HOMER CITY — Ben Schmidt began his varsity football career with a hand in making history.
Now, he’s the one writing it with a second championship in sight.
Schmidt ran for 194 yards, shattering the Homer-Center career rushing record set during his freshman year, and played a role in all four of his team’s touchdowns. And the Wildcats’ defense shut out visiting Juniata Valley over the final three quarters to claim a 27-14 victory in a District 6 Class A semifinal football game Friday night at Memorial Field.
The record-breaking night was just one goal of several still remaining for Schmidt, who helped lead Homer-Center (6-2) to the school’s fourth district title in 2017.
“I’m blessed,” Schmidt said. “All the glory to God. It’s just a blessing. It’s great. There’s no place I’d rather break it than right here at Memorial Field. It’s just awesome to have the whole community behind me.”
Three years ago this week, Homer-Center’s now-senior quarterback was taking snaps and handing off to Jesse Lee, who eclipsed the program’s career rushing yards record in a quarterfinal win over Purchase Line.
The Wildcats’ latest offensive workhorse bested the mark with at least one more game to pad the numbers and a title immediately at stake.
Schmidt — who rushed for a pair of touchdowns Friday and passed for two more — entered with 3,262 career rushing yards and needed 93 to break Lee’s record, which he did on a 22-yard run on Homer-Center’s opening drive of the third quarter.
The record now stands at 3,456 yards on the ground.
Jesse Lee ended his career with 3,354 rushing yards in 2017, besting the mark of 2,879 set by his brother, Ean Lee, in 2014.
“It’s incredible,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “I love Jesse Lee and his brother, Ean. They both had it, but Ben has just done some incredible things. And he’ll be the first to tell you that the line works their tails off and the spread offense kind of helps open things up, but he’s been our go-to guy. I’m happy for him and the whole team.”
Schmidt also passed for 148 yards on a 12-for-17 effort, increasing his career program record to 5,169 passing yards and giving him a combined 8,625 yards through the air and on the ground through four years.
The team’s kicker as well, Schmidt has had a hand or foot in the all but seven of Homer-Center’s last 183 points, including all 27 last night before his fourth extra point attempt was blocked.
Of course, the best news might have been simply getting the rushing record out of the way against a Juniata Valley (6-3) team that limited Homer-Center to its lowest point total of the season.
“I was hoping,” Page said. “I didn’t know if he’s get close to 100 yards against these guys. It’s good to get it. But he’ll be the first to tell you — and I will, too — those things are secondary. Those are look-back kind of things when you’re all done. He knows that the focus now has to be on the next team.”
Homer-Center, the second seed, will face the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal game in the championship next weekend at Mansion Park in Altoona. Fifth-seeded defending champion Bishop Guilfoyle (5-2) is set to face ninth-seeded Purchase Line (4-4) at 7 p.m. at Mansion Park.
The Wildcats, who improved to a perfect 11-0 in playoff games at their home field, will have a target on their backs against whichever team they meet on the road.
Homer-Center has faced the Marauders in each of its three title game appearances this decade, including the most recent 20-14 victory that snapped Bishop Guilfoyle’s run of three straight championships.
As for Heritage Conference rival Purchase Line, the Wildcats have been just one step ahead of the Red Dragons in recent seasons, with each of the last two meetings being decided by single digits and a combined 189 points — Homer-Center defeated Purchase Line 57-48 in August and 44-40 in 2019.
“You’ve got Bishop Guilfoyle, who’s the defending champ, and you’ve got Purchase Line with coach Matt Falisec,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “It won’t surprise me if either team wins there. Purchase Line has really been upstart. He gets those kids to believe. We’ll prepare for whoever we see.”
Homer-Center’s defense didn’t look prepared early as four straight touchdown drives had the makings of a shootout with a 14-14 tie at the end of the opening quarter.
The Wildcats adjusted to swat down everything that the Green Hornets threw at them thereafter.
Homer-Center outgained Juniata Valley, 385-253, overall but limited the Hornets to 75 yards of offense on just three possessions in the second half.
“Our defense played tremendous,” Page said, “even when they scored a couple times. We got beat on the long pass. They made a nice play, and we adjusted to that. Our defensive coordinator, Tony Arone, and the other guys did a great job. We stayed the course against some great athletes.”
Homer-Center led 21-14 entering the third quarter and attempted to surprise the Green Hornets after the break, but Schmidt’s onside kick attempt stopped just shy of 10 yards to open the second half as Juniata Valley took possession in Wildcats territory.
But sophomore cornerback Mike Krejocic recorded his team-leading third interception on a pass by Hornets quarterback Hunter Johnson five plays later.
Schmidt forged the final score from 6 yards out with his second touchdown run after each team traded possessions.
And on Juniata Valley’s last attempt for a late rally, Homer-Center senior safety Travis Mock all but sealed the victory with his first interception of the season at the Wildcats’ goal line with six minutes remaining.
“We couldn’t have executed any better,” Mock said. “We showed up to play, and I’m really proud of my brothers. Everybody showed up and executed very well. I’m excited to see how far we can go. It feels amazing. We just need to keep doing what we do.”
Schmidt put Homer-Center on the scoreboard first on the opening drive of the game with a 2-yard run.
He connected with senior wide receiver Drew Kochman for a pair of touchdown passes spanning 25 and 31 yards, the second of which put the Wildcats ahead 21-14 with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter.
Kochman finished with 107 yards on five receptions. He leads the Wildcats in all receiving categories this season with 28 catches for 698 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He’s stepped up big time this year as our go-to guy,” Page said. “And we have a couple other guys with Mock, Krejocic and Shane McCoy, who can catch the ball, too. But Drew has just been on another level this season. It’s just great to see that for him.”
For Juniata Valley, Hunter Johnson went 7-for-15 for 119 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jake Johnson. Jayce Rand rushed for 101 yards and an 11-yard touchdown.