was good to be able to jump-start some of those big plays and get up early.”
Meanwhile, Marabito discussed how the Lions’ struggles to counter Homer-Center’s passing attack led to such a poor result.
“Our biggest disappointment all night was covering the pass,” Marabito said. “We faced them man-to-man, and there really wasn’t an excuse why. Greg adjusted some great athletes on that outside, and they were definitely better than we were.”